Harvard: Dairy not needed for Health

Hans A. Diehl, DrHSc, MPH

The Harvard School of Public Health sent a strong message to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and to nutrition experts everywhere with the release of its “Healthy Eating Plate” food guide. The University was responding to the USDA’s recent "My Plate" guide for healthy eating, which replaced the outdated food pyramid.

Harvard’s nutrition experts did not pull any punches, declaring that the University’s food guide was based on sound nutrition research and more importantly, it was not influenced by food industry lobbyists. "Unfortunately, like the earlier USDA Food Pyramids, the most recent "My Plate" guide for healthy eating mixes science with the influence of powerful agricultural interests, which is not a recipe for healthy eating," said Walter Willett, MD, PhD, Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition and chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.

The "My Plate" does not show the consumer that: (1) whole grains are better for health than refined grains; (2) some high protein foods are better than red meats and processed meats; (3) sugary drinks are not in the best interest of health; (4) dairy is not needed for good health.

Actually, the greatest evidence of its research focus is the absence of dairy products from the “Healthy Eating Plate” based on Harvard’s assessment that “…high intake of dairy products can increase the risk of prostate cancer and possibly ovarian cancer.” Harvard nutrition experts took issue with the USDA recommendation to have milk and dairy products at every meal to safeguard the intake of calcium. They were very clear: "there is very little evidence that high dairy intake protects against osteoporosis but substantial evidence that high intake can be harmful."

They cited, for instance, the high levels of saturated fat in most dairy products and suggested that collards, bok choy, fortified soy milk, and baked beans are safer choices than dairy for obtaining calcium. But they left the door open for some use of dairy by suggesting "Limit milk and dairy to 1 to 2 servings a day." The Harvard "Healthy Eating Plate" instead is pushing water in particular.

Dr. Benjamin Spock, the famous baby doctor, whose book Baby and Child Care throughout its 52-year history has been the second-best-selling book next to the Bible, just before his death (at 94 years in 1998) advised his colleagues that he was no longer recommending any cow's milk for babies, which became largely reflected in the 7th edition of his book.