I was working the other day, when a man walked in. He ordered some food and due to the food choices he made I asked if he was a vegetarian. He said yes and we started talking. I knew he wanted to talk my ear off, as he was a “vegetarian for 35 years,” and he did do a lot of talking. While I am always happy to hear some information from a fellow vegetarian, I have to state that this claim he made irked me a bit. He said that “drinking milk and eating cheese, especially in quantities like pizza, is more cancer causing than smoking” among other claims I won’t try to debunk all at once.
Now I am not going to state that milk is GOOD for you, because milk is a calorie laden beverage with almost no significant benefits for your health. But worse than smoking, and “by a long-shot?” I am not too sure about THAT. But since I am an amatuer journalist who has spent the better of the last 10 years researching scientific claims such as this one, I decided to look it up for myself.
The claim is “Cancer mortality was higher for high-protein [eaters] compared to current smokers.”, which was published on… you guessed it… FoxNews. It was also published on a lot of other sources that I don’t find all that reputable, and completely ignored by scientific magazines and more reputable news sources, like the NYTimes.
That said, I had to spend forever just trying to find the source of this claim, in which, like always, no newspaper seems to provide a link to this study, because god forbid anyone check the sources. But I finally found it, the study is “Low Protein Intake Is Associated with a Major Reduction in IGF-1, Cancer, and Overall Mortality in the 65 and Younger but Not Older Population”
The information does seem to pan out though, as “animal protein” is seen to cause a higher rate of mortality as compared to the consumption of plant-based proteins. However, this study doesn’t go into any detail on which “animal proteins” they are talking about, so we just have to assume that they are talking about all of them. Which is good as a minor study, but it’d be wonderful to know if milk is worse than beef, or chicken, or eggs, for instance.
There was another study published in Canada which showed a correlation between artery plaque buildup and egg yolk consumption. There are also studies that did not find a correlation between animal protein intake and all cause mortality, but did find that having a diet higher in plan protein was really beneficial in postmenopausal women, but the last studies already made a link that showed that animal proteins after the age of 65 were NOT associated with any increased death risk.
That said, more research needs to be done to find clear links, and to determine if all animal proteins are created equal. For instance, we know that red meat is associated with a higher risk of Colon Cancer, but chicken is not. So it would be best to see if this cause of death by cancer, heart disease, etc, is associated with all forms of animal protein intake, or whether it is only connected to specific forms of protein intake. And none of the studies I linked to seemed to associate milk or other dairy products as its own group, so I can’t come to the conclusion of if milk and cheese really ARE as bad as smoking. There is no evidence to connect those accusations.
Although I do agree that one thing is clear, we SHOULD reduce our intake of animal-based proteins, as vegetarians are indeed known to live longer and be in better health. However, there does not seem to be a significant difference in all-cause mortality between the types of vegetarian, and Pesco-vegetarian (vegetarian that eats fish) are more likely to live longer than strict vegans, but compared to the meat-eating population, the difference is so minor to borderline on ‘not that important’.
Being vegetarian, or even Semi-vegetarian, is a healthier diet, but like I said, I can’t find any data to show that milk or dairy products in specific causes a high increase in mortality, and lacto-ovo-vegetarians do not have a significantly higher rate of mortality than strict vegans, so I will wait for more data before coming to any conclusion.