Review: Whitewash by Joseph Koen

I love it when I pick up a book that I don’t want to put down. I had this experience reading Whitewash: The Disturbing Truth About Cow’s Milk and Your Health. Written by Joseph Koen, this well-researched book is virtually a must-read for anyone who wants to be informed about the American milk industry. It’s a comprehensive study of the main issues we are seeing with milk consumption today—contamination problems, the calcium myth, osteoporosis research, childhood illness, the environmental costs of dairy—so extensively documented and cited that it was a bit dense to read at times. But despite that fact, I was completely fascinated and interested in all of these subjects; not just because the information runs counter to everything we are taught about milk, but because this affects me. It affects me and you and every person in the country—we should all get the facts about milk.

The writer has a clear message to give the reader—drink milk at your own risk. But haven’t we been taught since we were little children that milk “does a body good”? Don’t we see celebrities with milk mustaches in magazines and billboards? Haven’t we all “Got Milk?” Yes, and that seems to be the problem—advertising has essentially programmed us to believe that this product is no less than a miracle drug. If they’re telling us this, shouldn’t it be true? Koen says no, and provides some pretty substantial studies to back up his claim. If we consume cheese at 6 or 7 times the rate we did a century ago, why do we have the highest rate of osteoporosis in the world? Our bodies just don’t absorb calcium from non-plant sources the way they do from plant-based sources. Even 2% milk has 34 percent of its calories coming from fat. It’s no wonder there’s an obesity epidemic in this country.

Have you or someone you know ever considered yourself addicted to cheese? There may be a plausible explanation when you consider the milk protein, casein. It’s normally broken down during digestion, but sometimes remnants of it remain in the form of peptides; and these remains have opiate qualities. Since casein is so concentrated after the process of cheese making, it could explain why we say yes to cheese on just about anything. Milk contains casein as well, just not in the same concentration. In fact, there’s evidence of all kinds of other substances in our milk—rocket fuel, flame retardant, pesticides, dioxins, antibiotics, synthetic hormones, rabies, aluminum, dry cleaning solvent, bacteria, salmonella, pus, and listeria. This is the list that made my mom throw out her milk on the spot. It’s clear that not all of these substances are present in every glass of milk; but the way that we process the milk from individual cows and combine it to make massive amounts of it does make it more susceptible to contamination.

But, you say, kids need milk to help them grow. Sure they do—milk from their own mother’s, not milk from udders! Studies taken from medical journals talk about cows milk’s connection to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), asthma, autism, ear infections, eczema, colic, intestinal bleeding, colitis, Type 1 diabetes, behavioral and learning problems, and obesity. The stories are fascinating, from one mother who scoured journals of research and decided to remove milk products from her son’s diet—she was told by a specialist that her son would “never be able to make friend, have a meaningful conversation, learn in a regular classroom without special help, or live independently”—to a couple whose son screamed through the night until they removed milk from his diet, at which point he finally slept, “became more verbal,” and kept up with his classmates in school.

Another part of the book that was compelling was the information on osteoporosis and calcium. Here we come back to the idea that calcium sourced from plants is more absorbable and doesn’t contain the excess protein found in animal sources.

In a National Institutes of Health study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that women who derived the most dietary protein from animal sources had three times the rate of bone loss, and 3.7 times the rate of hip fractures, compared to women who obtained most of their protein from vegetable sources (p. 176)

Koen also goes on to talk about the hidden costs of milk, specifically its toll on the 10 million cows that collectively produce about 182 billion pounds of milk annually here in the U.S. It was refreshing to me, albeit disturbing, to see that he included information about the brutal lives the dairy cows endure every day to produce that much milk. The author also goes on to write about how to transition oneself away from dairy products and maintain a healthy lifestyle. With all of this information combined into one book, from cover to cover it’s the most comprehensive book about the effects of milk that I’ve seen. I recommend it as a book for everyone to read because there’s so much information you’re bound to learn something from it. I sure did—that I made a great decision in cutting dairy out of my diet. As a lifelong asthmatic and allergy sufferer, I can say with certainty that this was one of the best things I’ve ever done for my health. I don’t have the stomach problems I used to have and my skin has cleared up. Reading this book convinced me that I need to tell others how positive this change has been—and recommending this book is my way of paying it forward.

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