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Milk can make you grow

Stephen Weststeyn for Progressive Dairy Published on 20 November 2019

In myth and legend, there is no other food that compares to the respect given to milk. Milk was known to the ancients as the “food of the gods,” the premier source of power and strength. The heroes in myths and legend were raised on milk and through it gained superhuman abilities.

Milk nourished characters in many foundational myths. The ancient Greeks began the Olympic Games to honor their god Zeus, the most powerful of their gods, who was raised on milk. The Roman Empire gave credit to milk for raising their founders Romulus and Remus. Even the Vikings gave credit to the cow Audhumla for helping spawn life in their creation story.



The Romans recorded in their histories that the Germanic people drank milk to develop their strength. The German frontier was one area the Romans could never fully conquer, and Caesar credited that fact to the strength and vitality of the Germanic tribes, who ate a mostly carnivorous diet of meat, milk and cheese:

"The nation of the Suevi is by far the largest and the most warlike nation of all the Germans .... They do not live much on corn, but subsist for the most part on milk and flesh, and are much [engaged] in hunting; which circumstance must, by the nature of their food, and by their daily exercise and the freedom of their life … both promote their strength and render them men of vast stature of body." – Julius Caesar. Gallic War- Book 4, Chapter 1

Beyond myth and legends, recent people groups have shown that certain foods do have a large impact on the people’s growth. The Netherlands is the tallest country in the world, but they weren’t always the tallest people. Prior to the 1900s, the Dutch were shorter (at 5 foot, 4 inches) but they became taller (6 foot) by consistently consuming nutrient-rich foods. Interesting to note, the Netherlands consumes 25% more dairy products than the UK or U.S.

The Maasai people in Africa attribute a great deal of their tall stature (6 foot) to their diet which is heavy in meat and dairy products. The Maasai are a nomadic, cattle-herding culture and interestingly are much taller than the neighboring agrarian people groups.

During World II, Japanese soldiers were considered short (4 foot, 11 inches), but now, the average Japanese height is among the highest in the region (5 foot, 7 inches). In Vietnam, the average height is 5 foot, 3 inches, however a survey of Vietnamese children aged 0 to 18 whose parents live in Paris, France, showed that they are as tall as their French peers. The people in South Korea are now some of the tallest people in Asia (5 foot, 9 inches), yet only generations ago they mirrored the rest of Asia. These countries confirm the trend that populations that consume more nutrient-rich, animal-sourced foods have a population that can reach their genetic potential.


Physical growth is limited by genetics, but how many people are even growing to their maximum genetic potentials? One anthropologist rebutted my article titled “Milk makes you taller” by stating it’s impossible to be much taller than the average height of your parents. Yet, your parents’ phenotypic height doesn’t necessarily dictate your height because they may have not reached their genetic potential themselves.

There have been a variety of studies that show the key to good growth is not only consuming milk while growing, but to make sure mothers are healthy before and during pregnancy. Some doctors tell pregnant mothers to stay away from milk, yet it is the worst advice to give a pregnant woman. If there are no building blocks available for the new child, the immediate and future growth of the child will be limited.

A study in Denmark showed that the women who consumed the most milk while pregnant had the tallest children. Surprisingly, the correlation between milk consumption and growth lasted with the child not only till adolescence, but even 20 years later. Another study in Israel came to similar conclusions about milk and its growth correlations – finding that the kids who didn’t drink milk were shorter. The study found that the kids are even 10 centimeters shorter than their parents, suggesting that they did not reach their full height potential.

Vegans are busy proclaiming that a plant-based diet is healthiest. The majority of the world actually does subside on a mostly plant-based diet because nutrient-rich, animal-sourced foods like milk and dairy are out of reach for poorer people. According to National Geographic, 83% of the world’s total calories come from plant-based sources with only 17% of the calories coming from meat and dairy.

When you look at the improvement in growth of countries that started eating better and eating more nutrient-dense foods like meat and dairy, it is easy to see there are grave implications for countries that start eliminating these foods. If developed countries like the U.S. and the UK start to eliminate the very foods that made their populations grow (meat and dairy), populations will shrink. The problem is the results may not be seen immediately but take one to two generations.

It is crucial people understand the importance of animal-sourced foods as being part of a healthy diet; they provide nutrients not found in plant sources. There must be a reason why milk was celebrated and why the heroes in myth and legend were milk drinkers. Milk is not only foundational in the history of humanity but also the very source of its strength.  end mark


PHOTO: Getty Images.

Stephen Weststeyn is a California dairy farmer. Check out his blog, Dairy Moos or email Weststeyn directly for resources on this blog.