Last year, I wrote about the California Milk Processor Board's rather retro Spanish-language commercial, in which a witch represents a woman with PMS. She flies through the forest threatening children and men (turning two into pigs), until she discovers milk. That cures her symptoms, returns her to her usual state of sweetness and light, and also makes her hot-a happily-ever-after ending for everyone involved.
Now it's time for the 2009 ads, which are equally silly. The current PMS-themed spot, which you can see at www.tomaleche.com, features a "sad princess" whose monthly blues are cured only by a prince wearing—wait for it—white armor and bearing the curative milk. In another spot, this one claiming milk benefits hair, yet another princess is "unmarried because of her ugly hair, represented by Medusa's storied snakes." (I'm quoting from the news release here; the ad starts running next month.) Her father decides to marry her off to the first guy who can tame her 'do, and the winning suitor is a peasant who brings her a glass of milk. Her snakes turn into luscious locks, and, freed from ugliness, the princess marries the peasant.
Putting aside how, in a world where women worry about more than their female parts and their appearance, these ads even got made, is there anything to the health claims?
Last year, I said that, based on available research, calcium and vitamin D do seem to alleviate symptoms of PMS, at least in some women. If you include milk in your diet, go for the low-fat or skim varieties, since one study showed whole milk was actually associated with a higher rate of PMS. Of course, milk is not the only way to get these nutrients. Leafy greens, broccoli, tofu, and beans also provide calcium. Vitamin D is tougher to get from natural sources, which is why many nutritionists and doctors recommend a supplement.
What about that Medusa hair? The CMPB's news release says, "The proteins in milk can help produce strong, healthy, shiny hair." It is true that the body needs both protein and carbs to have healthy hair, says Jeannie Gazzaniga-Moloo, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. (That's why anorexics often have thin, brittle hair and nails.) And dairy products do have both, as well as the aforementioned calcium and vitamin D. That nutritional bundle is why Gazzaniga-Moloo includes skim or 1 percent dairy products as part of a healthful eating plan, unless patients have lactose intolerance, food allergies, or other issues.
Again, dairy products are not essential to hair or general health—and most Americans aren't falling behind on either carbs or protein. Vegans, those who are lactose-intolerant, and people who just plain don't like milk manage fine by getting nutrients from other sources. So if you like milk and aren't philosophically or digestively opposed to it, consume it as a good source of nutrients. If not, don't.
As for the ads—well, I wish the people behind tomaleche.com would give women a little more credit. How about featuring a female athlete and playing up how calcium and protein can help build strong bones and muscle? That kind of role model, unlike this latest pair of pathetic princesses, doesn't need to be rescued.