Is milk good? Is milk bad? The topic of milk consumption is loaded with lots of varying opinions weighing in with conviction and varying degrees of truth. Here are some common myths and facts and explanations in between:
ALL Milk Does a Body Good – MYTH.
The milk industry would have you believe that all milk (as long as it is pasteurized)- “Does a body good” and you too can achieve a “Body by Milk” akin to world class athletes and celebrities.
On the contrary, conventional milk – even most organic brands – is highly processed and comes from cows fed the wrong foods, and loaded with antibiotics and hormones to offset the poor conditions even in the finest conventional dairies.
The best milk comes from cows raised on pastures grazing on their natural diet of grass and clover. Corn and grain-fed cows are more prone to disease (such as e-coli contamination) since their digestive tracts are designed for grass not grain.
Pasteurization (invented to protect the population from milk-born diseases that festered in poorly run factory dairies and cows eating unhealthy grains) strips milk of naturally occurring vitamins, probiotics, enzymes, and vital nutrients, so even conventional organic dairy products are not an ideal health food.
Serve only low-fat (1%) and fat-free (skim) milk – MYTH.
The USDA suggests that everyone (including children over 2) drinks low-fat or fat-free milk claiming that they “provide calcium and other nutrients without a lot of saturated fat.” The truth is that reduced fat milks are stripped of fats and fat-soluble vitamins that are essential to health, and the milk proteins are denatured and actually is made toxic by the skimming process.
Cow milk is for baby cows – TRUE, but…
Vegans and other alternative thinkers encourage us to skip milk all together, claiming that, and that humans should choose “healthier” alternatives such as soy, rice, or nut milks or no dairy products at all. This advice detours us away from the potential health benefits of fresh, unpasteurized, non-homogenized dairy. The suggested substitutes are full of additives and preservatives and, even if homemade, are lacking in the nutrient density of high quality milk.
Just because cow’s milk was designed for baby cows, doesn’t necessarily preclude it from being a wonderfully nutritious food for healthy humans.
Milk produces phlegm – TRUE and not.
This is an interesting one point that is supported by Chinese medicine. The fact is, dairy products, raw or otherwise will produce or exacerbate phlegm in a person with weak digestion. According to Chinese medicine, the Spleen meridian (the digestive system) does not like Cold or Damp (with ice cream being the quintessential example).
It stands to reason then, that a balance should be struck with dairy, and those with weak digestion, excess phlegm, “damp accumulation” or a compromised immune system should avoid dairy until they have recovered from their condition, whether acute or chronic.
Raw Milk is a perfect health food – TRUE, for many.
“Real” or “raw” milk produced from clean, naturally healthy cows (or other milk producing animals) is a safe, nutrient dense alternative to commercial milk and dairy products. For optimal milk nutrition, the animals should graze on sunny pastures and eat a traditional diet of grass rather than corn, soy, or other farming bi-products.Old-fashioned breeds such as Jersey, Guernsey, Red Devon, or Brown Swiss cows, or goats, or sheep may provide superior quality milk compared to modern Holstein cows.
Raw milk from grass-fed cows is a traditional food has been consumed by humans since for over 10,000 years (Plank 49). It offers many health benefits as it is a complete food and a natural source of all the essential nutrients your body needs to function properly including protein, the eight essential amino acids, healthy fats including conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), minerals, vitamins A, D, and most B’s, enzymes and cholesterol.
Raw dairy is even richer in nutrients and beneficial bacteria when consumed in the form of fermented or “soured” dairy products such as yogurt, kefir and raw cheeses. You can find out more about the health benefits of raw milk by visiting Raw-Milk-Facts.com.
What about milk allergies?
It it quite common to hear people say, “I am lactose intolerant.” or “I love dairy, but it doesn’t love me.”
Here are three interesting points you may not know about dairy sensitivities:
- Raw dairy contains lactase-producing bacteria that create lactase when they colonize the gut. (Lactase is the enzyme required to digest lactose – the milk sugar that can make milk cause gas, bloating, and cramping). Pasteurization destroys these beneficial bacteria, rendering milk much more difficult to digest among a significant portion of the population. Therefore, may people who consider themselves lactose intolerant may find raw dairy benevolent to their tummies.
- Digestibility of dairy products may depend on your ancestry. All human babies naturally produce lactase to support digestion of mother’s milk. This production wanes as a child approaches weaning age, though the body will continue to produce some lactase through adult life. People who have historically lived farther from the equator (and therefore could store fresh milk longer in the cooler clime) make more lactase and can digest unfermented dairy products with more ease than warm weather dwellers. In warmer climates, where fresh milk sours faster, people traditionally produced and ate cultured dairy products such as yogurts, kefirs, and cheeses. The cultured dairy requires less lactase to digest since the lactose is partially broken down by the culturing process. Because of this, people that descend from warmer climates will often have more difficulty digesting fresh milk and cream as adults.
- Dairy allergies and lactose intolerance can often be reversed. The trick is to first remove all dairy from your diet, then gently reintroduce little by little starting with ghee (clarified butter) and then slowly and patiently in this order: butter, cultured dairy products such as yogurt and kefir, raw cheeses in small amounts, and finally raw cream and raw milk. Every person will have their own pace, and may require other support if their allergies/sensitivities are severe or complicated by other health issues.
Research on the benefits of raw milk for reducing food allergies is encouraging. According to an at RealMilk.com, an Austrian research study identified a significant reduction in asthma, hay fever, and allergy-related skin problems among children who consumed raw milk versus those who did not. According to the study, the biggest allergy reductions occurred among children who were consuming raw milk in the first year of life and continued to be exposed to it through age five.
Raw Milk Safety
Considering the health benefits of raw milk, you may wonder why anyone would opt for pasteurized milk, given its potential health risks. One reason is fear over illness from raw milk, but in fact, the right dairy farming practices make pasteurization completely unnecessary. If you know your raw milk source, you can ensure raw milk is safe for consumption. Raw milk produced from healthy, grass fed, “old-fashioned” cow breeds and clean, careful farming practices make “real” milk virtually risk free. Check out this interesting blog post highlighting the difference between conventional and raw milk dairies.
Up until recently, we just skipped milk in my household to circumvent the all the confusing information out there on the topic. But the more I’ve learn about milk and the importance of nutrient dense foods, milk and other raw, organic dairy products have become a staple in our home. I urge you to make this and all other decisions for yourself and your family based on what works best for you. Get informed and ask your body. You can find out more about choosing a safe source for raw milk at RealMilk.com .
Plank, Nina. Real Food. Bloomsbury, New York: 2006.