Friday, May 14, 2010
Making Sense of Milk
It is estimated that up to 70% of adults are lactose intolerant. Yet, the "milk does the body good" campaign came into play in a big way in the last 50 years (or more) and somehow got placed right at the top of the ever present food pyramid. So how does one reconcile the two? Does it do the body good? That is the question! Well, of course it does, we are weaned on human milk when we come into this world, but is it necessary to plow through gallons of cow's milk daily to grow to be 100 feet tall after the weaning process? I realize I'm treading a fine line here with these questions as toting milk as not doing the body good would be similar to saying, actually the sky isn't blue. And just to clarify, I am not saying that milk doesn't have it's place, but there is the question of when, how, and what kind.
Cow versus Goat
First, the cow and the goat and the differences in their milk. Cow's milk is deficient in vitamins B1, C, E, and A, as well having a ratio of calcium to phosphorous that is equal (whereas in human milk it is two times calcium to phosphorous, which becomes relevant when it comes to calcium absorption). Cow's milk also does not have the proper lactose to produce the flora in babies intestines which is necessary for easy digestion, possibly attributing to much of the colic that babies experience. Goat milk is the closest source of milk that is similar to human milk, and therefore most easily digested by babies and adults. It is rich in flourine which helps to build the immune system, and strengthens teeth and bones. According to Paul Pitchford, Goat's milk has been used in many different medical traditions to treat emaciation, malnutrition, anemia, stomach ulcers, nervous exhaustion, and loss of energy. In addition it is useful in treating constipation through it's enrichment of intestinal flora, as well as in conjunction treating diarrhea thanks to it's astringent properties. Goat's fat globules are smaller than cow's milk and are therefore more easily digested.
When you buy milk you'll notice it says "pasteurized and homogenized". Pasteurizing is a process whereby you heat the milk to rid it of any potential harmful bacteria (along with the helpful) and thus increasing it's shelf life along the way. This is absolutely necessary when you are buying milk from a large scale dairy and where the cows are being fed Bovine Growth Hormone (to produce more milk and grow faster) and antibiotics (because they have a higher incidence of infections when they are on BGH, not grass-fed, and kept in close proximity to other cows). Raw milk on the other hand has a long history of medicinal use. In Ayurvedic medicine it is thought to produce mental clarity and in Chinese Medicine it is used in cases where there is a constitutional or other type of weakness. Raw milk should be tested for harmful bacteria, you can also bring it to a boil and let is quickly cool down to ensure that it is clean without losing all the healthful qualities of the beneficial bacteria.
Homogenization of milk is a process whereby they make the milk consistent throughout by "forcing the milk at high pressure through small holes". It is thought that due to this homogenization process, the enzyme xanthine oxidase is allowed to enter the bloodstream (where before it wouldn't have been able to in the larger fat globules that existed pre-homogenization) damaging the heart and arteries and allowing cholesterol to accumulate. Homogenization has no benefit except to make milk more seemingly palatable.
There are many ways to get your dairy in without compromising your health, whether it be through dry aged cheese (in particular), good quality plain yogurt, or cow milk alternatives such as goat, rice, almond, and soy milk. You can also simply find the best quality cow milk source that you can, and it is absolutely worth the exploration. If you are experiencing gas, bloating, diarrhea, acne (or other skin ailments), headaches, acid reflux, or indigestion when you ingest milk, then you should consider doing an elimination diet to test if that is the cause. Milk has it's place in our nutritional intake, it's a matter of finding what kind of dairy products work best for you and when to take them. If you would like to read more about milk, this article by Dr. Kradjian is quite illuminating : "The Milk Letter: A Message to My Patients".