Please enjoy a guest post today by Tracy Stevens of Intuity Wellness regarding selecting the healthiest type of milk for your family. Thanks Tracy!
“Milk Does a Body Good.” Does it? That’s what the ad campaign in the 1990s told us. But it does definitely depend on the body and the choices you make. Milk is nature’s first baby food. It allows a baby who cannot yet eat solids to take in nourishment and put on weight rapidly until he or she can eat other foods, surviving more independently. All mammalian babies naturally wean off milk and move to solid foods, except for humans. We are the only species that continues to consume milk well after infancy and even take it from another species. This can pose a problem for many people and they don’t even know it. Evolution has given us clues that this is not what nature intended.
Did you know that the majority of people in the world are lactose intolerant? As many as 25% of Caucasians, 53% of Mexicans, and an estimated 75-90% of Africans, Asians, and Native Americans are lactose intolerant. That’s because as we leave infancy, we naturally lose the lactase enzyme that is responsible for digesting lactose, the sugar in milk.
A lactose intolerance will typically reveal itself as bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Different from a lactose intolerance, is a milk protein allergy or sensitivity. It is estimated that between 1% to 7% of children have this problem. A milk protein sensitivity will cause symptoms like rashes, gastric distress (similar to a lactose intolerance), wheezing, colic, runny nose, and swelling in the face. A full-blown milk protein allergy is more severe with hives, vomiting, and anaphylactic shock. Those with a lactose intolerance can take the lactase pill (Lactaid) or consume lactose-free milk. Those who have a problem with the milk protein can only avoid it or face chronic lung and sinus problems as well as malnourishment.
Any doctor will tell you that the best, cheapest, easiest, and most reliable way to know if you have a problem with dairy is to do a dairy elimination challenge. And it is a challenge because dairy is ubiquitous, but armed with information and support, it is the best way to know if you are nourishing your body or causing it daily distress that leads to compromised immunity and health problems.
Organic Milk vs. Conventional Milk
Assuming you don’t have a problem with dairy, there are a surprising number of choices to make that would best be considered carefully. One choice is organic versus conventional. When you choose conventional, you are getting milk from cows that were fed genetically modified grains that were treated with pesticides and herbicides, the residue of which you, too, will consume. The cows are given growth hormones (rBST or rBGH) to increase the quantity of milk they produce. This often causes mastitis (an infection of the breast or udders), putting pus from that infection into the milk supply. Because of the high incidence of infection and the often crowded and unclean feedlot conditions, antibiotics are routinely given to the cows to control disease. We consume these antibiotics, which creates antibiotic resistance and “super bugs” that are immune to their effects.
Milk from Grass-fed Cows vs. Milk from Grain Fed Cows
Another choice to consider is grass fed versus grain fed. Cows are naturally able to digest grass, not grain. Milk from grain-fed cows has a different nutritional profile from those of grass-fed cows. Milk from grain-fed cows is high in Omega-6 fatty acids, which most Americans already overly consume. Too much Omega 6 causes chronic inflammation, a condition where disease thrives. Also, grain-fed milk is fortified with vitamin D2, a form that the body does not utilize as well as D3. Grass-fed milk naturally contains vitamin D3, as well as the ideal balance of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, with an added bonus of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) that is a potential cancer fighter. The same nutritional differences apply to grass-fed versus grain-fed meats, by the way.
Whole Milk vs. Low-fat Milk
Next to consider is whole milk versus low-fat. It seems counter-intuitive, but a recent Harvard study of almost 13,000 children showed that low-fat dairy makes you gain weight, not lose it. This was not news to pig farmers though. They know that when they need to fatten a pig up rapidly, they feed it skim milk. That’s because removing the milk fat creates an unbalanced, sugary drink (lactose is milk sugar) that causes hunger and weight gain. When the pigs are given milk with fat in it, they won’t eat more because they are satiated. It turns out people get the same results. You can see this for yourself on any given morning at Starbucks. How many well-meaning over-weight people do you see ordering a “skinny” latte? Another reason to avoid low-fat milk is that it is common practice to add skim milk powder to skim milk. The processing milk undergoes to create skim milk powder creates oxidized cholesterol. Oxidized cholesterol contributes to the plaque build-up in the arteries, called atherosclerosis, which creates heart disease. A general rule of thumb is that any time food has been “processed” it is not usually good for the consumer’s health. Finally, fat soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K will not be absorbed if there is no fat with it.
Homogenized Milk vs. Non-homogenized Milk
Still with me? I know, it’s crazy how much there is to consider with dairy! Another choice to consider is homogenized versus non-homogenized milk. Homogenization prevents the cream in milk from rising to the top, instead it is mixed so that it is “homogenous” or “all the same”. During the process of homogenization, milk is forced at high pressure and temperature through very small holes to break its fat molecules down into smaller particles. The smaller particles carry with them the potential to increase milk’s allergenic properties.
Raw Milk vs. Pasteurized Milk
There is one more consideration to make with regard to milk consumption, and that tends to seem more like a religious argument: raw versus pasteurized. Pasteurizing milk helps to remove dangerous pathogens like listeriosis or tuberculosis to name a few. But when you kill the bad stuff, you kill some of the good stuff too. Pasteurization also destroys milk’s beneficial bacteria, vitamins, minerals and certain enzymes that help the body properly digest the milk. It also is said to change the physical structure of the milk’s proteins, increasing the likelihood of an allergy or sensitivity.
The Best Choice for Milk
If you are going to drink milk, the best possible choice is grass-fed, organic, whole-fat, non-homogenized milk. The only brand I have ever seen that does all of these in one is Kalona Super Natural brand, available at Whole Foods, Vitamin Cottage and other natural food stores. Other brands like Organic Valley provide all of these attributes but are homogenized.
If you decide that you are not going to drink cow’s milk, there are many alternative milks to choose from with varying nutritional profiles (avoid any with carrageenan in the ingredient list though!). But you may worry about getting enough calcium. The odd thing is, even though milk has a lot of calcium, study after study has shown that the countries with the highest rate of dairy consumption also have the highest rate of hip fractures and osteoporosis. The countries with the lowest consumption have the lowest rates of hip fractures and osteoporosis. That’s because bone health is not just about calcium. You need the right ratios of magnesium and vitamin D too. It turns out that too much calcium can actually cause magnesium deficiencies because calcium and magnesium compete for the same absorption channels.
In summary milk may not do your body all that much good. After infancy it is not necessary and can actually be harmful in terms of bone health, weight gain, and allergies or intolerances. There are many alternative milks on the market for those who decide to avoid or reduce dairy. If you are going to drink milk, look for whole (full-fat), non-homogenized, grass-fed milk, like Kalona Super Natural brand. If you can’t find grass-fed, the next best choice is organic milk. But do your body good and avoid conventional milk altogether!
Tracy Stevens is a Nutrition Counselor trained at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Her company, Intuity Wellness, is dedicated to creating health and happiness one meal and lifestyle change at a time. Tracy gives accountability, inspiration, and guidance customized to each person’s particular needs. She starts with a free initial nutrition and lifestyle assessment that lights the path to goal attainment through sustainable, comfortable lifestyle changes that last a lifetime. For a free session or guidance on a dairy elimination challenge contact her at www.intuitywellness.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine http://archpedi.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=486041
- Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/milk-allergy/DS01008/METHOD=print
- Weston A. Price Foundation: http://www.westonaprice.org/2005-action-alerts/
- Reuters: http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/05/28/us-milk-grass-fed-cows-idUSTRE64R5GY20100528
- Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homogenized_Milk_and_Atherosclerosis
- Livestrong: http://www.livestrong.com/article/539230-the-dangers-of-pasteurized-homogenized-milk/