Milk: It Does No Body Good
Friday, 28 May 2010
If there is one staple that is promoted more than any other in the standard American diet, it is milk. One of the greatest myths of our “food pyramid” is that we need to consume four servings per day of milk or other dairy products in order to be healthy. In fact, Americans consume more dairy products than most other countries, yet we have a higher epidemic of heart disease and obesity. Dairy products have a high cholesterol and saturated fat content, stimulate the over-production of mucus (resulting in more frequent and severe colds and sinus infections), and are one of the top 5 food allergens (causing a range of gastrointestinal distress due to either lactose intolerance or allergic reaction to the proteins casein or whey). Sure, milk contains calcium, protein, and vitamins, but it is not the exclusive source – there are other healthier ways to obtain these nutrients. This article is intended to reassure those who are dairy-free that they can indeed maintain proper nutritional levels of calcium, and for those of you who are milk-drinkers, some information that may surprise you on what kind of milk you should and shouldn’t be drinking.
“But where will I get my calcium?”
I grew up on a farm. Not a dairy farm, but our neighbors were dairy farmers, and we drank a big glass of milk at every meal, three times a day. Even though when I was very young I tested allergic to milk, at some point a few years later it was reintroduced into my diet and never spoken of again. My decision not to drink milk as an adult (following another allergy test) was a shock to my family. Not only that, but all the women on my mother’s side of the family have osteoporosis (a lot of good all the milk they drank did them), so the thought of me not drinking milk was very frightening to my mother. Every time I go for a visit, she asks me where I am getting my calcium from, and am I taking supplements. Every time she asks I respond the same way: I get my calcium from dark, leafy green vegetables, shellfish and seafood, and whole grains, nuts and legumes (and I probably get more than you get from your milk).
Though most foods contain less calcium per serving than a glass of milk, if you are getting it from many different sources, it will quickly add up to your daily recommendation of 1,000 mg of calcium per day. Consider the following sample diet that contains a total 1190 mg of calcium:
Breakfast: 1 cup cooked amaranth cereal (153 mg) with 1 T added ground flaxseed meal (25 mg) and topped with 1 oz. chopped dates (12 mg), and a medium orange (52 mg) – 242 mg
Lunch: Arugula salad (160 mg) topped with 1/2 cup mixed garbanzo/kidney beans (60 mg), radishes (21 mg), and 1 oz. diced almonds (75 mg) – 316 mg
Snack: Mango (25 mg) and peach (15 mg) smoothie with a handful of mixed brazil, cashew, and hazelnuts (90 mg) – 130 mg
Dinner: Stir-fry with 1/2 cup tofu (253 mg), 1/2 cup bok choy (79 mg), 1 cup broccoli (62 mg), and 1 T sesame tahini (63 mg), served over 1/2 cup cooked brown rice (10 mg) – 467 mg
Dessert: 3 Black mission figs – 35 mg
If you are consuming a diet that consists of mostly processed foods (which are stripped of nutrients in the process) and few fresh vegetables and whole grains and legumes, then you probably need dairy products or a supplement in order to get your calcium. But if you are eating a variety of fresh, whole foods, then there is no need to worry. (Though it is important to note that some vegetable sources are more difficult to absorb, due to anti-nutrients such as oxalic acid in vegetables and nuts and phytic acid in grains & soy products. Cooking vegetables, soaking nuts and grains, and choosing fermented soy products will greatly reduce the amount of these anti-nutrients.) For more information on the calcium content of non-dairy foods, click here.
Pasteurization – Blessing or Curse?
Okay, so if you are going to drink milk and are able to do so without gastrointestinal distress, you should only buy organic milk and cheeses, preferably raw and from grass-fed cows where available, and do so in moderation.
Did you know: Human beings are the only species that consumes the milk of another species?
While the practice of raising cows for milk consumption has been around for ages, it has greatly increased since the invention of the pasteurization process. In order to keep up with today’s demand for more milk, we raise our cows in crowded quarters, pump them full of hormones to increase production, feed them grains that their stomachs can’t digest, and then give them antibiotics to prevent illness that naturally occurs under such living conditions. The end result is something very different than what our ancestors consumed, and pasteurization becomes necessary to kill the harmful bacteria that are now present in ever greater numbers.
Not only is modern milk loaded with antibiotics, toxins and hormones, but the pasteurization process intended to kill the bad bacteria also destroys the good bacteria and natural enzymes that allow its digestion. Our bodies don’t manufacture the proper enzymes to help our digestive system break down the milk and absorb all its nutrients. Consider phosphatase, a heat-sensitive enzyme essential for absorption and assimilation of calcium, which is destroyed during pasteurization. That 300 mg of calcium per glass? It won’t end up in your bones. (You will keep the fat though, but it won’t be the good kind of omega-3 fatty acids, unless it comes from a grass-fed cow.) Unpasteurized milk, however, contains more than 60 naturally-occurring enzymes, including lactase, which breaks down lactose (milk sugar). After years of consuming milk minus the lactase, your body can easily become burdened with breaking down all that lactose and, you guessed it, lactose-intolerant.
But unpasteurized milk just isn’t safe, you might say. Our ancesters drank raw milk for thousands of years. The reason why it is less safe now is because it is so mass produced and travels so far from the cow to your table. Also, dairy cows are less healthy due to unnatural diet and living conditions and are therefore more succeptible to disease. A cow that is fed a natural diet of grass will be healthier and produce healthier milk. Raw milk also contains natural lactic-acid producing bacteria known as Lactobacillus acidophilus that, in addition to benefiting your intestinal tract, will fight against bad bacteria. For more information about the safety and benefits of raw milk and where to get it, visit http://raw-milk-facts.com or http://www.realmilk.com.
I wonder if milk would still be one of the top 5 food allergens if instead of our standard American diet of cheese, ice cream and daily glasses of milk we consumed a moderate amount of raw dairy products. Maybe someday after years of abstinence, my body will have healed my allergy, and I can try it to see if it affects me the same way. Until then, I really don’t have the urge to go out and drink a big glass of milk.