I am going to surprise some people by the stance I take on one of the most popular health beverages of all time – Milk. There is this idea that milk is healthy and beneficial – and it is under certain conditions.
“Milk is good For You”
How many times have we heard that statement? The idea that milk is “healthy” and “good for you” is something that has been drilled into our brains starting in childhood and moving on to adulthood. We watch commercials put out by the milk industry that are designed to help us understand the value of milk. Milk ads also make their way into popular magazines. When ads are mixed with our beliefs, we walk away thinking that milk is a nutritional wonder food.
Think about what we’re told for a moment. As children its drilled in that we are to drink milk for strong, healthy bones and teeth. In adulthood we are told that we should continue drinking milk to prevent brittle bones and other health problems. People who exercise a lot are told that milk is a great recovery drink because of the balance of carbohydrates and protein – just what the body needs.
Milk is actually not the super food the industry would have us believe it is. In fact, it is a beverage that is so filled with problems it can actually cause a host of illnesses. So when people drink milk as we know it – the kind that is found in supermarkets – what they don’t realize is that they can actually be causing more harm than good.
Here is a summary of some of the issues concerning milk:
- Cows that are allowed to graze produce healthier milk than the grain and corn fed ones. (Commercial Milks come from grain and corn fed cows. We will discuss a cows natural diet later).
- Most cows are fed hormones to help up their production of Milk. These hormones are treated as toxins in there bodies which leds to unwanted hormones/toxics in the milk, meaning when we consume that Milk- it ends up in our bodies. This can cause health problems.
- Milk that has been pasteurized has been robbed of its vital enzymes.
- People who believe they are eating no fat and even low fat milk sources are missing out on a vital nutritive quality of milk – CLA or conjugated linoleic acid which has vital health properties. CLA is mainly present in grass fed cows. But when you change a cows’ diet, you change the properties and quality of the food it produces.
The Quality of the food we eat is only as good as the quality of the food it eats.
In the coming sections we’ll examine these issues in greater detail so you can gain an understanding that our commonly held beliefs about milk as being healthy has a dark side. Milk isn’t the wonder beverage people claim it to be unless certain conditions are met.
Not all Cows are treated Equal
The diet cows are fed makes a big difference in how healthy the milk and the meat is. There are a few different things that a farmer can do to change the makeup of the meat and the milk. These include:
- Whether or not the farmer will choose to give the animal hormones.
- Whether or not they will decide to feed the cows various grains or corn or let them graze in a field.
- If the pasture has pesticides and herbicides sprayed on them or of it is organic.
All of these factors have implications for our health. To summarize, the hormones that are present have health consequences and grain fed beef has a higher fat content. The healthiest condition for a cow is for it to graze in a natural field free from harmful chemicals and not be fed any hormones.
We’ll examine all three dot points in in greater detail.
What the Cows Eat
What cows eat play a big role in how healthy the milk is. There are several options farmers can take when feeding their animals. The first is to let it graze in a field that is free from chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. Second, they can let the animals feed in a field that has been treated with any of the above substances – this is less desirable.
And third, the farmer can change the natural diet of a cow and fed it grains such as corn or high protein feed such as soy beans. We’ve already learned that soy beans are not healthy. Soy is feed to the cows because it’s cheap. This means the cow’s health is seriously sacrificed. A cow’s natural diet is grass and when you change that you change the quality and health of the animal and everything that comes from that animal.
There has been a popular promotion of ‘organic grain feed cows’ and its ridiculous- as cows are not meant, nor designed to eat grains.
Of these, the best, most healthy method is to let the cows graze in a natural field that is free from chemicals. Unfortunately this is rare. Grazing in natural fields is how cows function optimally. When cows are allowed these environments, the health of the milk is optimal. These cows have a higher amount of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), vitamins and minerals. Cows that don’t have this environment simply produce bad milk.
A diet of soy beans is bad for the cow in other ways. Farmers do this because it is another factor that helps the cows to produce more milk. However, it can cause major health problems in the animal including liver problems and ultimately shortens the life span.
Hormone Free Cows
Farmers want their cows to produce lots of milk. The more milk the cow produces, the more money the farmer will make. And since most people believe that milk is healthy for us, there is a fairly high demand for milk, especially in homes where there are children. If you think about it, milk is a staple food as most people in the Australia and United States seem to favor a breakfast that includes cereal and milk. News flash – cereal for breakfast is JUST a western tradition that was popularized and promoted by the wheat and dairy industries who really care about your health (not!)
For whatever reason (money), some farmers use Bovine Growth Hormone or rBGH to help cows produce more milk – up to 25% more than what they normally would. For farmers this means that they can make around 25% more money and keep up with the demand for milk.
Seems like a good thing, right? Only if you’re the farmer.. Even though the hormones are designed to help the cow produce more milk, they stay in the milk. This means that we end up consuming Bovine Growth Hormone whenever we drink milk that came from cows that had rBGH injected into them.These hormones mimic the hormones that are found in the pituitary gland and are necessary to the animal in small amounts. In fact, small amounts of pituitary gland hormones are necessary in most mammals in small amounts. But it is important to note that if we drink the amount of milk we are “supposed to” we are far exceeding a safe amount of these hormones.
You may think that just because the industry is allowing this practice to happen means that it must be safe. But consider this fact – a lot of Western countries, such as Canada, have banned it. Yet it is still a practice that is used in the United States. Canada, for example, has banned it for animal activist reasons – it’s not seen as a humane practice.
The hormones can cause all kinds of health problems and abnormalities in humans. An excess of these hormones in the body can cause tumors and abnormal growth problems. And since these cows that are fed the extra hormones tend to have health problems, they are fed antibiotics which also come through in the milk.
So you see it’s a vicious cycle. The end product is a hormone and antibiotic filled liquid from a sick animal that’s on its last legs.
Pasteurization is not all it’s Cracked up to Be
On the surface, it may seem like pasteurization is a good thing. The very process is designed to rid the milk of any diseases and bacteria. Since people don’t want to get sick, they believe that the food they eat needs to be pasteurized. This ultimately means that the milk will be processed using high temperatures.
The first problem with this method is that it is not a guarantee that the milk will be free from disease. The process itself can cause outbreaks of food born illnesses like salmonella. There was an outbreak back in 1985, for example, that affected around 14,000 people that was traced back to a contaminated milk processing plant.
The interesting thing about cases like that is that milk actually contains a bacteria that produces lactic acid which helps protect against things like salmonella and other pathogens (infectious agents). However, when the milk is pasteurized, this substance is killed which then leaves the milk vulnerable. When pasteurized milk gets old, it is rendered useless. When raw milk gets old, it turns sour through a chemical change. This sour milk is often still drinkable.
Another problem with this process is that heat changes the amino acid structure of the milk itself. For example, you would never microwave a protein shake because heat ruins the structure of the protein. Well this is what happens when milk gets pasteurizes. This mainly affects lysine and tyrosine. The implication of the fact that heat changes the structure of the amino acids is that the assimilation of lysine and tyrosine is hindered and it also causes the fat in the milk to become rancid a lot faster than it usually would.
It also causes the destruction of vital fatty acids, vitamins, and enzymes such as B12 and Vitamin C which tends to destabilize when exposed to heat. It also makes the minerals in the milk less available. Lipase, for example, is naturally present in milk and helps the body digest the fats that are in the milk. This enzyme gets destroyed in the high temperature pasteurization process. Ever wonder why these days they add Vitamin C and Calcium to milk? It’s because when milk gets pasteurized these things get destroyed or altered.
As you can see, raw milk has a lot more health benefit than pasteurized milk. So why do we still do it? In fact, there are only two states in the United States where it is not illegal to sell raw milk in the stores – California being one of them. And even in California there is a strong movement against this practice.
In Australia it is illegal to sell raw milk - period.
The modern, pasteurized version of milk is devoid of milk’s original nutritional benefit. It makes the body more susceptible to allergies, chronic fatigue, and other problems. It can also cause your body to be in a toxic state depending on what else is in the milk such as the hormones and bacteria that we discussed earlier. To preserve your health, it is best to avoid pasteurized milk.
Other Problems with Milk
There are other problems with milk that people face. For example, some people aren’t equipped with the ability to digest milk properly. The culprit is often the milk sugar, or lactose. The human body produces the lactase enzyme but in some people that capability is either non existent or it disappears after childhood.
Other people are affected by milk in different ways. Some are intolerant to milk and they may also have a milk allergy. Other people find that the protein present in milk (casein) is difficult to digest. And still others find that they don’t even enjoy the taste of it. That is often a sign that the body doesn’t want it but since we are bred to believe that milk is beneficial, we struggle through drinking it.
So Can we Have Dairy at All?
As discussed above, it is best to avoid all milk that has been pasteurized, fed hormones and antibiotics, and a diet of grain, soy, or greens that have been treated with chemicals. However, you can still drink milk as long as you find a raw source.
Doctor Weston Price did epidemiological studies concerning healthy populations that consumed milk and he found that there were certain patterns. These populations had raw milk, sour milk that came from raw milk, and raw cheese where the milk came from healthy, grass fed cows that were free from synthetic hormones and antibiotics.
Keep in mind that it is illegal to sell raw milk almost everywhere. Your alternative would be to find a private farmer who is willing to give or sell you raw milk. For those who have the practical means, you may even look at purchasing your own dairy cow to get fresh milk whenever you need it.
If you can’t find a raw milk source near you, stick with full-fat yogurt, cottage cheese, or kefir that has the active cultures or probiotics. You can also purchase simple probiotic drinks that are also a decent dairy source. So if you absolutely must consume dairy, you should stick to these sources and ensure the dairy you consume is free of synthetic hormones. And just to note, there are other sources of calcium – you don’t have to have dairy.
Putting it All Together – Action Steps
On your health journey, it is important to tread very lightly when dealing with the dairy issue. As mentioned above, it is best to consume raw milk and raw cheeses as well as yogurt and other cultured dairy products.
To apply this step to your own life you should do the following:
- Look for a local supplier of raw milk. If you live in a place where it is illegal to sell raw milk in the stores, you’ll need to find a farmer who is willing to supply it to you.
- If you can’t find raw milk, you may be able to find raw cheese. Some health food stores often carry varieties of raw cheddar and other cheeses.
- In the event that you can’t find raw milk or raw cheese, consider upping your intake of cultured dairy products such as kefir, buttermilk, or yogurt or give it a miss entirely (as I do).
Remember that there is more than meets the eye when it comes to dairy. It isn’t the healthy beverage that people would like you to believe unless it meets the conditions mentioned above in the action steps. If you would like to take one positive step in the direction of increasing your overall state of health, fitness and strength, eliminating unhealthy dairy products is a very good start.
Remember, anything that takes away from our health will evitable take away from our performance in the gym.