Now that’s a question that has received tons of controversy in the past 30 years. Is milk really good for you? Does it make you fat? Does it make you thin? Does it play a role in cancer or heart disease? Does it help promote bone development? Is whole milk better? Is skim milk better? What about pasteurization and homogenization? One day, milk is good for us. The next day, milk is bad for us. I will be honest, in my own personal research on milk, for every article I find praising milk, I can find another one tearing it apart. So, what should we believe? What is the truth?
Well, the truth is milk can be good and milk can be bad for us. Huh? I believe the difference depends on some very important questions. Ask yourself, where does the milk come from (organic and pastured-fed or conventional and grain-fed), are their additives (synthetic Vitamin A, D, and thickeners like carrageenan), has it been pasteurized and homogenized, is it whole fat or skim, and finally, what if the person drinking the milk has a milk intolerance? The question of, is milk really good for us? depends on so many variables. So, for us to make an educated decision on choosing or not choosing to add milk to our diet we need to understand a few things…
Organic and pasture-fed vs. conventional grain-fed milk.
As I discussed in a previous blog, Where is the grass-fed beef? pastured, grass-fed cattle produce a far superior product than commercial, grain-fed cattle. This is not only true in the meat they produce, but also in the milk they produce. One of the big reasons for this is pastured, hormone-free cows produce less milk than commercial cows, but the milk is richer in vitamin content. When farmers try to increase their milk production by using synthetic hormones like rBTH (recombinant bovine growth hormone), selective breeding, and an energy-dense grain diet, they end up increasing the milk volume, BUT diluting the nutritional content of the milk. This means less Vitamin A, D, Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, B2, B12, and phosphorous in the conventionally farmed milk. This is one of those times when less is more.
In addition, grass-fed pastured cows produce milk that has higher levels of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid). CLA is a family of at least 28 isomers of linoleic acid that is best known for its anti-cancer and anti-inflammation properties. In a 1999 study by the Journal of Dairy Science, it was concluded that cows grazing on pasture and receiving no supplemental feed had 3 to 5 times more CLA in their milkfat than cows fed a grain diet. In many animal and human studies, CLA has been shown to not only slow the growth of cancer on the skin, breast, prostate and colon, but also help in weight loss and increased metabolism.
*Just a side note, many people take a synthetic version of CLA that is widely promoted as a diet aid and muscle builder. New research shows that the type of CLA in the pills may have some potentially serious side effects, including promoting insulin resistance, raising glucose levels, and reducing HDL. Just another reason to eat real food and toss out your expensive supplements.
Finally, organic, grass-fed pastured milk is free of any hormones (free of rBGH) and antibiotics. We should assume what goes in the cow, will end up in the milk, which will eventually end up in us. The hormone rBGH has been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer in humans. The additive has been banned in Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, and the entire European Union — yet, here in America, it is widely used in the conventionally farmed dairy industry.
As you can see, grass-fed organic milk is an entirely different product than conventional grain-fed milk. From what I have read, most of the negative research on milk has been on conventional grain-fed milk. So the question is… Is it really the milk that is bad for us? Or is it how we’re treating the cows?
Lets keep going…
Most milk products contain some form of synthetic vitamin A and D. Yes, this is even true for some organic brands. Due to their lower fat content, US law requires most organic low-fat and skim milks to be fortified with additional Vitamin A and D. All conventionally farmed milk products, including whole, low fat, and skim milk varieties, are fortified with Vitamin A and D.
What does this mean to you?
According to Josh Rubin of East West Healing and Performance, many people have an inflammatory response to these synthetic vitamins. Some are very cheap and many come from overseas where the quality standards are much lower than the United States. The FDA reports that less than 20% of these overseas vitamins are actually regulated by their standards. The only milk products I have found that have no Vitamin additives are all raw organic milk products and some pasteurized whole milk products. Just another reason to read your food labels.
In addition, some milk products, including skim, low fat versions, and chocolate milk contain carrageenan. If you have not already read my Carrageenan blog, Carrageenan is natural emulsifier and thickener used in many products. It has been linked to several types of cancer, arthritis, ulcerations of the intestines, and many other issues. Once again, is it the milk you are drinking OR the additives in the milk that are making it unhealthy for you?
Pasteurization is a process of heating a food, usually a liquid, to a specific temperature for a specific length of time and then cooling it immediately. The purpose is to kill off all harmful bacteria and pathogens. The problem is that pasteurization also kills the good bacteria (probiotics); alters the enzymes, proteins, fats, and sugar in milk, and creates a dead food. Non-pasteurized (raw) milk consumption has been shown to positively influence the immune system’s resistance to the development of asthma, hay fever and atopic sensitzation (skin allergy). In fact, many cultures use raw milk as a homeopathic healing food.
The only positive thing about pasteurization is that it allows for a longer shelf life. Raw milk, due to it being a live food, will spoil much faster. Remember, the improved shelf live is a big plus for the commercial dairy farmer. Longer lasting milk = less spoiling = more money.
Is pasteurized milk really safer than raw milk? I believe raw milk and pasteurized milk are equally susceptible to contamination. The only way to make milk safe is to keep it clean —clean cows and clean dairies. Instead, to make things easier, we kill a lot of the good in milk and produce a less healthy product.
Whole fat milk vs. low fat and skim milk
One of the many reasons milk has received such a bad name is due to its saturated fat content. Saturated fat has received a bad name because it has been linked to increase cholesterol, heart disease, and heart attacks. However, as I discussed in my blog on saturated fat, this is not the case. Saturated fat can be very beneficial to our bodies. It is the most stable of all the fats, it contains vital nutrients, it can help with metabolism, digestion, thyroid function, and liver detoxification. Once we remove the saturated fat from milk, what we are left with is cheap sugar water with a little protein. The milk fat contains vitamin A and D, and is needed for proper vitamin absorption. Remove the fat, you remove the nutrients…as to why the government has to add them back in.
For many years, it was almost en vogue to be lactose intolerant. Now gluten intolerance seems to be the new hip “intestinal issue”. Still, many people are claiming they have a hard time breaking down the lactose (milk sugar) in milk because they are no longer producing the enzyme lactase. This ends up giving them all sorts of problems like gas, upset stomach, cramps, and bloating. The enzyme lactase is needed to break down the milk sugar lactose. Lactase is produced in the microvilli of the small intestine, and is released once lactose enters the intestines. The problem starts when the gut and intestines become inflamed and damaged (usually happens over time with the consumption of alcohol, drugs, PUFAs, grains, processed foods, additives, etc.) and lactase production shuts down. When this happens, lactose cannot be broken down and what we develop is intolerance to anything containing lactose.
So why not just consume lactose-free products?
Well, you could do this, but there is a reason milk contains the milk sugar lactose. Lactose is needed in helping calcium get absorbed by your body and into the bones. Yes, milk sugar is needed for optimal calcium absorption into the right areas (bones, not arteries). A better idea would be to heal the gut and slowly start adding dairy back into the diet. According to Dr. Ray Peat, you can heal the gut and intestines of lactose intolerance in as little as two weeks. Peat says you may want to try adding a small amount of additive-free cheese first, and then start adding in a little whole organic, grass-fed milk over time.
As you can see, there is more to Got milk? than meets the eye. Yes, milk can be considered bad for us. But given the right quality of milk, with the right person, in the right amounts, milk can be very beneficial. Personally, I drink milk every day. For me, the benefits of milk far outweigh any negatives.
Not only is milk a complete food (contains fats, proteins and carbs), but it contains CLA, Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, Phosphorus, and Vitamins A, B2, B12, and D. I would suggest, if you are going to start adding in milk to your diet, purchase the best source available.
My personal selections are:
1) Raw (non-homogenized, non-pasteurized), grass-fed, organic whole milk is best (no additives)
2) Pasteurized, non homogenized, grass-fed, organic whole milk (no additives)
3) Pasteurized and homogenized organic, grass-fed whole milk (no additives)
4) Pasteurized and homogenized organic, grass-fed 2% or 1% milk
Remember, the less processing, additives, and degradation your milk has gone through, the more healthful this food will be for you. Quality is king!
Your Optimal Health Coach,
“Disclaimer: I am an exercise physiologist, personal trainer, nutritional and lifestyle coach, not a medical doctor. I do not diagnose, prescribe for, treat or claim to prevent, mitigate or cure any human disease or physical problem. I do not provide diagnosis, care treatment or rehabilitation of individuals, nor apply medical, mental health or human development principles. I do not prescribe prescription drugs nor do I tell you to discontinue them. I provide physical and dietary suggestions to improve health and wellness and to nourish and support normal function and structure of the body. If you suspect any disease please consult your physician.”
- A. Aro et al, Kuopio University, Finland; Bougnoux, P, Lavillonniere F, Riboli E. “Inverse relation between CLA in adipose breast tissue and risk of breast cancer. A case-control study in France.” Inform 10;5:S43, 1999)
- Jensen, S. K. “Quantitative secretion and maximal secretion capacity of retinol, beta-carotene and alpha-tocopherol into cows’ milk.” J Dairy Res 66, no. 4 (1999): 511-22. )
- Dhiman, T. R., G. R. Anand, et al. (1999). “Conjugated linoleic acid content of milk from cows fed different diets.” J Dairy Sci 82(10): 2146-56
- Riserus, U., P. Arner, et al. (2002). “Treatment with dietary trans10cis12 conjugated linoleic acid causes isomer-specific insulin resistance in obese men with the metabolic syndrome.” Diabetes Care 25(9): 1516-21.
- Dr. Ray Peat: “Milk in context: allergies, ecology, and some myths”, “Calcium and Disease: Hypertension, organ calcification, & shock, vs. respiratory energy”
- Ron Schmid, ND; The Untold Story or Milk
- Josh Rubin; East West Healing and Performance; www.eastwesthealing.com