Milk. Dietary angel or demon?
Milk and eggs are the topic of Change #3 and Change #4 in our “12 Steps to Change Everything” series.
As simple as these two foods should be, the nutrition world has yo-yo’ed back and forth with our minds and mouths over whether they are “healthy” or not. Some people believe the cholesterol in milk and eggs can be deadly. Others understand that milk and eggs contain the kind of cholesterol and fat that can save your health! Some people believe that consuming milk and eggs is inhumane to animals. Others believe milk and eggs from farms dedicated to sustainable practices like pasture-raising their animals is undeniably humane to the animals.
It all can be very confusing.
We have both milk and eggs on our REAL Food Cheat Sheet as daily essentials that we try to make sure every member of our family consumes daily- especially the kids. We believe the right kind of milk and eggs are a very important part of most healthy diets. However, our definition and defense of “milk” and “eggs” needs to be clarified because we believe milk and eggs can be both demon and angel, depending on what you’re actually consuming.
This week we are going to cover MILK then we will discuss eggs next week because both topics (surprisingly) require a lot of information. I’m not covering dairy alternatives in this post, either. There is simply too much to cover with actual dairy. I’ll cover milk alternatives in a future post in our “52 Changes…” series. I promise.
Let’s dive into this surprisingly heated debate over a food we’ve consumed for thousands of years…milk.
Should we drink milk?
There are many nutritional and philosophical arguments over this question. I’ll jump ahead for a second to let you know that our family cherishes our top quality “milk” as a superfood, and you’ll find our recommendation for this kind of milk at the end of this post. Let me first address a few of the main arguments over milk…
Is milk healthy or unhealthy?
Some nutrition professionals will say that milk- particularly cow’s milk- should be avoided at all times. Just like other purported health “demons”, including gluten and sugar, nutrition folk can become absolutely dogmatic about the supposed danger of milk no matter who you are and how your body actually reacts to milk.
Milk may need to be avoided- at least temporarily- if you have a true allergy, sensitivity or intolerance. It’s pretty easy to know if you have a true allergy- you have a serious, sometimes dangerous reactions to it. Sensitivity and intolerance are different, and may develop over time. The easiest way to identify a food sensitivity or intolerance on your own is to completely eliminate that food from your diet for a week or two. Don’t change anything else in your diet during this time. After the elimination period, introduce the suspected food during one meal, then wait at least 24 hours before consuming it again. Pay very close attention to your body for many hours after consuming it to see if you have any noticeable reaction or symptom of a problem- including digestion, brain function, energy levels, sleep issues, or any other noticeable symptom. You should be able to identify a true need to eliminate or avoid that food based on this process.
You may want to work with a doctor or nutrition professional with the elimination process, including our nutritional therapy assessments, if you aren’t sure what symptoms you’re having or if you need help identifying sensitivity or intolerance.
Many people don’t even realize that food sensitivity and intolerance can be due to dysfunction and break down in the digestive tract and can be reversed or improved if the lining of the gut is repaired and healed. This is definitely something you’ll want to work on with with our nutritional therapy assessments! You can also check out the resources we’ve collected in our article, “Ultimate Guide to Gut-Healing Diets“.
Many people, if not the majority of people, have absolutely no problem consuming milk- especially high quality unprocessed whole milk or raw milk. I personally don’t think it’s fair to strip people of the pleasure of butter, cream, cheese, cafe lattes, and other dairy delicacies if not absolutely necessary!
So why do some people have problems with milk?
Human cultures across the world have been drinking animal milk and eating foods made from animal milk for thousands of years without any adverse health problems. Of course human milk for growing babies has been considered “liquid gold” in every culture for all of human history, but let’s stick with the topic of non-human milk.
In the Bible there are many references to richly productive land as “flowing with milk and honey”. (I believe these references have both a figurative meaning and a literal meaning: the gift of fertile land producing plush green grass and flowering plants, which means healthy dairy animals grazing on the grass and healthy bee colonies pollinating flowers and producing honey!)
Other historical evidence shows dairy consumption from thousands of years ago, including this discovery of 8500 year old milk containers from Turkey. If you spend a little time immersed in traditional cultures around the world you’ll discover ancient culinary traditions of dairy use, especially aged and cultured dairy foods like cheese, yogurt, kefir and buttermilk.
The problem came with pasteurization.
Louis Pasteur (1822-1895), considered the “father of microbiology”, contributed great brilliance to humanity and science. We enjoy clean, disease-free lives because of his support and application of the germ-theory and methods of sterilization, among many other discoveries and research. However, one thing Pasteur didn’t pay attention to was the benefits that were being sterilized away through his techniques- especially milk pasteurization.
When pasteurization of milk began (which means heating the milk- or cooking it- to kill living organisms), we humans didn’t understand that raising cows in filthy conditions and on diets full of sugar and rotting food scraps instead of GRASS (which should be most, if not all of a milk cow’s diet) would cause the proliferation of bacteria and disease in the cow’s body. Sterile handling and cleanliness was not practiced or understood when the cows were milked, either. So you have dirty milk coming from a diseased cow that is exposed to more bacteria and disease, which all proliferates to dangerous amounts in the milk before it is consumed by unhealthy, immune-suppressed adults and children. Pasteurization was the answer for very serious health problems at the time of its inception and it saved many lives.
Pasteurization killed the bad bugs in the milk, but it also killed the good things like vitamins, enzymes and beneficial bacteria. Raw milk- straight from the cow (or goat, or sheep, or whatever)- contains all the enzymes and organisms most humans need to properly digest the proteins and sugars found in milk. Removing those living organisms means you will likely experience difficulty digesting it.
If pasteurization weren’t bad enough, the bad organisms that typically develop in milk from large dairy farms using inhumane and unclean practices have become resistant to regular pasteurization methods. “Ultra-pasteurization” is now the norm which heats milk at higher temperatures and for a longer amount of time. I call that nutrient-less, boiled white liquid- not milk. (Yuck!)
Many people find the protein and sugar found in milk from animals other than cows easier to digest, such as goats or sheep, which is great! But the bottom line is: clean RAW milk from healthy, grass-fed cows is the best option for dairy because it maintains the nutrient content of the milk and contains the living organisms we need to properly digest it.
Yes, we recommend consuming quality raw milk and dairy, if it’s available. Organic, gently processed whole milk is the next best thing. I’ll discuss this more below.
Then the problem came with removing the fat.
First we adulterated milk by pasteurizing it, but then we got the (false) idea that fat and cholesterol from milk was “bad” for you, and we started going through extreme processing methods to “reduce” the fat in milk. Reduced fat dairy processing removes fat from whole milk until it is a watery, blueish, chalky mess that they blast with oxidized milk powders and homogenize it back into a white-colored liquid. This reduced fat dairy liquid is what most people believe is the only “healthy” version of milk. The whole process of reduced fat dairy is disgusting! I really like this article from Butter Believer about the dangers and truths of skim milk.
If you still believe that consuming dietary fat is bad- especially fat from animal foods- click this link for information and for more research references you can look into, or click through the list of links I’ve provided at the end of this post!
Even this TIME article explains how clearly unscientific and worse it is for diabetes and heart disease risk to consume reduced-fat dairy instead of whole-fat dairy! If you’re still buying reduced-fat dairy, it’s time to get educated and proudly buy the full-fat stuff. That’s the only kind that actually “does a body good”!
Is it humane to drink milk in the first place?
The great debate over the act of drinking animal milk is a surprisingly heated one. One major argument (typically from vegetarians and vegans) is that consuming animal milk is disgusting because no other animal in nature consumes another animal’s milk. That is actually untrue, there are many- albeit rare- stories of one animal species “adopting” a young animal of another species and nursing it.
I might offer the evolutionist the fact that the human is the only “animal” smart enough to get milk out of another animal! Carnivorous animals will happily consume the milk in a lactating female they prey on. If an animal in nature comes across milk somehow, they will ravenously consume it as a rare treat, as will your own dog or cat if you give them a bowl of cream. As a Christian and believer in Creation, I do not believe that humans are evolved animals but uniquely designed in the image of God Himself (Genesis 1:27), and we therefore are not “animals” consuming another animal’s milk- but that’s a little extra food for thought.
Interestingly I once debated with someone who thought drinking milk from animals was completely unnatural, however they didn’t seem to have a problem eating the butter, cheese or ice cream served during our meal together. Hmmm. (I know there are more dedicated folks out there, but that was simply my experience.)
Some vegans believe that taking milk (or eggs) from animals for consumption exploits the animal. I can’t argue with that extreme conviction, except to say I agree to disagree and I ask that you respect my right to consume milk and eggs, knowing I sincerely love and care for the animals I get it from! I might also encourage you to check out my article, “To Vegetarians and Vegans, with Love“.
I completely agree with those who believe dairy farming can be a disgusting display of inhumane treatment of animals. I discuss that point of view on this blog post I wrote a while back called “The Real California Milk Lie“.
Just like my recommendation to choose quality milk from farms dedicated to humanely and organically raising their animals for nutritional reasons, if you care about animal welfare, then you must choose to “vote with your fork”. When we, as a culture, demand more food from the farms doing it right, there will be more farms doing it right.
The “milk” we recommend is full-fat, organic, preferably raw, REAL milk.
What? Full fat? RAW??
Yep, full fat raw milk from grass-fed cows is considered a REAL “superfood” in our home. We go out of our way to purchase- and pay a high price for- raw milk.
Thanks to scientists like Louis Pasteur and microbiologists of the 20th century, we were able to eventually discover that REAL, RAW milk is teeming with living organisms that are incredibly beneficial to humans. When the raw milk comes from healthy, grass-fed cows, and milked in clean and sterile conditions, there is virtually no danger in consuming it. In many instances, the dangerous bacteria levels are higher in milk from large dairy farms than raw milk farms that are doing things right.
Raw milk contains vitamins, minerals, digestive enzymes, beneficial bacteria and a nourishing macronutrient balance of fat, protein and carbohydrates. It’s no wonder we consider it a true “superfood”. We know where our raw milk comes from, and we have absolutely no concerns over the safety of our milk.
There are SO many frequently asked questions about raw milk- including questions about safety, testing, availability, legality… I recommend you check out the REAL Milk website for answers to all your questions, including a way to find out how to get quality raw milk for your family.
Some people are more interested in alternatives to cow milk, such as goat milk, sheep milk or even camel milk. All these options are available in raw form if you can find good sources. We think those are all great options if you like them!
Can’t do raw milk? Organic full fat milk is the next best thing.
For various reasons, raw milk isn’t a possibility for some people. If that’s the case, we only recommend organic, full-fat milk and dairy from grass-fed cows. No reduced fat dairy is allowed in our home. Be careful! There is reduced fat dairy in a lot of seemingly whole-fat dairy items, especially half and half and yogurt. Read your ingredients labels!
Cream and butter are also less problematic to consume in the pasteurized form- and we usually have to purchased those items pasteurized for budget reasons. Since cream and butter are mostly dairy fat and not the protein or sugar that is so difficult to digest without the living organisms.
Cultured dairy, like yogurt and kefir, have beneficial organisms cultured back into it so it also isn’t as bad if you buy raw versions of those, either. However, if you can get it, it will be an incredibly wonderful luxury to consume cream, butter and cultured foods in the RAW form!!!
Final Note & References
There was seriously too much to try to cover on this topic! I feel like I left out a lot of important information regarding milk. I fully intended this to be a simple, short post but I felt guilty not addressing some of the most popular questions I get about milk. Please comment with questions and I’ll provide information as needed!
Here are some articles you may want to check out for further reading:
- Milk: It Does A Body Good? (Weston A. Price Foundation)
- KEY DOCUMENTS from Real Milk, including a list of articles responding to nutrition, safety, ethical and economic issues
- TIME article: Full Fat is Better than Low Fat
- European Journal of Nutrition: Relationship between full-fat dairy and health issues (concluding full fat is better, low fat is worse)