Amongst hot-topic health issues, cow’s milk is a main contender for ‘most controversial’. Disregarding all the jargon, however, it remains a fact that the majority of families in the United States purchase cow’s milk on a regular basis. Whether or not milk in and of itself is a healthy choice, there are certainly things to look for that will render milk more or less digestible.

1. Organic, Hormone and Antibiotic Free  Many are not aware of the toxins conventional milk contains. Just like meat, milk absorbs any chemicals the cow is exposed to during its life, and therefore the first and most essential priority  is that the milk you buy is organic, hormone and antibiotic free. Organic means that the food the cows are fed is never exposed to pesticides or other harmful chemicals that would eventually be absorbed by your body. Hormone-free means that the cows were not exposed to the unnecessary practice of being fed growth hormones, which will be carried through the water (not fat) part of the milk into your body, and antibiotic-free means that they are not pumped full of antibiotics (which are only used when the cows are living in squalid, cram-packed environments).

2. Grass or Pasteur Fed Cows This one’s pretty straight forward. Cows evolved eating grass and have digestive systems equipped best for extracting nutrients from grass. While they don’t keel over and die right away when they are fed grain, corn, and soybeans, their overall health declines, meaning you don’t get as many beneficial nutrients from their milk as you would if they were eating what they’re supposed to eat: grass.

3. Unhomogenized  After you’ve ensured that the milk you’re buying has all of the above qualities, the next most important thing you want to look for is whether or not the milk has been homogenized. Homogenization, which was invented purely for esthetic reasons, is a process that forces milk through a sieve at high pressure to break up the fat molecules and proteins, resulting in milk that is even in appearance rather than separating when the fattier parts float to the top. While this might look pretty, it not only makes the milk taste blander but actually makes the fat, and therefore the milk, more susceptible to oxidation, which in turn will make the milk go rancid easily. Furthermore, because these fat particles are in an unnaturally tiny form they are easily absorbed by the villi in your small intestine and head straight for your bloodstream. This means it can more easily clog your arteries and eventually lead to heart-disease.

4. Whole Milk This point should actually be tied with the former on the Hierarchy of Desirability for milk. While “fat-free” is all the rage, drastically reducing fat can actually have negative effects on health, and low-fat dairy specifically has been shown to decrease fertility levels in women. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat soluble, and when the fat is removed from milk, so are the vitamins. In order to remedy this situation, commercial milk manufacturer’s add powdered oxidized cholesterol containing synthetic versions of these vitamins which try, but fail, to mimic the real thing. Which brings us to the next thing to look for when buying milk:

5. Unfortified Extra vitamins and calcium sound great, right? But they’re not. For starters, calcium is not the only component that leads to healthy bones. Instead it is the interaction between calcium and other minerals like magnesium and phosphorus that ensure it gets absorbed where it needs to (bones,) and doesn’t get deposited where it can cause harm (arterial walls). In fact, studies have shown an increased risk of heart disease in those who take calcium supplements.

Fortification began in an attempt to re-integrate the beneficial elements that were lost when fat was removed from milk, and turned into a clever marketing tactic to boot. But artificial replications of vitamins and minerals can never compare to the benefits of getting them directly from a healthy, wholesome, real-food diet. More and more evidence is popping up showing that how we absorb and use vitamins and minerals is much more complex than the simplistic, reductionist way we, and vitamin companies, may wish it were. This is the case with vitamin D, of which there are 5 known subtypes but only one or two of these subtypes are ever added to milk. When broken down and taken out of context the effects of these subtypes range from being difficult to absorb to being toxic, and who wants that in their milk?!

6. Unpasteurized I put this point last on the Hierarchy only because it is the most difficult to come by. Pasteurized milk is milk that has been cooked at high heat over a certain period of time with the intent to kill microbes that may be harmful to the consumer. Unfortunately, this process also kills the good bacteria that can protect the consumer from the bad ones, and it doesn’t even guarantee that contaminants like salmonella will be absent. But bacteria aren’t the only things that are killed during pasteurization. Proteins and enzymes, which help the body absorb the vitamins and minerals in milk are also destroyed, along with some of the vitamins themselves.

Unpasteurized milk is called “raw” milk, but is only for public sale in very few states due to the misconception that pasteurized milk is less dangerous. However, most states do allow farmers to sell it directly to their customers.

In conclusion, just as with any food, you want to buy only the purest, least-altered milk you can possibly come by. If raw milk is not available where you live you may want to switch to a milk alternative and only consume cultured dairy products, yogurt, butter, and raw cheese (following the same Hierarchy of Desirability principles as for milk). In fact, if you suffer from gas, bloating, anxiety, depression, acne, or sluggishness, you may want to consider cutting dairy out of your diet entirely for a while to see if you have an unrecognized lactose-intolerance which is common especially for people who consume milk that is not raw. Good milk alternatives include rice, hemp, or oat milk, or you can make your own almond milk.

I hope this article helps you as you navigate the dairy-isle. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions you may have!

References:

  • Bolland MJ, Grey A, Avenell A, Gamble GD, Reid IR. “Calcium supplements with or without vitamin D and risk of cardiovascular events: reanalysis of the Women’s Health Initiative limited access dataset and meta-analysis.” Department of Medicine, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92 019, Auckland 1142, New Zealand.
  • Chavarro J.E., Rich-Edwards J.W., Rosner B., Willett W.C. “A Prospective Study of Dairy Foods Intake and Anovulatory Infertility.” Oxford Journals, Volume 22 Issue 5, Pp. 1340-1347. 2007.
  • Fallon, Sally. Nourishing Traditions. New Trends Publishing Inc. Washington, DC. 2001.
  • Levy, T. E. Optimal Nutrition for Optimal Health: The Real Truth About Eating Right for Weight Loss, Detoxification, Low Cholesterol, Better Digestion, and Overall Well-Being. 2001.

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