A question that comes up often is, “What’s your opinion about milk?” We’ll take a shot at answering that for you and provide some context for a more informed decision when it comes to dairy.
So there’s the whole argument that no other mammal drinks milk after infancy. Okay, fair point. Let’s be frank though… we humans pull a lot of shenanigans which other mammals wouldn’t dare to do throughout life. Are other animals advised to get 8 glasses of water a day? Do they eat 3 meals a day, or more, or do they snack? Do they have to take vitamins? Or minerals? This is just some of the conventional health advice that comes our way that people generally seem to accept without questioning. And yet if we were to use the same logic as that proposed above for milk, none of these pieces of advice would make sense either, would they?
Whether the examples of health advice above make sense or not is beside the point and will be reserved for later discussion. But resting on the argument that milk is unnecessary after infancy simply because of how other animals live their lives is incomplete at best. What if being human allows us to take advantage of the health benefits from something that other animals can’t have? Should we simply not eat it because of that? Well, one could perhaps make that argument as well, but we prefer to look at the research and the mechanisms to gage whether we should or shouldn’t consume something...
Alright so… what about milk? The short answer is: It depends. One thing we know for sure is that everyone tolerates food items differently. We’ll try not to get too far into the details, but we want to give you just enough info to allow our answer to make sense (this will be a common theme).
First, there are three main components in milk that have the potential to be an issue (along with a few more subtle, more “sciency” ones that we won’t go into, i.e., casein A1 beta-casein vs. A2 beta-casein, DHT precursors, etc.):
Lactose: About 65% of the human population does not tolerate lactose after infancy. Lactose is the sugar in milk that if you don’t have particular enzymes to break down, you’ll likely experience many, let’s say, gastrointestinal issues…
Casein: About 80% of the protein in milk is casein. People who have “dairy allergies” are reacting to the casein. Although I used to love casein as a slow-digesting protein for muscle recovery during sleep, casein has been linked directly to cancer growth in a number of studies. One overwhelming fact about cancer though is that it likes taking the body’s nutrients -- it’s pretty good at stealing nutrients from surrounding cells. Despite this, cancer cannot derive energy from fat… but that’s a topic for another discussion. So it’s not necessarily fair to deduce that anything correlated to cancer growth is bad for people who don’t currently have cancer. That said, we do think it is warranted as something to be a little weary of.
Industrial Dairy Farms: Alright, so this is really the kicker for why I went from having about 4-5 gallons of milk a week to none at all for a long time. Industrial, factory-produced milk generally comes from sick, antibiotic-fed, hormone-fed, herbicide enriched corn/grain-fed cows. Sorry to say, what that cow eats, you most assuredly eat as well. Additionally, the milk is then pasteurized, destroying all of the beneficial enzymes (which could otherwise be very advantageous for the immune system and gut flora), along with many of the vitamins and minerals in milk. Additionally, the fatty acids and would-be healthy cholesterol become rancid through the pasteurization process.
All of that said, milk has the potential to deliver many healthy vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, proteins, and enzymes if it’s from the right source. In fact if it’s from the right source, it’s arguably a superfood. For those who tolerate milk (note it’s going to be less than 35% of the population who have the necessary lactose-digesting enzymes), we’d recommend raw milk from grass-fed cows. It’s going to be more costly than the crappy milk from sick cows, but that’s typically how things go with superfoods. There’s still a potential pro/con list that comes into play here, but the favor is greatly shifted towards the pros when compared to industrial factory-produced milk.
Before signing off, we’ll note there are plenty of alternatives to factory-farmed milk that have made their way to the grocery store these days. Unsweeted almond and coconut milks are nice alternatives. Soy on the other hand, not so much (we’ll touch on that one a bit later). What’s your favorite alternative to factory-farmed milk?
In Excellent Health,
Garrett & Luc