Milk -- it does a body good, right? Welllllll...it depends.
In order to be able to digest milk, the body needs to produce the enzyme lactase (we are all born with the ability to produce lactase, but lose the ability as we age). In fact, up to 70% of us no longer produce lactase by the time we enter preschool.
All conventional milk products (milk, cheese, yogurt, etc.) are pasteurized to kill off any harmful bacteria that may be present. Pasteurization, however, in addition to killing the harmful bacteria, kills the lactase. So if you're in the almost 3/4 of the population who doesn't produce your own lactase, pasteurized milk is not your friend (you may be able to tolerate raw milk, however, which is unpasteurized and still contains the lactase that is there by nature). Pasteurization, sadly, also kills most of the nutrients and beneficial bacteria that are present in dairy in its raw state. This leaves us with little more than (white) water.
“But the calcium!” you say. Contrary to what the dairy industry would have us believe, milk is actually not a great source of calcium – especially when compared to vegetables, nuts and salmon – nor is it good for your bones. Milk makes the body acidic, which actually reduces the amount of calcium that is absorbed by the body (an alkaline environment is known to be most conducive to calcium absorption). The body will actually leach calcium OUT of your bones in an effort to regulate the acidic environment caused by consuming dairy. Plus, calcium needs saturated fat to be absorbed, so milk won’t help you much if you’re eating a low-fat diet.
More noteworthy (or more gross) to me, though, is the following:
- conventional dairy cows are bred to produce 3 to 4 times more milk than they did a century ago (which causes all sorts of disgusting side effects -- read about this here if you want).
- conventional dairy cows are typically fed a diet of soybean meal to make them produce more milk (you've all heard about the estrogenic effects of soy -- so have the conventional dairy farmers).
- cows have stomachs that only digest grass. Their bodies don't know what to do with the soybean meal, so they get sick. They are given antibiotics to prevent and deal with their sicknesses and those antibiotics get into the dairy products made with their milk -- and then into YOU.
- conventional dairy cows are not given any room to move. They are penned in all day, hooked up to milking machines, wallowing in their own filth. They are never exposed to the sun, never given the chance to roam and eat grass.
I am certainly not opposed to dairy if you tolerate it, but all dairy is not created equal. Organic, grass-fed dairy (like Organic Valley, which can be found in many supermarkets) -- or better yet, raw, unpasteurized dairy from a local farm or market, is a far superior and much more nutrient-dense choice.
Raw dairy products, unlike their conventional counterparts, contain the enzyme lactase, making them easier to digest. In fact, some who think they are lactose intolerant may be able to tolerate raw, unpasteurized dairy. Raw dairy is unprocessed and, as such, contains all of the nutrients (like conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and essential fatty acids) that are lost in the pasteurization process.
Some people are freaked out by the idea of drinking unpasteurized milk, but dairy products are at the bottom of the list of foodborne illness outbreaks, according to a review of foodborne disease outbreaks in the U.S. by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). Seafood, poultry, eggs and beef were the most “dangerous:” And, per Chris Kresser, “there hasn’t been a single death attributed to raw fluid milk since the mid-1980s, in spite of the fact that almost 10 million people are now consuming it regularly.”
We in Connecticut are very lucky in that we live in one of the few states where the sale of raw milk is legal (don’t get me started on THAT ridiculousness). Why not take advantage and try some? It may take you a little while to get used to it if you’ve been drinking skim milk – I recommend doing it gradually, starting with ¼ raw with ¾ of your regular milk, then moving on to half of each, then ¾ raw and ¼ skim. Take as long as you like to make the transition, knowing the health benefits will be worth it in the end!