Milk and the Modern Controversy
We have known milk all our lives to be a source of high calcium and nutrients, and at a point considered milk as a natural food for us. It is one of the most popular beverages in the world, and also among the oldest. It is a symbol of strength and good health and in some cultures, wealth. As children,most of us were coaxed to drink milk by our mothers, who would tell us, “If you don’t drink milk, how will you become strong?” The popularity of milk has further increased with the emergence of the dairy industry who advertise milk and its benefits on a regular basis without revealing the serious side effects associated with it. However, with increased milk intolerance conditions, allergies, and milk-related diseases among people, nutritionists and doctors are starting to doubt the importance of milk in our diet. Over the years, increasing amounts of research and evidence has emerged disqualifying milk to be the wonderful source of nutrition that it is deemed to be.
Page Contents - Quick Links
- Milk and the Modern Controversy
- The Different Types of Milk Available Today
- Debunking the 6 Most Popular Milk Myths
- Milk Fun Facts
- Top 10 Health Benefits of Organic Milk
- Differences between Organic Milk and Non-Organic Milk
- Dangers and Side Effects of Drinking Milk
- Why Some People are Allergic to Milk More Than Others
- Can’t Drink Milk? Don’t Worry
Milk has been a subject of criticism over recent years. There have been increased reports of allergies and side effects caused by dairy products, as well as dairy and lactose intolerance. Several conditions have been linked with increased milk intake, like cardiovascular diseases, constipation, stomach problems, eczema, hay-fever, migraines and even testicular cancer. As such, scientists and health practitioners are questioning whether milk is really all that beneficial for human health. Their reasoning is that just as human milk is meant for human babies and cat milk is meant for kittens, similarly cow’s milk is meant for calves, as the ratio of nutrients present in it, logically, would be suitable for a calf’s growth requirement. In fact, cow milk contains around four times the amount of calcium, and three times the amount of protein that human breast milk does, and this makes sense because calves grow to about 3-4 times the size of a human toddler. In contrast, these quantities have been deemed inappropriate for humans of any age.
The Different Types of Milk Available Today
Raw milk is milk in its purest form. This form of milk is not pasteurized and is more susceptible to contamination with bacteria. Food law in many countries requires milk to be pasteurized in accordance with its health and safety regulations, which guarantees you all the nutrition from the milk without the risk of illness that may come with consuming raw milk.
Cows that are not ingested with growth hormones and antibiotics, and are fed with organic, chemical-free grain and crop for its entire life, produce organic milk. These cows also have natural living conditions; they are allowed to roam outdoors and enjoy free movement and sunlight.
This kind of milk is perhaps the most popular variety and has a rich, creamy texture. It is pasteurized, homogenized, and has approximately 3.8% of milk fat.
This type of milk is also pasteurized but contains less than 1.5% fat. It contains the same nutritional benefits as regular full-fat milk, but with additional calcium.
Skim milk contains only about 0.15% of fat. To improve the taste, milk solids are usually added. Dieticians argue that while this type of milk has the least fat, low-fat milk may be healthier as it has less nutrients stripped away from it as skim milk does.
As the name suggests, this kind of milk is modified with nutrients and can be made suitable for a variety of lifestyle and health requirements, e.g. made calcium-enhanced, protein-enriched, iron-fortified, or lactose-free.
This type of milk is catered for people who have low or zero tolerance for lactose, which is the natural sugar found in milk. It is made by removing all of some of the lactose so those with lactose intolerance can digest it easily.
Debunking the 6 Most Popular Milk Myths
Myth #1 – Milk is the Best Source of Calcium
Believe it or not, milk isn’t the only, or even the best, source of calcium. In fact, the human body can barely absorb the calcium found in cow’s milk. So if you don’t drink milk, don’t fret! Many substitutes exist for calcium, such as coconut, rice, almond and soy milk. Plants are also rich in calcium, especially leafy green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli. That’s not all – many calcium-rich fruits exist, such as grapefruits, lemons, tangerines, kiwis, and raspberries.
Myth #2 – Milk is Good for your Bones
Milk has spread to basically every home in the world based on this flawed myth. Common knowledge is that milk promotes good bone health due to its calcium content, which is approximately 300 mg in a single cup, and this is where the confusion occurs. Bones need calcium, and milk contains calcium, so milk has to be good for bones. Right? Wrong! Modern medicine has shown that milk actually drains calcium from the bones. The pH of the body acidifies when milk enters the bloodstream; calcium is a great acid neutralizer, and so the body uses its calcium reserves – in the bones, of course – to balance the body’s pH again. In the process, calcium leaves the bones and exits the body through urine, which actually causes a calcium loss.
In addition, research has shown that milk and its byproducts do not guard bones against fractures; in fact, it can actually increase risks of future fractures. Research by Harvard University surveying almost 77,800 women found that women who had the most calcium from drinking milk developed more fractures than those who rarely consumed milk. It has also been found that countries with the most cases of osteoporosis are those where people consume the most dairy products.
Myth #3 – Cows Need to Be Milked
People think that unless cows are milked, they will be in pain. Cows, like humans, produce milk for their offspring, so it does not matter whether they are milked or not. Their udders do not cause them any pain if not milked, contrary to popular belief. If the cow doesn’t have calves, they wouldn’t produce milk in the first place, which brings us to Myth #4:
Myth#4 – Humans are Meant to Drink Cow Milk
Just like dog’s milk is meant for puppies and human milk is meant for human babies, cow milk is made for calves. The reason we even drink cow milk today, a species different from our own, is because of our ancestors’ decisions to do so thousands of years ago. Every mammalian species has its own milk, including cows, who produce custom-designed milk for their little ones. The same goes for humans. However, humans continue to drink milk well into adulthood, unlike most other mammals. Food for thought.
Myth #5 – Cow Milk is a Natural, Nutritious Food for Humans
There is nothing further from the truth. The milk we get today is processed and very different from raw, natural milk. Since the beginning of the 20th century, pasteurization and homogenization of milk became the norm, processes which potentially changed the chemistry of milk and enlarged its damaging effects. Cows used for commercial milk production are given antibiotics as well as given shots of growth hormones which increase cows’ milk yield. These hormones are detrimental to human health, with evidence showing that they can increase risks of breast, ovarian and prostate cancers. While raw milk is conceded to be more wholesome and healthier than pasteurized milk, it is still acidifying and may cause a variety of health problems as it may be contaminated with bacterial particles.
Myth #6 – Skim Milk is Healthier than Regular or Full-Fat Milk
Popular belief is that skim milk is healthier than regular milk because it has a lower calorie count. While skim milk is a good option if you’re trying to lose weight, it is very low in nutrition as compared to regular milk. Some nutritionists believe that the fat in regular milk keeps you fuller for longer periods of time by slowing down digestion, and also keeps your blood sugar levels under control.
Milk Fun Facts
- People started to consume dairy by-products of domesticated animals around 10,000 B.C.
- Cleopatra, the ancient Egyptian queen, used to bathe in a pool full of milk.
- In ancient Egypt, milk was considered a sign of wealth and was kept for royalty and the privileged.
- In India, cow’s milk is considered sacred and is used for spiritual reasons.
- By the 1400s, cow milk was considered superior and was consumed more than sheep milk.
- In 1862, a French microbiologist named Louis Pasteur carried out the first milk pasteurization tests.
- The first milk bottle was produced in New York, USA, back in the 1880s.
- Fresh milk can be kept fresh for a longer time by adding salt to each quart of milk.
- Milk is the only beverage containing a wide range of natural nutrients and vitamins.
- Almost 90% of the world’s milk comes from cows.
- Humans first consumed cow milk about 10,000 years ago.
- In Ancient Russia, frogs were kept in milk to prevent it from becoming sour.
- A single cow can produce an average of 90 glasses of milk in a day.
- The fattiest kind of milk is that of seals and whales (both contain up to 50% fat). Donkey and horse milk contain the least amount of fat.
Top 10 Health Benefits of Organic Milk
More Omega 3
Organic milk contains two-thirds more Omega 3 than conventional milk. This is a very important nutrient essential for healthy growth and has been known to prevent a wide range of diseases, such as skin inflammation diseases, arthritis, cardiovascular diseases and other inflammation.
More Conjugated Linoleic Acid
Organic milk also contains 40% more CLA than non-organic milk, an acid which works to raise the body’s metabolism, strengthens the immune system and promotes muscle growth.
Little exists in the world which is free of chemicals. Organic milk is one of these things, produced from cows that are not injected with antibiotics and growth hormones. Cows that produce organic milk graze from pastures that are pesticide and chemical-free, ensuring that the milk they yield is free from chemical contamination.
Improves Eye Health
Organic milk contains a higher amount of antioxidants than regular milk, which helps maintain good eye health, protecting them from ultraviolet ray damage, preventing cataracts and other eye diseases.
Loaded with Vitamins
Research shows that increasing milk intake may slightly lengthen the lives of those suffering from certain types of cancer.
Improves Cardiovascular Health
Milk has been attributed to reducing the development of heart diseases due to the wide range of nutrients present in the beverage.
Hydrates and Nourishes
Drinking milk, along with providing essential nutrients to your body and teeth, also gives you a boost of hydration. Replace it with your high-calorie smoothie after a workout!
Reduces Risk of Diabetes
Research suggests that drinking low-fat milk and consuming dairy on a regular basis can significantly help reduce developing Type 2 Diabetes, due to the calcium and magnesium and other nutrients present in milk which help maintain blood sugar levels.
Controls Blood Pressure
The combined effect of calcium, magnesium, potassium and proteins present in milk are thought to reduce high blood pressure in combination with a good, low-salt diet.
Differences between Organic Milk and Non-Organic Milk
Here are the most notable differences between organic milk and regular milk found in supermarkets:
- Pesticide Usage: Organic cows feed on farms that have zero pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.
- Grazing time: At least a third of the cow’s diet must come from organic pasture grass during the mandatory grazing period which should last at least 120 days.
- Cow lifestyle: In an organic dairy farm, cows have access to the outdoors, and can also move freely, allowing them to graze naturally.
- No antibiotics: Cows producing organic milk should not be administered any antibiotics. Should they require antibiotics due to illness, their milk is no longer considered organic until 12 months have passed.
- Growth hormone: Cows from organic dairy farms are not injected with any growth hormones, unlike conventional dairy farms.
Dangers and Side Effects of Drinking Milk
- Weight gain: Drinking too much full-fat milk can add unwanted calories to your diet and lead to weight gain. A cup of full-fat milk contains almost 150 calories, while the same amount of skim milk contains only 91 calories.
- Stomach trouble: People with lactose intolerance can have a negative reaction to drinking milk, such as nausea, gas, diarrhea and abdominal pain. The symptoms are worse for people with high lactose intolerance.
- Milk Allergy: Drinking milk can also have an adverse effect on those who have a milk allergy (which is different than lactose intolerance). A few minutes after drinking milk, watch out for symptoms like an upset stomach, nausea, and vomiting, itchiness in the eyes, coughing, heavy breathing, and swelling.
- Chronic Inflammation: Milk is naturally acidic and has been attributed to causing arthritis and chronic inflammation.
- Cancer Risks: Milk has been found to increase risks of developing certain types of cancer, such as testicular, breast, prostate and colon cancers.
Why Some People are Allergic to Milk More Than Others
First, it is important to note that milk allergies and lactose intolerance are two different things. Milk allergies involve the immune system – some peoples’ immune systems tend to overreact when encountering a certain food protein, which can then trigger mild to severe reactions, from rashes, itching, and mild swelling, to vomiting, breathing trouble and dizziness, and also anaphylaxis, in certain people. Their immune system formation makes them more allergic than others. On the other hand, lactose intolerance occurs in people who lack the enzyme lactase, which is necessary in digesting the natural sugar lactose found in milk. If someone with the condition consumes milk, they can experience symptoms such as nausea, abdominal discomfort, bloating, diarrhea and gas. Unlike having a milk allergy, having lactose intolerance is not life-threatening.
Can’t Drink Milk? Don’t Worry
If you are unable to drink milk because you have a milk allergy, or you are lactose intolerant, there are many alternatives out there. For lactose intolerant people, you have the option to drink lactose-free or lactose-reduced milk. However, for those that are allergic to milk, here are your options:
- Leafy greens like spinach, kale and broccoli are laden with calcium. Other sources include chia, sesame and flax seeds
- Dairy substitutes like oat milk, coconut milk, almond milk, soy milk or rice milk.
- There are countless non-dairy calcium-enriched products out there, such as soy milk, soy yogurt, dark chocolate, rice- and soy-based chocolates, sorbets, soy cheese products, soy cream, milk-free margarine.
- Ask your doctor to recommend some calcium supplements to ensure you are getting adequate calcium
This article is for educational and general informational purposes only. It doesn’t replace medical advice. For prescriptions and milk consumption recommendations, it’s always best to refer to a medical practitioner.
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