Ask nutritional experts and medical professionals whether milk is good for you and you’ll get a wide spectrum of replies. Ultimately it depends on your own tolerance to milk, and on the quality of the milk, you drink.
Cow’s Milk: Convenient, Affordable, and Rich in Nutrients
There is no question that cow’s milk is nutrient-rich. Protein, good fats, and a host of micronutrients such as calcium, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and vitamins A, B, D, E, and K, are all present. The controversy arises when the saturated fat in full-fat milk is considered, and the negative effects on those who are lactose-intolerant (ie – people with low levels of the enzyme lactase, which is needed to metabolize the milk-sugar lactose).
If you’re lactose-intolerant, don’t drink cow’s milk. There are plenty of alternative sources of the nutrients that milk provides. Lactose intolerance can lead to bloating, wind, cramps, diarrhoea, eczema.
If you can digest milk, then it’s a rich source of all the nutrients listed above, and it’s particularly appropriate for young children and the elderly, who both need a convenient and easily consumed source of nutrients.
Another controversy surrounding cow’s milk is the degree to which animal-feed, antibiotics and growth hormones fed to cows seep into the milk they produce. In addition, there’s some evidence that intensive machine-milking can cause inflammation of the udders (mastisis) which can produce pus which then goes into the milk.
Full fat, low fat, or zero fat?
Full fat cow’s milk has around 22 g of fat per pint. There is evidence that over 90 g of fat per day from dairy can lead to breast cancer, and the saturated fat can cause eczema and heart disease if consumed in excess. However, a pint a day is within healthy range for most people. If you suffer from eczema, try cutting dairy out of your diet.
Semi-skimmed milk has around 10 g fat per pint, and skimmed milk has under 1 g of fat per pint. The downside is that the lower the fat content, the lower the level of fat soluble vitamins. The upside is that lower fat milk has more calcium and more B vitamins, which reside in the watery part of the milk and not the fatty part.
Strong bones and the calcium in cow’s milk
It’s certainly true that cow’s milk is high in calcium, and also true that calcium is vital for healthy strong bones. But there’s a lot more to bone health than just calcium intake. The prevalence of osteoporosis in modern society has as much to do with our reduced ability to absorb calcium, regardless of how much we consume.
One cause of poor absorption is lack of exposure to sunlight, which produces the vitamin D needed for calcium absorption. Another cause is excess protein in some diets, which overloads the kidneys, and the processing and expulsion of excess protein requires the body to leech calcium from the bones. The Chinese consume half the calcium as the US, yet there are high levels of osteoporosis in the US and very low incidence in China.
Raw unpasteurized milk vs pasteurized/homogenized milk
Mass-produced homogenized milk is far more widely available, and has a longer refrigeration life. But raw milk retains the digestive enzyme lactase which modern processing methods kill off
Organic vs non-organic
Although it’s more expensive, organic milk comes from cows that have eaten grass in clean pastures, exercised outdoors, and enjoyed a better quality of life. The result is around 24% more fatty acids (good fats), a milk richer in vitamins, and without the undesirable elements like traces of growth hormone, antibiotics, pus.
Alternatives to Cow’s Milk
Soya milk is a good alternative if you’re lactose intolerant, and it’s rich in isoflavones (anti oxidants) and the phytochemical geinstein (which can inhibit growth of small tumours). But beware manufacturers who add sugar to soya milk.
If you’re a vegan, try rice milk, but check it has been fortified with calcium and vitamin A.
Another healthy alternative is almond milk, which has a nutty taste and silky texture, and is free from cholesterol or lactose. Again, check that it’s sugar-free, as manufacturers sometimes add sugar to these alternative milk products. It’s not advisable for people with low thyroid function to drink almond milk.
So you can see that there are many issues surrounding milk, and hopefully this article leaves you better informed, and able to make healthy choices that are right for you. People are different in their tolerance to different kinds of milk, so what is good for one person, may not be so good for another.