Monday, April 4, 2011

Milk: Does it Really Do A Body Good? Part I

There is a lot of confusion surrounding milk, especially with dairy allergies on the rise, and so I am going to write a three-part series on it. The first of this series will look a little at the history of pasteurization and the problems with conventionally produced cow's milk.

Before pasteurization, all milk was raw and non-homogenized. Dairy cows grazed pasture with ample room. It wasn't long, however, before demand brought dairy cows into the cities and into unfit living conditions. Poor sanitation and improper hygiene (humans and cows alike) allowed milk to become a perfect conduit for disease. The bacterial count in milk soared and many people became ill.

Enter the pro-pasteurization lobbyists - heat the milk, kill the bacteria, and solve the problem. The opposing side, however, supported grading milk based on the bacteria level present. Grade A milk would have a low threshold for bacteria and would be suitable for human consumption, while Grade C milk would have a much higher threshold for bacteria making it fit for livestock and pets only. Grade A milk would help to ensure that cattle were treated humanely, lived in more sanitary conditions and that proper hygiene measures were being taken to prevent contamination by outside sources. Obviously, Grade A milk would command a premium, while Grade C would not. If the bacterial count went up on Grade A milk, the farmer lost his certification and was downgraded. This system had a check built into it.

The problem with pasteurization today is that there are no checks in the system. As many of you already know, dairy cattle often lead short, diseased lives in very inhumane conditions. These cattle are not healthy, and as a result require ongoing antibiotic treatment and are pumped full of hormones, such as Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) in the United States (rBGH is illegal here in Canada, so I'm not going to go into the many problems associated with this hormone here). The bacterial count in conventionally produced milk is sky high and here is the misconception: just because the milk has been pasteurized does not mean the dead bacteria disappear - our bodies still have to process that waste. The same goes for the antibiotics and the hormones, which are also passed along in the milk.

Organic milk is better, in that there should be no hormones or antibiotics present in the milk, but the living conditions that would lead to a high bacterial count are still not addressed. Purchasing raw milk from a reputable source is considered the best way to ensure you're getting a healthy product. Here's the rub: the sale of raw milk is mostly illegal in the United States, save for a handful of states, and completely illegal here in Canada. Finding raw milk requires some sleuthing.

There are many other reasons to opt for raw milk over pasteurized, and that includes the beneficial bacteria, enzymes that aid in digestion and nutrients not destroyed by heat. Raw milk doesn't go rancid either, it cultures and becomes more nutritious; pasteurized milk just goes sour.

These reasons alone convinced me that my husband and I should drop dairy from our diets because we could not find a raw source. When I became pregnant, however, I fell prey to the ongoing myth that I needed to drink more milk to ensure I got enough calcium and protein in my diet (Part III will address this myth). However, when I developed a food sensitivity to milk,  I began to take a closer look. Now, I'm not so sure that we should be consuming any dairy at all - I will discuss why in Part II.

The Untold Story of Milk, Ron Schmid


Hilary said...

Thank you so much for this three part article. My sister has been having issues with dairy (yogurt, milk, butter and soft cheeses) for quite some time. We always thought that it was the lactose, but she is fine with harder cheeses and a variety of raw-milk cheeses (from cow, goat and sheep), which will still contain trace amounts of lactose. After reading this, maybe it's the type of casein that she is sensitive to. I am recommending that she try goat's milk products instead, and seeing if that helps to alleviate some of her problems. Thanks again!

Shanon Hilton said...

Thanks for stopping by. You might also want to recommend to your sister to start culturing her own dairy from goat/sheep. Culturing for 24 hours (minimum) predigests the lactose and proteins that our bodies sometimes have difficulty digesting. People who cannot tolerate dairy can sometimes tolerate it when it is cultured at home. Check out the book: Specific Carbohydrate Diet for more details.