The Milk Debate
Milk is an important component of most diets today. Most of us have grown up on milk and milk products -- cheese, cream, yoghurt, butter and buttermilk. It is so much a part of our daily diets that many of us have never stopped to think how our milk consuming habits have changed over the years.
From the time that our grandparents consumed milk from their own livestock, or bought it fresh from dairies, we have effortlessly and unquestioningly slid into the era of processed and pasteurized milk that comes in packets. We consume it in all its forms, uncaring about where it actually comes from, how old it is and how many stages it has gone through from the teat to the packet.
Why should I be aware of this?
The anti-milk lobby believes that nature intended milk to fulfill a particular function, which is to provide easy nourishment to young ones – then how can milk be good for adults? The milk of every animal is uniquely tailored to that animal, and is the reason that the World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding for (human) infants up to the age of 12 months. The pro-milk lobby on the other hand, argues that the calcium, enzymes and proteins in milk make it one of the most valuable foods in our daily diet.
As consumers, it is important for us to be conscious of the pros and cons of drinking milk. This will help us make an informed choice about how much to rely on milk and to plan and consume well-balanced and nutritious meals.
Milk and health
- Milk and dairy products are abundant sources of Calcium, necessary for healthy bones. While it is possible to obtain Calcium from other sources and even supplements, the vitamin D and lactose found in milk facilitate calcium absorption, making it easier to digest.
- Skimmed milk and products made from it are very low in fat and cholesterol, and contain a complete source of protein.
- Yoghurt is one of the best known and researched probiotic foods in our diet. It has all the nutrients of milk, and also contains bacteria that are good for the gut.
- Milk is also a good source of phosphorous, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin D, and riboflavin (a B vitamin).
How Much is Too Much?
The 2005 Dietary Guidelines recommend drinking not more than three cups (710 ml) of cow's milk daily. Cow’s milk is not recommended for children under one year of age, as it is very low in iron.
Milk and environment
Did you know, it takes 2,000 gallons of water to produce one gallon of milk! Here's how -- raising healthy cows requires a lot of water. They need to be bathed, fed and kept cool, all of which require water. Unfortunately, only a fraction of the water the cow consumes is actually converted into milk. The fact that it takes so much water to produce cow's milk means that anytime a consumer chooses to drink milk, the burden s/he place on the natural environment is a thousand times greater than if s/he were to consume water itself. Drinking one gallon of milk is like pouring 1,999 gallons of virtual water down the drain.
All about milk
Think about it, what is milk? It is a one of its kind food with which mammals nurture their young. All mammals consume milk, but man is the only one who consumes milk after weaning. Moreover, man does not drink only human milk, but also that produced by other species.
Does milk do a body good? Perhaps, but certainly not to the extent that one might think based on the marketing claims of the dairy industry or the north Indian tradition. Rather, moderation seems warranted. Many people are lactose intolerant or allergic to milk, and growing evidence suggests that unlimited dairy consumption may be linked to various other health conditions, including some forms of cancer, heart disease, asthma, diabetes, and obesity. Milk and cheese are often loaded with fat and cholesterol which at elevated levels can lead to obesity, heart disease,and diabetes.
The Downside of Milk Consumption
Whole milk, or anything made of whole milk, is high in saturated fats and cholesterol. Its over consumption causes and worsens heart and blood pressure related problems.
Milk is also a common cause of food allergy, viz allergy to milk protein. Also known as Lactose Intolerance, this syndrome occurs in people who lack the enzyme to digest lactose (milk sugar), and causes bloating, gas, and diarrhea. It is estimated that one in four children in US schools are lactose intolerant.
When Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream decided not to use milk from cows injected with American dairy major Monsanto's rBGH, many consumers became more conscious of what actually was in their milk and milk products. Just like a nursing baby ingests whatever its mother has eaten, the milk we drink is only as good as the diet of the cow that has produced it. Often, in professional dairy farms, cows are given hormones like Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH/BST) to increase milk production. At other times they are treated with powerful antibiotics to keep diseases at bay. However, these chemicals find their way into the milk we drink, causing untold problems. For example, rBGH milk is supercharged with high levels of a natural growth factor (IGF-1), excess levels of which have been associated with breast, colon, and prostate cancers.
Similarly, when milk drinkers ingest the antibiotics meant for cows, the result is that bacteria harmful to humans become more resistant to these medicines.
The traditional view by most physicians and dieticians on dairy products is that nobody gets enough and everybody should drink more milk because it prevents osteoporosis. However, new research shows that the opposite is true. USA, which has the highest osteoporosis rate, happens also to be the country that consumes more dairy products than any other country in the world. A landmark research report from the Harvard Nurses' Health Study has shown the futility of relying on dairy products to protect the bones. The study followed 77,761 women, aged 34-59, over a twelve year period and found that those who drank 3 or more glasses of milk per day had no reduction at all in the risk of hip or arm fractures, compared to those who drank little or no milk. In fact, the milk drinkers fracture rates were slightly higher.
Ethical Issues in Commercial Dairy Farming
Dairy Farming on a commercial scale raises some ethical issues. Cows in these farms are kept in an intensive cycle of pregnancy and lactation which, however sensitively managed, can not be possibly good for them. What makes it worse is the stress-causing removal of their calves shortly after birth so as to maximally use the milk they are producing. Also, commercial dairies have in the past, resorted to hormone injections to boost milk production, which is not only bad for the animal but also for the people who consume her milk.
Organic dairying practices address some of these issues and maintains a longer gap between pregnancies by not removing the calves from their mothers until they have been weaned. Some milk their animals once a day instead of two times to leave enough for the calf. For reviews and ratings of some well known American organic milk brands, go to http://cornucopia.org/dairysurvey/index.html
High Demand for Organic Milk
In spite of the cost being double that of other milk, the demand for organic milk is booming. To be labeled “organic” the milk must come from cows that have not been treated with bovine growth hormone (BGH) to increase milk production. The second requirement is that these cows should not be treated with antibiotics. If a cow needs antibiotic treatment she is not returned to the herd for 12 months.
Next, if the cow’s feed is grass or grain, they should be grown organically, without the use of pesticides. Finally the cows must have access to pasture. Milk made from cows who pasture has higher Conjugated Linoleic Acids (CLA) content. Since many organic farmers rely upon pasturing and give their cows fresh green grass whenever weather permits, organic milk often has a high CLA content, which is important 'good fats' that have been linked to decreased heart disease and diabetes.
Organic milk has other benefits --
- Higher levels of vitamin E, Omega 3 -- A research presented to the Soil Association's annual conference in Newcastle showed organic milk has higher levels of vitamin E, Omega 3 essential fatty acids and antioxidants, which help beat infections. The study found on an average organic cows producing milk which is 50 percent higher in Vitamin E than conventionally produced milk.
- It is the best choice for kids -- Organic milk, produced without synthetic chemicals, hormones or antibiotics, is the best choice for kids
What can I do about it?
Drink milk, and consume milk products in strict moderation. The problems associated with milk and milk product consumption, seem to get exacerbated with excess use. Consider these statistics -- in 2001, Americans consumed 30 pounds of cheese per person, 8 times more than they did in 1909 and more than twice as much as they did in 1975. Obviously an entire generation is now paying the price for consuming a food that is high in saturated fats and cholesterol!
There is a trend today towards buying and consuming `organic’ milk and raw milk directly from dairies. However, raw milk must be properly boiled to destroy harmful bacteria. Also, its quality, unlike that of pasteurised milk that comes in packets, is not standardised. The FDA in the US has banned inter-state sales of raw milk. So this too, must be consumed with caution. There is no doubt that if consumers are more conscious of what they are drinking, they will be able to derive all the nutritional benefits of milk without suffering its ill effects.
Milk link to cancer
Lowest incidences of breast cancer is found among the nations that consume little or no dairy products such as the Mediterranean and Asian countries. During dairy shortages in East Germany before the Berlin Wall came down, there was a low incidence of breast cancer, while West Berlin had high rates of cancer because of high rates of dairy consumption. Epidemiological studies of breast cancer indicate the highest rates are in Scandinavia and the Netherlands, countries with high dairy consumption.
Developed countries with high consumption of animal and dairy products also have high rates of prostate cancer.
- Shirleys Wellness Cafe
- Statistics on Milk Production
- Should We Drink Milk?
- The Milk Debate
- Milk Processing