The Dairy Debate

Milk: does it do a body good? It’s a question I’ve been asking for years. The answer is contingent upon my mood, cravings, or the article I’ve just read. There are months when the only carton of milk that enters my refrigerator comes not from a cow, but from soybeans, rice, or almonds. Other times of the year I tear through gallons of the real stuff (always organic, but that’s another story).

Separating myth from reality — and the hype — is the biggest challenge in making an informed decision about the role milk should play in your life. Looking to other cultures doesn’t really help. In India, milk, like the cow, is cherished, and guzzled copiously. Indian milk production has quadrupled since 1970 and has surpassed that of the U.S. While in Asian countries like Japan, Korea, and China milk is not a big part of the national diet.

Those who are anti-milk list numerous reasons why cow’s milk is harming our health, while those who consider it to be an elixir are just as confident in their stance. From celebrities with milk mustaches to an epidemic of lactose intolerance, we are forced to think about milk, but ultimately, whether or not we consume it is a personal decision. For some, living without milkshakes, cheese, and yogurt is too great a sacrifice to make, for others dairy-free is the only way to be.

There are many reasons why people choose to avoid milk and milk products, but one of the biggest strikes against dairy is its supposed link to juvenile diabetes. The claim, made by the famous Dr. Spock and a group of other anti-dairy physicians, was supported by a Finnish study that suggested that the protein in cow’s milk might trigger an abnormal response in children that were already genetically predisposed to developing insulin-dependent diabetes. No other scientific authorities have warned against children consuming dairy.

Strike two: consuming dairy may produce excess mucus in the throat. This is a tough one to crack because milk’s thick and smooth consistency probably does coat the mouth and throat for a bit, but whether it actually produces more mucus has yet to be scientifically proven. An Australian study even proved otherwise. When participants were asked to report the sensations they got from drinking chocolate cow’s milk or an indistinguishable soy version, both milks brought about a thickened, coated feeling in the mouth and throat. Drinking low fat or nonfat milk can help ease that slippery sensation.

Strike three: dairy products may cause ovarian cancer. While there have been several studies that link lactose to the development of ovarian cancer, a solid study in the American Journal of Epidemiology refuted the claim, finding that women with ovarian cancer had, in fact, consumed less lactose than healthy women.

Even if you believe that cow's milk is only for calves, dairy still has some undeniable health benefits. It’s the best source of calcium, which keeps bones strong and may also prevent hypertension, heart disease, and colon cancer. Dairy is also packed with riboflavin and vitamins A, D and K and lots of protein — providing 8.1 grams, or 16.3% of the daily value, in one cup. Milk is a good source of iodine, a mineral that’s essential for healthy thyroid function as well as potassium, a nutrient that facilitates cardiovascular health. Milk from grass fed cows also contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a fatty acid that has been linked to the destruction of skin cancer, colorectal cancer, and breast-cancer cells.

Pasteurized milk is not the only option. The radical faction of the pro-milk camp believes that raw — unpasteurized, untreated — milk has the most nutritional value. Though certain states ban the sale of raw milk due to the threat of bacterial like listeria, E. coli, and salmonella, there is a growing group of raw milk aficionados who are willing to find their dairy through underground sources. The pasteurization process is said to kill milk’s good bacteria along with the bad and some feel that pasteurizing milk also destroys its enzymes and vitamins B12 and B6, denatures milk proteins, and promotes pathogens. Find your local raw milk farm for a taste of the real stuff.

[via Berkeley Wellness]

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