Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Milk, Cow's Milk That Is

My foray into weaning last week has me thinking a lot about milk, cow's milk that is.

I am a devotee of milk. I think it is both delicious and nutritious, all those vitamins and protein suspended in a colloid? Yummmmmm. We drink a lot of milk at my house, though to be fair the kids do the lion's share of the drinking. But often at 3 in the afternoon I will sneak a glass because I feel like I always need a little protein push at that time of the day. Please take note that I am not moving into the topic of raw milk. I have not done enough research about raw milk to render a statement either way. I have no doubt that raw milk holds many delicate health benefits, but it also comes with microbial risk, there is no controversy about that. However I still believe that pasteurization does not render milk an evil food. I think it still has many nutrients and health benefits even after it has been pasteurized.

To be sure though, I do opt for an organic, low temperature pasteurization, non-homoginized milk from a local Columbia County, NY dairy. However I can only get this at my farmer's market on Saturdays, so when we have weekend plans we have to buy the organic milk from Fairway. Fairway uses standard pasteurization and homoginazation processes. To the best of my knowledge they do not 'ultra-pasteurize' their milk which is a high temperature procedure which really kills every microbe in the milk and renders it useless for cheesemaking. (Not that I have made cheese yet) Fairway's milk is also from a dairy in Pennsylvania, which is more local than other sources of organic milk. I have only ever seen two other brand names for organic milk, Horizon and Organic Valley, which both make ultra pasteurized milk. Both of these producers are based in Wisconsin, so for me it ain't so local. Also if you read Michael Pollan's An Omnivore's Deilimma you know that he discusses Horizon and confirms, it is a convential dairy in every way except that it does not administer antibiotics and they feed the cows organic corn feed. That is to say, Horizon operates a CAFO or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation. I want to drink milk from a cow that has a life and is breathing real fresh air and eating grass, not one that walks around a pen standing on a pile of mud mixed with feces and eating corn, even if it organic corn. I have not as of yet joined PETA (they have an okay message, but they really should hire a better PR director), but with all my love of meat and milk I am not sure I would pass the entrance exam.. But I do believe that our karma extends beyond what we do to other people. If you believe that God made us the keepers of this Earth as he says in Genesis 1:28 (and even if you do not, that's cool too) then how can you justify creulty to animals? We have a great responsibility on this earth, we must treat animals ethically even if we end up slaughtering them. We all have to draw the line somewhere. That's where I have drawn mine. But now I am way off topic. This post started out being about milk and it's lovely history, so let's go back there shall we? Milk has been drunk for millenia. Scientists believe that this began when animals were first domesticated in about 5000 BC. Many believe that animals were first domesticated for meat purposes and then we realized it was far easier to drink their milk every day because it was a daily source of calories versus one slaughter-kill-eat cycle. Plus milk was a very efficient way of turning acres of inedible grass into a foodstuff that humans could eat.

For the vast majority of Americans, access is limited to one of the two brands of organic milk I mention above or conventional milk. Almost all milk in the US is both pasteurized and homogenized. Pasteurization is the process by which milk is heated for a short period of time to kill any microbes, buggies or cultures in the milk, kind of like what I do before I make yogurt at home. UHT (Ultra High Temperature) Pasteurization is where the milk is raised to a higher temperature but for a shorter time. Ultra-Pasteurizing kills everything resulting in milk with a longer shelf life. But it effects the taste of the milk, making it blander in my opinion. Raw milk is just UNpasteurized milk. Homogenization is defined as the process that prevents milk from forming a separation of the fats, or developing a cream layer. I have drunk homogenized milk all my life until recently. It wasn't until I stored my own breastmilk in my fridge that I saw the fat separation of my own raw milk.

Some interesting milk facts:

Milk glands are really highly specialized sweat glands. Some scientists suggest that the original function of lactation was to keep eggs moist. This theory is based on the study of egg-laying mammals.

Humans are the only animal that drinks milk after they are weaned. We are also the only animal that drinks the milk of another species.

Milk is actually not necessary for good health (are all those lactose intolerant people sick or dying because they can't drink milk? Nope, they are all just fine). In fact while the Milk Board (also known as the California Milk Advisory Board, The National Dairy Promotion and Research Board, The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board...There are actually several milk groups out there and I can't find out who is funding the 'Got Milk' campaign, so I have to believe that it is a group effort) wants you to think that you need milk for calcium, fluid milk is not even the best source of calcium out there. An equal portion of collard greens or rhubarb or cornmeal actually contains more calcium. Yogurt wins the calcium dense foods according to one website's research. There is alot of controversy over this I am sure because osteoporosis (calcium defiency) is the number one defiency disease in the United States, but I imagine that if we ate more leafy greens along with all the milk we drink, we would all be getting enough calcium. There is no doubt in my mind that we need more than one source of calcium in our diets. And to clarify, I drink milk and eat cheese because they are delicious, not because I am under the impression that they are a crucial part of my daily diet.

Humans around the world cultivate milk from not only cows but camels, donkeys, goats, horses, reindeer, sheep, water buffalo and yak. Every mammalian female produces milk, but we just don't cultivate all of them for human use.

Cow's milk is on average 3.4% protein, 3.6% fat, 4.6% lactose, 0.7% minerals and supplies 66kcal of energy per 100 grams. But there are variations. For example Holsteins produce milk at around 3.6% fat while jersey cows produce a milk that is on average 5.2% fat.

On the other hand (this is for all those who are super pro-breastfeeding-and btw-formula is based off cow's milk with various supplements to mimic human milk), human milk is on average 1.1% protein, 4.2% fat, 7% lactose and supplies 72 kcal of energy per 100 grams.

On Wikipedia (where I have gotten virtually all of the above information-they can be a great web source of varied information on a single topic), I found an especially concerning article. I have always assumed the following to be true, but have never seen it written so clearly. I may never drink non-organic milk ever again,

Since November 1993, with FDA approval, Monsanto has been selling recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST), also called rBGH, to dairy farmers. Cows produce bovine hormone naturally, but some producers administer an additional recombinant version of BGH which is produced through a genetically engineered E.coli because it increases milk production. Bovine growth hormone also stimulates liver production of insulin like growth factor 1 (IGF1). If rbST-treated cows produced milk with higher levels of IGF1 this would be of medical concern, because IGF1 stimulates cancer growth in humans.

Elevated levels of IGF1 in human blood has been linked to increased rates of breast, colon, and prostate cancer. Monsanto has stated that both of these compounds are harmless given the levels found in milk and the effect of pasteurization. However Monsanto's own tests, conducted in 1987, demonstrated that statistically significant growth stimulating effects were induced in organs of adult rats by feeding IGF1 at low dose levels for only two weeks. "Drinking rBGH milk would thus be expected to significantly increase risks of developing breast cancer and promoting it's invasiveness"

On June 9th, 2006, the largest milk producer in the world and the two largest supermarkets in the United States--Dean Foods, Walmart and Korger--announced that they are "on a nationwide search for rBGH-free milk." Milk from cows given rBST may be sold in the United States, and the FDA stated that no significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rBST-treated and that from non-rBST-treated cows. Milk that advertises that it comes from cows not treated with rBST is required to state this finding on it's label.

In the European Union rBGH is banned.

The US government (by way of the FDA) has been clear in stating that it has found no difference in the milk derived from hormone treated cows than non hormone cows. But is this good enough for you?? It is not good enough for me. All of my friends are talking about the fact that it seems like everyone knows someone who is sick from cancer, or knows a 9 year who has gotten her period, or has a child from autism. I am under NO CIRCUMSTANCES saying that hormone treated cow's milk is responsible for this. I am not a scientist and I have not as of yet be able to find an article or report that shows this to be true. But that is no wonder, since I can't think of one company who stands to gain from a report like this. I know that I want to eliminate as many chemicals and odd hormones from my life as I can.

Organic milk, local milk or minimally processed milk can still be a wonderful and excellent part of your diet. I love it and I will drink it forever!


  1. So my $2 gallon of milk from Costco is most likely ultra-pasteurized cause it lasts like 2 weeks. It probably has BGH too...we almost got organic milk this weekend but it was soooo expensive. Sigh. Choices, choices.

  2. Sadly, that milk probably did have growth hormones. It is more common than not, and most producers that produce milk without growth hormone put that on the label because they know that consumers will pay the higher price. I have adjusted some other choices in our house to accomodate the extra cost. For example, I really rarely buy lunch anymore when I am at work, and that easily saves the extra $20 that I will spend on the better quality milk. So far since I started my blog I am only spending slightly more on groceries, but what I am getting is higher quality.

  3. Also for those coming to the site and reading that last paragraph, I want to reiterate that I am not trying to link some very serious health problems directly to bovine growth hormone. It is not my wish to get involved in a libel suit with anyone (especially not Monsanto). I meant my last paragraph to simply state that I and many of my friends, have noticed a rise in stranger health ailments and degenerative diseases over the course of the last 20-30 years. And during the same time we have seen many chemicals and biological alterations being added to our food supply in the form of over processing, growth hormones, genetically modified foods, pesticides, etc. I have a hunch that the two things are related, but have no proof to back such a claim up.

  4. I love cheese & dairy too. I also buy only organic milk now, to try to avoid rGBH. I have wished for a more ethical source of milk, but locally there are none. The big two organics and the store brand organic at Harris Teeter are the only choices. I don't have much option for organic cheese, though, so I know I'm still getting those hormones.

    I agree that while we don't know that rGBH causes the rises in autism & cancer, etc, or if pthalates do, or if immunizations do, or what, but the levels of unknowns & toxins we put into our system are just too high. My goal is decrease them as much as possible by making better choices when I can. Milk is one of those areas, but I love it too much to quit it.

    And, yes, the dairy marketers have done a great job. When my friend put her daughter on a gluten free, casein free diet for autism, her family literally told her that the child would die without milk. They've sold us all on it.

  5. I totally agree with you (COB). It's nice to kow I'm not the only one that thinks like this! Some "friends" sometimes make me feel like I'm crazy and just have weird notions about my food.

  6. I have been thinking about this milk thing a lot. I too buy organic, non-homogonized milk yet my toddler drinks 2% regular milk at daycare. After reading Nourishing Traditions and this post I think I may have to buy milk for him to keep at daycare.

    I just found your blog. Like what I see so far.

    Oh. Raw Milk is really good for you the problem is that most cattle are not kept in sanitary conditions thus the problem microbes. So if you haven't seen the farm yourself, I wouldn't drink it.

  7. Thanks for all the comments. I have to say I love getting the emails throughout the day. It really makes me happy (even when you disagree).

    Raven I am very not surprised by your friend's family thinking the child would die without milk. Lobby's are very powerful advertisers in this country. And what I have found through my own experience is that most adults think they are 'immune to advertisement' yet they subconciously fall for it every time. We may be able to differentiate a slimy sales pitch from a genuine one, but when someone is giving you information about nutrition in a commercial that you didn't know before, it sounds totally legit, why should you doubt. Most people think that if it is on TV then it must have cleared the sensors or the fact checkers or whatever, and that simply is not the case. We don't need milk to stay healthy. But it does rock, so I will continue to drink it.

    And no Lalabowers, you are by no means crazy. In fact I am noticing that even among the women in my Manhattan office, more and more of them are coming around the way of thinking veggies and proteins and healthy fats. That makes me happy!!

    erins, we have a full time babysitter who comes to our house. I know what a blessing that is to have. I probably would get organic milk for him. My son is only encountering cheerios and goldfish at his school right now so I haven't had to intervene just yet. I believe that most day cares are happy to oblige a parent when it comes to food choices. If you decide to go that route, I wish you luck.
    And regarding the raw milk, I have full faith that it is really good for you!! I am a pssionate breastfeeder and know what that can do for a baby. Raw milk has to be just as good. But I don't think pasteurization makes milk bad.

  8. if we all really think about it for a second, why cows milk? isnt cows milk supposed to be for baby cows?
    has anyone tried dolphin milk? kangaroo milk? you need calcium which u can find in many foods....you do not need anything else from milk...it is an unfortunate culturally abnormality....maybe squirrel milk, i wonder how many teets they have?

  9. Find your blog interesting as well as the comments. Read a lot and learned so many things. Thanks for sharing.

  10. All dairy products leach more calcium out of your bones than they actually contain. They make your bones weaker, not stronger and can cause a whole host of other illnesses. Check out "The China Study" by Colin Campbell.