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Are Dairy Products Good For Your Health?
Posted by Dr. Ben Kim on Jan 27, 2005
Before my parents immigrated to Canada close to four decades ago, my mom was convinced that one of the benefits of living in Canada was the amount of cow's milk that was available. Back in Korea, moms, dads, and grandparents of all ages were sure that their babies and grandchildren could be bigger, stronger, and healthier if they could only have easy access to milk.
That generation's belief in the remarkable health value of milk was most probably rooted in their admiration for the physical strength and healthful appearances of American soldiers who were stationed at military bases around the country following the Korean war.
While Korean soldiers ate rice, kim chee, and den jang (miso) soup for breakfast, American soldiers enjoyed milk, cereal, toast, bacon, and eggs. It was natural for many Koreans to conclude that the difference in size and strength was due to the foods that Americans ate.
In much the same way that American influence caused baseball to become wildly popular in Korea, milk became a symbol of all things bigger and better in the land of the morning calm.
I was born one year after my parents immigrated to Toronto, Canada. My mom chose not to breastfeed me because she was sure that cow's milk would be far better for my health and future. She was just one of many millions of people around the world who considered milk to be the ultimate health food.
Today, the number of people around the world who consider milk to be a healthy food choice is most probably in the billions. True, there are groups and communities - particularly in the natural health field - who are well aware of the many health challenges that are associated with eating dairy products, but there is no denying that a large percentage of the world's population still believes that milk does a body good. Heck, if Dr. Phil is going to appear in ads wearing a milk mustache, how can the general public believe otherwise?
Here are some important facts that you should know about most varieties of milk that are widely available in grocery stores:
Most varieties of milk come from cows that are fed high-protein soybean meal and growth hormones to increase production. Both increase a cow's risk of developing mastitis, liver problems, and pituitary gland problems, leading to frequent doses of antibiotics. Clearly, regular exposure to synthetic growth hormone and antibiotic residues is not congruent with experiencing your best health.
Conventional milk is pasteurized, a process that exposes milk to high temperatures and results in the following:
- Many varieties of milk are homogenized. Homogenization is a process that forces healthy fat in milk through a fine straining device, which allows homogenized milk to be consistent in texture and taste rather than have globules of fat float to the surface. The problem with homogenization is that it can alter healthy fat and cholesterol in milk in a way that leaves them more susceptible to forming free radicals.
Milk can be a healthy food choice if it meets the following criteria:
It comes from old-fashioned cows like Jerseys and Guernseys, not modern Holsteins that have been bred to produce such large quantities of milk that they typically have pituitary gland problems that result in large amounts of hormones being present in their milk.
It comes from cows that have been allowed to eat foods that are natural to them: grass when it is available, and green feed, silage, hay and root vegetables during colder months.
It is not pasteurized. Pasteurization was first used in the 1920s to kill micro organisms that caused tuberculosis and other diseases that were related to unsanitary production methods. With modern day controls in place to ensure clean and safe production, transportation, and storage of milk, the disadvantages of pasteurization far outweigh the advantages.
It is not homogenized.
Realmilk.com is a website that provides more information on what constitutes healthy milk and where to find it.
Even if you can find a local source of healthy milk, it's possible that it may not be a healthy choice for you. Many people are unable to properly digest milk because they lack an enzyme called lactase, necessary to break down lactose, the natural sugar in milk. Many people have a difficult time digesting casein, a major protein found in milk. Ongoing exposure to casein that is not properly broken down is strongly associated with chronic ear infections, nasal congestion, acne, eczema, a variety of autoimmune illnesses, and even cancer.
Fermenting or souring healthy milk to form yogurt, kefir, and clabber helps to breakdown lactose and predigest casein, making these foods healthy choices for some people. Please keep in mind that many brands of yogurt and kefir are made with unhealthy milk. At the very least, you should make sure that store-bought yogurt and kefir are made from organic milk.
Butter contains very little lactose and casein, which makes it an acceptable food choice for some people - it's best to use varieties that are made with organic, unpasteurized dairy.
Cheese is highly concentrated with casein, so should only be eaten by those who don't show signs of intolerance to casein. It is best to eat cheeses made from healthy milk, and to completely avoid processed cheese which contains hydrogenated oils and harmful emulsifiers, extenders, and phosphates.
Please note: The guidelines in this article can be used to choose healthy goat's and sheep's milk and their derivatives. For more information on milk and milk products, I recommend that you read Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon, or visit realmilk.com.
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