Meditations on Milk
Milk is a confusing subject. I didn’t think this until my recent trip to India during which I studied Ayurvedic nutrition with Dr. Madan Kumar. I fondly refer to my introductory studies as the Ayurvedic mind boggle because it challenged the way I think about food, specifically milk.
I learned from reading The China Study that casein, the protein in milk, is linked to cancer, diabetes and heart disease. So I promptly replaced cows milk with nut milk. I felt pretty good about this given that cow’s milk must really be considered a processed food with all the pasteurization, homogenization, antibiotics and hormone pumping going on.
So you can imagine my confusion when Dr. Madan told me that Ayurveda considers milk to be irreplaceable because it is the only substance that nourishes all seven tissues of the body. Hmmm, what the heck does that mean, you ask? If you’re interested in Ayurveda’s perspective on milk read on here. He also told me what we all know, that milk is the best source of calcium.
I voiced my concerns to the doctor that I could not justify drinking milk in the states because it was so processed and his response was, well you don’t have to drink milk maybe just put a bit of ghee on your toast in the morning.
Back in the States, a lot of reading and thinking and reading and obsessing over whether I should drink milk or not ensued. I came to the conclusion that I would stick to drinking my homemade nut milks and avoid cow’s milk for the most part. Here’s the thought process that lead me to this conclusion:
Milk is a processed food.
Most of the milks on the shelf are pasteurized, homogenized and pumped full of hormones and antibiotics. The FDA recently approved the use of Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) which causes an increase in an insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) in the milk of treated cows. IGF-1 can be absorbed directly into the human blood stream and has been linked to several cancers, including breast cancer. Cows injected with BGH have an increased rate of breast infections which means they need to be given more antibiotics, perpetuating a vicious cycle of chemicals.
In addition, homogenization of milk has been linked to increased rate of heart disease. All this processing contributes to many more problems which Dr. Mercola discusses here.
It is really difficult to be sure you are getting organic milk from pastured, grass fed cows who have not been pumped full of commercial grain, antibiotics and growth hormones when dining out.
For example, a few weeks ago I went into Whole Foods in Palo Alto, ordered a coffee from their espresso bar and asked for organic milk. Well, it turns out that Whole Foods does not serve organic milk at their coffee bar. I mean Whole Foods??!! Interestingly, they offered organic almond milk and soy milk but did not have an organic cows milk available. Crazy, right?
Milk is not the best source of calcium.
There are two reasons why milk may not be providing you with as much calcium as you think. First, the high levels of phosphorous in milk can prevent you from absorbing the calcium in milk. And second, milk protein actually accelerates calcium excretion through your kidneys. Like all animal based foods, milk has a positive potential renal acid load which triggers a protective biological reaction to neutralize all the damaging acidic protein before it reaches the kidneys. In order to neutralize all this acid the body pulls calcium from your bones, resulting in a loss of calcium instead of a gain. Vegetarians need 50% less calcium than meat eaters because they lose much less calcium in their urine.
The connection between milk consumption and bone health is almost non-existent.
Studies have shown that countries with the highest consumption of milk and calcium have the highest rates of osteoporosis. They have also failed to show that consuming the suggested 1000mg of calcium per day protects against bone fractures. The majority of the world’s population takes in less than half of the FDA calcium recommendation, yet they have strong bones and healthy teeth. Read more about this here.
Milk from commercial dairy farms violates the ahimsa principle.
Ahimsa, the principle of non-violence, teaches that we must refrain from causing harm to any living creature. Drinking milk from dairy farms, where calves and cows are horribly abused, would violate this principle. It is important to be mindful and take responsibility for what you consume. If you do choose to drink milk then make sure it is from a farm where the cows are pastured and not mistreated, such as Straus Family Creamery.
For these reasons I decided cow’s milk was out. And soy was definitely out because it’s virtually impossible to know whether the soy milk you are drinking contains GMO’s.
So that leaves rice milk, oat milk and the nut milks. Rice milk and almond milk are the two that are most readily available in the cafe’s these days so when I’m out I drink one of those. But even these aren’t ideal because of the emulsifiers and preservatives they contain. Who knows what these added chemicals can do to our bodies? (There has been some controversy around the potentially harmful effects of widespread carageenan consumption.) So I prefer homemade nut milk.
In my opinion the store bought almond milk is never very good, always has a slight chemical taste and an unpleasant gelatinized, as opposed to smooth and creamy, texture. Homemade nut milk is smooth, creamy, delicious and easy to make.
As usual practice makes perfect. The first try you are going to make a mess but persist and you will conquer the gratifying task of making your own nut milk in under 5 minutes! And then you can get creative and start making almond-walnut, hazelnut, or pecan-cashew milk and any number of other interesting combinations. All you need is a high powered blender or Vitamix, a nut bag and a container to store the milk in, preferably glass. You can buy a nut bag at most health food stores or order one from Amazon. I love this Frigoverre glass jug for storing my milk.
1 cup almonds, soaked overnight in the fridge
4-5 cups water
2-4 pitted dates
1/2 tsp sea salt
A dash of vanilla
a few generous dashes of cinnamon
In a mesh sieve rinse the nuts well. Add all the ingredients to the Vitamix (or blender) and blend until smooth, about 1 minute. Using a nut bag strain the milk into a glass container by gently ‘milking’ the nut bag until only the pulp is left in the bag. Be careful not to force this process as you will easily rip the nut bag.
Oh, I do have a bit of ghee on my toast in the morning but I will save that for another post.