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Milk: A Controversial Food

Milk is one of the most popular food items in North America, but it is also a controversial food. For example, milk and dairy products have their own food group in the Canada Food Guide, suggesting that they are an essential part of everyone's diet, and yet dairy products are also one of the most common allergens. Milk is often responsible for chronic sinus problems, autoimmune disorders, and bowel conditions such as diarrhea and constipation.

So how is it that milk came to be considered such an essential part of our diets while contributing to so many health problems? Well, partly it's because the milk of today is not the same as the milk of the past.

For many years, groups of humans ate a diet of whole, unrefined foods and consumed dairy products from a number of mammals, including mares, cows, goats and sheep. However, they drank their milk raw or ate it as a fermented dairy product and their animals also ate a healthy diet free of hormones and antibiotics, which reduced or eliminated a number of the problems associated with modern-day milk as a food.

Milk Today

Today's cow, unfortunately, is a freak of nature. Dairy cows are often fed grains and soy beans istead of grasses and hay, resulting in milk that is too high in omega 6 fatty acids rather than containing a healthy balance of the omega 3, 6, and 9 fatty acids. Milk cows are also often given growth hormones (to make them produce more milk) and antibiotics (to fight infections caused by producing too much milk), and these antibiotics and hormones end up in your milk in trace amounts and contribute to milk allergies.

Milk processing is also problematic. Pasteurization, originally used to prevent the transmission of bovine tuberculosis, destroys beneficial bacteria that protect humans against possible pathogens in milk. It also denatures the amino acids, lysine and tyrosine, rendering them useless to your body. Pasteurization destroys the enzymes needed to digest milk.

Milk Intolerances

One of the most common problems with milk is lactose intolerance. Lactose is a naturally occuring sugar that is broken down by an enzyme called lactase. Someone is considered lactose intolerant if they have a deficiency of lactase and are therefore unable to properly digest lactose. Mammals usually only produce lactase while they are still breast feeding as it is required to digest mother's milk. For humans, this means lactase is usually produced until around age 6, although some people continue to produce lactase even after infancy. Whether or not an individual maintains their ability to digest lactose is largely determined by genetic background.

In addition to lactose intolerance, allergies to casein, a protein component of milk, are common and responsible for the allergy symptoms that many people experience after drinking milk, such as fatigue, skin rashes, stuffy nose, and autoimmune problems. Casein is one of the most difficult proteins to digest, however, fermentation of milk products breaks down lactose and predigests casein.

If you wish to continue including dairy products in your diet, you should choose milk form organically raised or grass grazed cattle to avoid exposure to hormones and antibiotics. You should also experiment with reducing your intake of dairy products and choose from a variety of milks, such as goat or sheep and use more fermented dairy products such as cheeses made from raw milk, yoghurts, kefir, buttermilk or koumiss in place of homogenized and fortified milk or processed cheeses.

Recommended Reading

Eat Right for Your Type

Feed Your Body Right: Understanding Your Individual Body Chemistry for Proper Nutrition Without Guesswork

The Diet Cure

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