TBT: Milk it! Is Dairy Good or Bad?

Since I wrote the post below in the 2000s, the conversation has shifted more toward whether we should be drinking dairy at all, and if not, which vegan alternative is best. More scientific data about the nutritional values and risks of dairy has come out since the 2000s. We know now that pasteurization doesn't have a huge effect on nutritional value (despite what the foil-helmeted raw milk militia may have told you!) and that skim milk is actually an inferior nutritional choice for most people, especially for kids, that increases the risk of obesity.

So is dairy good or bad for you? That depends on you. Humans digest and respond to dairy in a variety of ways based on genetics and other factors. It's great that we have choices at the grocery store, because there is no best kind of milk for everyone. If your health involves complicated problems, it may be worth consulting a nutritionist. But for most of us, all we need to do is pick out the milk we like the best, which doesn't make us feel bad after consuming it. That's it!

And in terms of ethics and environmental impact, it's probably helpful for most people to shift some or all of their "milk" consumption to a vegan variety--again, whatever is your favorite. They're all easier on the environment than dairy milk. (However, I would never recommend that a person who derives an important nutritional benefit from dairy to switch to vegan; don't sacrifice your health for a tiny speck of climate karma.) If, however, you feel you don't need dairy in your life or don't need it every day, here's a tool to compare vegan milk alternatives--if you're into that sort of thing. If not, don't sweat it. Consuming a healthy diet in healthy amounts is always a good thing, and what and how much of it you need to consume is individualized. If you feel good and healthy, just keep doing what you're doing.

I've been buying more shelf-stable containers of vegan milk these days to stretch out the time between my family's grocery trips. My personal favorite milk is creamy, whole ass moo cow f*ck milk (nod to Lewis Black) that I can get for an absurdly cheap $2 a gallon, but I can also deal with flax milk and oat milk. Coconut milk is awesome as an ingredient in some sweet and savory recipes. My husband adores goat milk, though our cat won't touch it. What are your favorite kinds of milk or milk-like substance?

Milk It! Is Dairy Good or Bad?

A poor and fabulous grocery shopper with limited funds and high health consciousness needs to know: Is milk good for you or bad for you? Is organic milk better than regular? This concerns poor ladies like myself very much because a.) health care costs are the leading cause of bankruptcy for Americans, and b.) organic milk is expensive! Is it worth buying?


I hear a lot of conflicting information about organic foods and dairy products in general. I have heard that I should buy organic milk because it contains no artificial hormones, and because it is higher in nutrients than the stuff that comes out of hormone-injected, overmilked cows in farm factories. However, the milk I buy in Michigan now at the big chains Meijer and Quality Dairy are already hormone-free. Meijer offers certified organic milk, but it costs twice as much as the regular stuff, and it's ultra-pasteurized to stay fresh longer.

The pasteurization process (basically cooking the milk) kills bacteria and makes the milk safe to drink and last longer on the shelf, but it zaps many of the nutrients out of the raw milk. So if the regular milk is pasteurized and the organic milk is ultra-pasteurized, I'm guessing the organic milk actually has less nutritional value.

Some people think cow dairy is bad for people in general, while some evidence suggests that it is very healthy. I think it's a complex issue, and there's truth on both sides. I have had nurses confirm for me that milk and cheese really do increase your body's production of mucus. So it's bad to drink a lot of milk when you have a cold... but then again, if you live or work or commute in air polluted with particulate (like diesel exhaust or fine dust), that mucus can protect you. Instead of building up in your lungs, the junk in the air gets caught in your mucus, and you cough or sneeze it out or swallow and pass it instead of having it collect in your lungs and cause cancer or emphysema. Gross, but good to know.

People in parts of the world where there is a scarcity of food, such as parts of Southeast Asia, grow stronger and healthier when dairy is included in their diet. OK, so drinking milk is better than starving. That is evidence that milk has nutritional value, but it doesn't show that cow milk is the BEST way to get your protein, calcium, etc.

I have heard, too, that cow milk is not the best milk for humans to digest. Goat milk is easier on the stomach. Personally, I have found this to be true. I have a menstrual disorder that gives me digestive problems at certain times. When my stomach is upset, I can handle a creamy goat milk latte or one made with soy milk, but not cow milk. However, goat milk tastes... well, goaty. It's not as sweet as cow milk. Also, the only goat milk I can find at the store is ultra-pasteurized.

It seems obvious to me, though, that milk is a heck of a lot healthier (even in chocolate form) than soda, "vitamin water," or a lot of the other sugar-saturated swills that many people drink all day. It does contain significant amounts of calcium and protein. And you can buy it fat free.

My conclusion is that cow milk is fine to drink... not as good as goat milk, but still good... especially the fat free version most of the time... as long as you don't have a cold, flu, respiratory infection, dairy allergy, or lactose intolerance.

Anybody know more about the health benefits/risks of dairy that I'm missing?

Comments

  1. Organic products are essentially earth-friendly, sustainable and natural, not only in its entity but in production mode. Which makes safer and healthier.

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  2. I like when people say that organic products are better for the earth...in many cases that is the truth but in many cases, they can actually be just as bad if not worse. Often times they require special handling, special treatment (refridgeration and whathaveyou= polution) as well as only being able to be grown in certain areas. So they have to be shipped to all corners of the planet (again, more polution).

    So in in a give and take of harm, I am not sure if organics are always what they are cracked up to be. I'm not trying to sound like a crochety old Andy Rooney about it, but I am honestly not sure if it adds up every single time.

    Of course I want to be as kind to Mother Earth as possible, but I also want to real about it. Is it really better to eat the stuff that is labled organic or is the organic on the label lulling making me feel better about eating the stuff?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Yeah, it's hard to trust labels and determine exactly what they mean. But I know for sure that my backyard veggies are 100% organic and required no transportation or extra refrigeration costs! I grew these heirloom tomatoes from Yugoslavia this year that are amazing. I'll be saving those seeds!

    ReplyDelete

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