Many nutritionists declare that we are what we eat and good health comes from within. One of the foods that have always been heralded as being good for us’ is cows’ milk. Man has been drinking milk for thousands of years, which is interesting as the human body was not designed to digest animal milk easily. We are the only animal to drink the milk of another!
Cows’ milk was first consumed 10,000 years ago by north European farmers who were rearing the animals, and it has been consumed to varying degrees ever since.
Babies produce the enzyme lactase to help them digest the lactose in their mother’s milk but usually stop producing this when they are weaned.
In countries where milk has been regularly consumed by adults (northern Europe and North America), evolution has ensured that up to 90% of adults continue to produce lactase (giving them lactase persistence). This means they can eat milk and dairy products without any problem.
The exact opposite is true in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, where adults do not consume cows’ milk. In recent years, cows’ milk has become popular in China, yet 92% of the adult population have lactase non-persistence, meaning that their bodies do not produce lactase and cannot easily digest dairy products.
However, scientists have found that lactase persistence is passed down to the next generation in places where there has been interbreeding between lactase persistence and non-persistence people.
Historically, milk was viewed as an important new source of nutrients that would help prevent starvation. Scientists believe that milk will have caused digestive problems because their bodies will not have been lactase persistence. Milk remained a fast, easy way to get nutrition-packed food.
In recent years, the global consumption of cows’ milk has risen. In 2017, the IFCN Dairy Research Network stated that 864 million tonnes of dairy milk were produced and that this figure would increase by as much as 35% by 3030.
The sale of milk has decreased dramatically in certain areas, where many question the health benefits of cows’ milk, and there has been a sharp rise in the popularity of alternative plant-based milks. These kinds of milk are popular because they are vegan- and equally importantly- are ideal for those who are either allergic or intolerant to milk.
Certainly, for generations, cows milk was recommended for the whole family as it is rich in fat, protein, sugar and contains calcium which is useful for strengthening teeth and bones in children and preventing osteoporosis in older people. Dairy products contain Vitamin D, ‘the sunshine vitamin’ that is good for bones and helps prevent colds, plus iodine and magnesium, which aids bone development and muscle function.
Today, health has a higher priority, and people are taking care of their bodies much more, trying to walk the recommended 10,000 steps every day, visit their gym and eat nutritious food. Gone is the old adage that you should drink a pint of milk a day because scientists have discovered that cows’ milk may not be so good to drink after all…
The lactose in cows’ milk can be challenging to digest and can lead to a series of health problems, including nausea, stomach cramps, bloating, gas and diarrhoea. Interestingly, many people do not develop lactose intolerance until later in their lives.
Research shows that the threshold for lactose intolerance symptoms varies in each person. Many people can consume a very modest amount of dairy foods, such as a little milk, butter, cheese and yoghurt, without triggering any problems.
These are very different from lactose intolerance. An allergy often occurs in babies and can cause vomiting, colic, wheezing and even anaphylactic shock. Older children can develop coughing, wheezing, asthma and eczema as an allergy develops.
Cholesterol, and fat
A 300 ml glass of whole milk contains 24 mg of cholesterol which is not good for a healthy heart, and the same glass will also contain 3.5% saturated fat. Medical advice suggests that your daily intake of full-fat milk should not exceed one litre, but a wiser choice is to use low-fat milk instead.
Many teenagers develop acne for a period of time as their bodies juggle with changing hormone levels. It has been found that in cases of extended or particularly severe acne that continue into or begin in adulthood, the cause can be cows’ milk.
A recent study in Sweden has found that women who eat four or more servings of cows’ milk and dairy products every day are twice as likely to develop ovarian cancer. Studies are currently being made as it is thought that a diet high in dairy products can increase the chances in men of prostate cancer.
A resistance to antibiotics
Cattle are fed a cocktail of antibiotics to ensure that they remain healthy and produce the optimum quantity of milk. Medical specialists believe that some of these antibiotics are passed to the milk that we drink, with the result that we are becoming more antibiotic-resistant and, consequently, cannot recover from infections as quickly as before.
And other questions being raised
There are many other studies currently being undertaken on cows’ milk. One study is assessing the level of hormones found in modern cows’ milk. Cows are milked when they are pregnant when their oestrogen level is 20 times greater than normal. They are also fed hormones, including steroids and thyroids, so they are in top condition, producing quality milk and calves.
Scientists are trying to evaluate if these hormones cause any problems in humans. As yet, the studies have proved inconclusive. Other studies are analysing whether cows’ milk does help strengthen bones in adults.
Whilst its value in strengthening bones and muscles in children and teenagers, has been proven, many scientists are sceptical that cows’ milk has the same beneficial effect in older people.
Scientists and nutritionists firmly believe that milk from grass-fed or pasteurised cows is the best type of cows’ milk to include in your diet as it contains more beneficial fats and larger amounts of some hormones.
Even if you can digest cows’ milk, is it OK to drink it because of the various questions being raised about how healthy it is? Another important concern is the negative impact that animal farming – especially cattle- is having on our beautiful world.
What are the alternatives to cows’ milk?
If you have concerns about drinking cows’ milk, why not try switching to non-dairy milk? Soya milk is regarded as a good substitute. It contains a similar amount of quality proteins, plus estrogens and hormones, but only half the whole milk’s fats and carbohydrates.
Almond milk is lower in proteins and fat but high in calcium and vitamin E, whilst coconut milk is low in proteins, calories and carbohydrates and contains half the fat. Oat milk is low in fat and proteins but high in carbohydrates and carbohydrates.
Other plant-based milk on the market include hazelnut, cashew, macadamia and hemp. Most alternatives are fortified with nutrients. If you plan to switch to plant-based milk, it is worth spending some time reading the labels.