Milk: Myths and Meaning
By Chelsea Fisher
Gene Tunney, the heavyweight champion who beat Jack Dempsey for the title in the 1920s, had a simple credo: Drink two quarts of milk a day and think of nothing but boxing. His belief in the health benefits of milk reflected a national allegiance to what could have been called “the great white hope.”
In America we’ve long been told milk is a wonder drink, kind of like wine for the French. But just as overdosing on spinach won’t give us the pop of Popeye, recent research has shown that milk, on its own, doesn’t have the power to make us gain or lose weight, and cannot single handedly fortify our bones.
Still, milk is worth having in your fridge. According to the Mayo Clinic milk can be a great snack, and a better way to stave off hunger than chips or other unhealthy options; it may also be a good option if you are feeling energy-depleted. For those undergoing treatment it can be a great way to get added protein into your diet. Milk contains carbohydrates, whey and casein protein, and electrolytes like sodium and potassium. It also offers calcium, and phosphorus, and is usually fortified with vitamin D.
When deciding on what milk to buy we have a number of decisions to make. Do we want skim, two percent, whole, organic, lactose free, hormone free? There have been years of research and debate – still continuing -- around which form of milk is best for health, but for now, it appears that what it really comes down to is your own personal preference and needs.
Whether you’re sipping skim or whole, a recent article in The New York Times entitled “ Still Counting Calories? Your Weight Loss Plan May Be Outdated” should lead you to worry a little less about your choice. The article reported on a longitudinal study by experts at Harvard that were set out to determine how and why people gain weight as they age. The study revealed, “An increased intake of dairy products, whether low-fat (milk) or full-fat (milk and cheese), had a neutral effect on weight.” This is contrary to popular beliefs that milk fat causes weight gain, or to the Dairy Council’s claims that milk can help promote weight loss, and leads us to further speculation about whether or not dietary fat has a direct effect on the weight we gain.
Your next choice: organic or conventional? The jury is still out. According to the USDA, cows that have been treated with growth hormones and antibiotics do not produce milk that is different than the milk from cows not treated (the ones that get the organic stamp). But some research seems to indicate that grass-fed cows may produce milk that contains more conjugated linoleic acid, a type of fat that has anti- cancer effects, than their conventionally grain-fed counterparts. But this has not been proven. Organic milk is pricier, but may be a safer bet if only because people have been drinking milk farmed in the organic style for centuries, and the overuse of antibiotics and hormones in feedlot dairy animals is perhaps too recent to be entirely assessed.
We recommend always buying antibiotic and hormone (RBGH) free milk. Look for milk from grass fed cows whenever possible, (it should say on the label), and if that’s not available, buy organic. There’s a lot of talk about the health benefits of raw milk. It’s illegal in many states, but even if it is legal in yours, it’s not a good idea to drink it if your immune system has been compromised by treatment. Also, cancer and cancer treatments can cause gastrointestinal problems, and some people may experience lactose intolerance as a result. If this is the case it’s best to stay away from cow’s milk and try other options like goat milk, lactose-free milk, or unsweetened soy and almond milks.
When making Cook For Your Life’s Healthy Fruity Oatmeal pour some milk over it to give it more oomph, in both energy and taste. Milk makes comforting puddings, like Icelandic Rice Pudding. It is also a necessary ingredient in many quick-to- make baked goods, like our delicious Whole Wheat Yogurt Biscuits and Maple-Apple Scones.