The quick answer: Serious questions have been raised about the healthfulness of modern milk. Until better milk is available, we drink milk sparingly.
I started this post early on Memorial Day, a time set aside to honor those who have passed, especially those who died at war. As part of my observation, I reread Stephen Ambrose’s WWII story about Easy Company of the fabled 101st Airborne, A Band of Brothers.
Reading Band of Brothers caused me to ask a question: “What causes more premature death—war or the modern diet?” Actually, it’s no contest. In the U.S., far more people die from the modern American diet (MAD). Worse yet, Food Inc is unconscionably doing its best to spread this diet to the rest of the world.
I love the Gettysburg Address, especially this line, “Now we are engaged in a great civil war . . . .“ Well, if you are doing something to promote a healthy diet, even if only in your home, you’re a warrior in the greatest war of our time—the battle to reform the modern diet. The remarkable thing about this war is that the good guys are . . . women, mostly.
The industrialization of food in the last century changed the very nature of what we eat. The roller mill was combined with bleaching to make sweet, long-lasting, white flour depleted of natural nutrients. Rice was polished from brown to white, likewise reducing nutrients. A new kind of fat, Crisco, the replacement for lard, and more toxic than we realized, was created by hydrogenation. Ditto for margarine.
These foods—each heavily marketed to a gullible public—had a few things in common:
- Value was added in a factory, rather than on a farm.
- The removal of perishable nutrients greatly extended the shelf life.
- They had a modern color for food—white.
- A traditional commodity was made more profitable by first adulterating and then marketing it as a brand.
This post addresses another traditional food industrialized in a factory: Milk.
The Industrialization of Milk
Last year, in an excellent post titled The Untold Story of Milk, we reviewed how milk, a traditional food, was industrialized into a form of questionable healthiness. The main steps in this process:
- Cheap feed: Cows traditionally eat grass; a cow needs 1-2 acres of pasture depending on the forage. In the early 1900s, to save land and money, dairy farms were located next to distilleries and cows were fed the remains of grain used to make liquor and other waste products. Naturally, unhealthy feed led to unhealthy cows, and diseased milk.
- Pasteurization: Rather than maintaining healthy cows to get healthy milk, the decision was made to pasteurize milk, which reduced, but didn’t eliminate, the pathogens. This heating process changed the nature of milk and has never been fully accepted, for various reasons.
- Hormones in milk: During the hard times of the ‘20s and ‘30s, it became common to milk cows deep into the next pregnancy, thus exposing consumers to higher levels of bovine hormones. In addition, Monsanto introduced synthetic versions of these hormones to improve output, though this practice is mostly discontinued thanks to public criticism. A researcher has looked at the issue of milk hormones—a suspected risk factor for prostate and breast cancer—you can read more about it here.
- Homogenization: Pasteurization also extended the shelf life of milk, which allowed shipping longer distances. Because cream tended to separate, homogenization was introduced. Basically, homogenization breaks the fats in milk into fragments, so the fat remains mixed in the milk and doesn’t float to the top. There are still troubling questions about the healthfulness of these man-made fat fragments.
- Reduced fat: In the ‘60s the false idea was advanced that fat was unhealthy so the fat content of milk was reduced. Because this changed the appearance of the milk, the government allowed milk processors to improve the look with additives like powdered milk and excused them from noting these substances as ingredients.
Infertility and Reduced Fat Diary
The healthfulness of reduced fat milk has not been adequately studied however a 2007 study of 18,555 women in the Nurses’ Health Study II by Harvard researchers, found troubling issues with infertility due to reduced ovulation. Women who drank two or more servings of low fat dairy foods per day, were 85% more likely to suffer from infertility, compared to women eating low fat dairy just once a week. Women who consumed no low fat dairy food had an even lower risk (25% less than the once per week group).
What To Do
I like milk but until healthier milk is available, I’m mainly drinking water. I try to limit myself to one quart of whole milk per week. I’ve tried raw milk and wish it were more available, especially from grass-fed cows. The beautiful wife avoids milk; she even has the curious habit of putting orange juice on her breakfast compote.
What would it take to have the healthy milk of our great-grandparents? One answer is to get your own cow. Another solution is to have an Amish friend who still farms the olden way. Otherwise we’ll all have to wait until the government lets enterprising dairymen offer healthy milk from pasture-fed cows. In the mean time, we follow this Healthy Change:
Need a reminder? Download our Healthy Change reminder card. Print and fold, then place in your kitchen or on your bathroom mirror to help you remember the Healthy Change of the week.