The nutrition world is flooded with opposing recommendations, making it confusing for clients and consumers to make informed choices about food. Eat this. Don’t eat that. Drink this. Abstain from that. The list goes on and on. In particular, I’m often asked about milk. Mothers trying to make the smartest choices for their kids, as well as health conscious eaters, are always asking me what kind of milk is the healthiest and why?
First, let’s begin with some simple but important facts about the most common kind of milk in your grocery’s dairy section: pasteurized cow’s milk.
1. Why age plays an issue. Humans are the only species on earth that continue to habitually drink milk after being weaned, and have actually adapted in some segments of the population to be able to do so. All animals (except for one species in the reptile family), stop producing the enzyme to digest lactose in infancy and never drink milk after being weaned.
2. The intestines and protein packed dairy. The protein molecule in cow dairy are too large for the human body to recognize, which makes it harder to digest.
3. The role pasteurization plays. While the pasteurization process kills harmful bacteria in milk, it also destroys some of the good bacteria and enzymes that the human body requires to properly digest the proteins, carbohydrates and fat in cow’s milk.
4. Allergic to milk? Some people are actually allergic to the proteins in milk, like casein. For this reason, and because of pasteurization, the body produces excess mucous and antibodies, creating respiratory and other health issues.
5. All about the pH. Cow’s milk, like most protein-rich dairy and animal products, is inherently acid forming. When the body metabolizes milk, the end result is a more acidic overall pH. To neutralize its own pH, the body will naturally process the acid through organs like the kidneys and pull on alkaline reserves from tissue and bones, running the risk of excessive build up of acid in the body, or acidosis.
6. The give and take of calcium. To counteract the acidity produced by consuming cow dairy, the body will often pull calcium, which is highly alkalinizing, from the bones and teeth to keep everything in balance. Ironically, too much of this activity leads to weakened and brittle bones. That’s why it is essential to eat a diet high in alkaline-forming foods.
Now, consider the many alternatives that are becoming increasingly popular in health food stores…
1. Alternative animal-based milk. Dairy alternatives to pasteurized cow’s milk include: raw, unpasteurized cow’s milk, conventional goat and sheep milk, and raw goat and sheep milk. Of all of these options, raw goat and sheep milk are ideal because you avoid the negatives of pasteurization, as well as some of the protein and acid-related issues associated with drinking cow’s milk. While drinking raw cow’s milk may be better than conventional goat and sheep milk, it is kind of a toss up. Retail sale of raw milk in New York State is illegal. However, a handful of New York farms with special licensing can sell raw milk directly to consumers. And, there are plenty of small farms in Connecticut that sell it, as well. Take a day trip out of the city for some fresh air and cleaner dairy. Or, if you’re firmly planted in the city, but still want access to raw milk, you can order online from farms in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
2. Alternative plant-based milks. The many non-dairy alternatives to pasteurized cow’s milk come from a variety of sources, including produce, nuts, seeds, and grains. Here is a list of my approved picks for non-dairy milks, and why soy milk doesn’t make the cut:
- Fresh coconut milk. The best kind of coconut milk is made from young Thai coconuts, which contains less starch than the older brown coconuts. Find it freshly made at Juice Press and Juice Generation. Try to avoid canned coconut milk.
- Nut milks: Almond, Brazil Nut, Macadamia, and Pecan.
- Seed milks. Hemp, Pumpkin, Sunflower, and Sesame.
- Grain milks: Rice and Quinoa.
So, why isn’t soy milk NOT on the list? Three letters: G-M-O. Approximately 91-93% of soybeans in the United States come from a Genetically Modified Organism (GMO), which is a scary statistic considering the extremely harmful implications of genetically altered food on the human body. Even with the non-soy dairy alternative milks, be careful to avoid products that contain carrageenan, a carcinogenic additive found in many boxed or packaged dairy products. To guarantee that you’re getting the healthiest product, verify brands that are carrageenan-free on The Cornucopia Institute‘s website. The ideal is to purchase fresh, non-dairy from my approved store list: Gingersnap’s Organic, Juice Press, and and OMILK (they deliver!).
WORDS: Meredith Geller