Which Milk Does Your Body Good?
Milk does a body good right? If you’re my age then you remember all those milk ads in the late 90’s: you know, the whole Got Milk? ad that featured a prominent celebrity or athlete, endorsing milk in all its glory. Just picture Jennifer Aniston with a milk moustache and you get the idea.
Here’s a bit of backstory from yours truly. I grew up on milk. It was a staple in my diet growing up, and was probably the healthiest food I ingested (since most teenagers grow up on chips, candy, soda and what not). Two glasses a day was common and sometimes I would exceed that. But as I grew older I noticed things change. My mid 20’s were featured a lot of bloating, abdominal pain, and even some gas (sorry, just being honest here). I even visited a doctor to try to find the source of pain, and he was dumbfounded. I finally put myself on an elimination diet and once milk was gone, so were the issues. Throughout the years, I’ve encountered many clients who have the same issues. Once we eliminate milk, the problems go bye-bye.
But this isn’t an anti-milk campaign. In fact, it’s quite the opposite; consider this a guide to all the different milk products out there. Thanks to some people complaining about their milk woes along with grocery stores launching their natural aisles, picking out a milk source is like trying to select lottery numbers that are going to win you a jackpot. Let’s dive right in and check out all of your options!
Cow’s milk comes from – you guessed it – cows. Nearly 90% of cow’s milk is actually just water, with the rest consisting of protein, sugar, fat, and vitamins/minerals. But there are benefits to drinking milk. For starters, it does supply protein for those who fail to eat an adequate amount throughout the day. You’re also getting a dose of vitamins and minerals…but more on this in a second.
One of the issues that arises with milk is the issue of lactase, which is the sugar found in milk. People who are intolerant of milk lack the enzyme needed to break down the carb found in it. If you’re missing that enzyme, then many issues may be causing problems with your body along with even affecting your physique (bloating, inflammation, etc).
The other issue with milk comes from the idea of raw milk versus pasteurized milk. Hardcore health advocates promote raw milk while others argue that pasteurization help kill off harmful bacteria. Mainstream research tends to support the concept of pasturezing milk: one study examined milk and found traces of e. coli in several samples (1). Another study examined 48 raw milk samples and found that 42% of them contained over the legal limit of a harmful bacteria (2). To be fair, many proponents of raw milk state that Mother Nature needs to be left alone and that raw milk will contain everything it needs to help fight off harmful bacteria (3).
The issue of pasteurization may cause other problems as well. When you heat up the milk to kill the bacteria, you also kill off other things. Manufacturers need to replenish the missing vitamins and minerals, so milk may be stacked with synthetic vitamins that your body won’t absorb as readily.
Coconut milk provides an alternative to those who can’t tolerate cow’s milk or choose not to drink it. The lactose issue doesn’t apply here, so it should be fine as far as digestion is concerned. However, coconut milk is processed, and many versions are sweetened for taste. Let’s be honest: just because you bought that chocolate coconut milk from a health food store doesn’t mean it’s good for you.
Coconut milk also contains an ingredient called carrageenan. Carrageenan is used in test studies to promote inflammation in the body: in one study, researchers found that injecting carrageenan into mice activated pain receptors for up to 3 hours after injection (4). In a nutshell, inflammation is one thing you want to stay away from as much as possible.
Soy has been promoted as a health product for a long time. However, soy is also a major player in the field of GMOs, as more than three quarters of soy is estimated to be genetically modified. If you like your food natural and real, then GMO is something you want to avoid. Soy is also good at promoting estrogen in the body, which can throw off your reproductive and thyroid function. As you can tell – I’m not a big fan of soy in general.
Of all the other alternatives to milk, rice might be the most well known. In fact, I had a buddy in elementary school that drank rice milk and all of us thought he was a literally from another planet (give me a break, I was six at the time). This will help you make a decision about choosing rice milk: the milk comes from rice, which is of course a source of complex carbohydrates. So if you’re limiting your carb intake, then it may be wise to avoid rice milk. It won’t cause issues with digestion, but it also doesn’t offer much in terms of vitamins and minerals compared to the other milks.
There are many health benefits of almond milk because the source is of course almonds. Mainstream health news has finally caught on to the benefits of fat in the diet, and almonds are always at the top of the list. This is because almonds contain antioxidants, healthy fats, and many of the macro and trace minerals needed for optimal health. Of course, if you have a nut allergy then almond milk isn’t for you, but anyone looking to break away from traditional mammal milk may find what they need in almond milk.
Like any other choices in life, there are always pros and cons to which road you want to take. Which milk does your body good depends a lot on your own individual response to milk. Less popular options like coconut, rice, and soy may not really offer much health benefit. Almond and traditional cow’s milk appear to take the lead, with most choosing between the two.
1. De Reu, K. Grijspeerdt, K, Herman, L. “A Belgian Survey of Hygiene Indicator Bacteria and Pathogenic Bacteria in Raw Milk and Direct Marketing of Milk Farm Products” (2007) Journal of Food Safety. 24;1 17-36
2. Ayar, A. Serta, D., et al. “A Study on the Occurrence of Aflatoxin in Raw Milk Due to Feeds.” (2007) Journal of Food Safety. 27;2, 199-207
3. Chek, Paul. How to Eat, Move, and Be Healthy. San Diego: Chek Institute Publication. 2004,pp 65-66
4. McGill, Stuart. Low Back Disoders. 2nd ed. Champaign, ILL: Human Kinetics. Pp 70