It cracks me up the, the horror on people’s faces when they hear I don’t give my kids cows milk. It has become the socially acceptable thing to do– without knowing exactly why. The Dairy Board issues “health claims” which really don’t have a strong basis. Once again it’s all marketing. Literally. I remember when I would not start weaning my 1 year old from my milk (read here the ingredients in human milk) to pasteurized cow’s milk I had a well-meaning friend warn me several times that he may be at high risk for rickets.
I’ll start by saying that I understand dairy is a complex topic. Am I opposed to all dairy? Not necessarily…not raw, from pasture raised cows (the enzymes break down the casein and it is more easily digested and handled by the gut), the milk fat is not removed, it is nutrient dense, and it is not homogenized…but good luck finding real milk. I am still learning about raw dairy, and haven’t tried it yet. If you can find it and have access to it, you can learn more about raw dairy here: This is an awesome resource.
My focus on this post is pasteurized dairy from confined grain, corn and soy fed cows, and why I do not buy into the hype or give it to my kids.
I remember when I was a child (in the 1980’s) we had several dairy farms right around the corner from our house. The cows were out grazing all day long– you could smell the cow manure but it was almost a pleasant smell of summertime in the country. One of the Farmers had an ice-cream shop and general store. We would walk there and get some fresh local grass-fed ice-cream. One of the Farms was on a hill…I remember playing in the field with my friends and getting chased by a cow down that hill and running all the way home. We use to walk around the corner of our street to a dead end street to “pet the cows” and feed them “cow flowers” out in the big pasture. It’s sad that all those farms in my hometown are gone now and that pasture is now filled with houses.
It’s funny how on many milk cartons you see pictures of cows out grazing in pastures. Last year my son’s preschool class went to visit the local dairy “farm” that supplies much of the milk to the local convenience stores here in Upstate NY. The cows were all standing in stalls in their feces. They were all 100% grain-fed (along with corn and soy) and the stench was awful. Nothing like the sweet grassy manure smell growing up. I won’t get into to many more details. I don’t want to start getting too idealistic and lose readers that way. However, my point is that the model of farming has changed drastically over the years, and this affects the final product. I’m sure much of it has to do with politics and government subsidies. Even the milk sold in glass jars locally here at the farmer’s market is from grain-fed cows, pasteurized, and homogenized. It’s just sold in fancy glasses…and they charge more for it.
Most of the milk we consume and believe is making us strong comes from confined grain-fed cows. These cows are not eating their natural diet of grass, at all…and therefore missing out on the high levels of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid– a potent cancer fighter) and there is an omega 6 to omega 3 imbalance. High omega 6 consumption and low omega-3 is a leading cause of inflammation in the body.
According to Mark Sisson from Mark’s Daily Apple,
“Cows raised on pasture produce milk fat with an omega 6 to omega 3 ratio of 1. Yes, equal amounts. A balance. Grain-fed cows, on the other hand, produce a ratio tilted heavily toward omega 6.”
If you are regularly consuming cows milk each day…that is a very high omega 6 consumption!
When cows milk is pasteurized all the beneficial gut bacteria, probiotics and live enzymes are killed off. The good saturated fats are usually removed (because of the “low fat” and “fat free” craze so it is stripped of its nutrients). Then we add “vitamins” to it and tell the public we must consume it for strong bones! However, does the public know that the calcium in cow milk is not all bioavailable? What that means is that the body does not easily absorb and assimilate it like it does the calcium from other sources. There are certain minerals (co-factors) needed for calcium to be absorbed. Therefore the “however many” milligrams of calcium it says you are ingesting, you really are not.
The casein in cows milk is a foreign protein and can be very hard on the gut. The body then tries to reject it. This can lead to many different inflammatory and immune responses including skin conditions like eczema, asthma, allergies, and autoimmune issues. The body wants to reject these proteins and this creates an immune system response.
So what about CALCIUM?
“Our first mistake is thinking that bone health is all about calcium, the second is believing our intake of calcium is all that matters. If this was true, then how do you reconcile this?
The United States has one of the highest rates of osteoporosis in the world,
despite having one of the highest calcium intakes.
It makes no sense… unless there’s more to the story than how much calcium we’re taking in. It’s also about how much we’re able to absorb, and retain. And factors like our dietary habits, our lifestyle, and the aging process all contribute to calcium absorption and retention.
- The phytates in foods like whole grains and legumes form complexes with the calcium and other minerals in the plant. This renders the calcium virtually impossible to absorb, and limits its bioavailability (the amount that can be effectively absorbed and used by the body).
- Whole grains may also promote a loss of vitamin D, a critical element of bone health. Low vitamin D3 levels (from diet and a lack of daily exposure to sunshine) inhibits calcium absorption.
- Stress affects HCL production in the stomach (and impacts normal digestion), which can have a negative effect on calcium absorption.
- Age also negatively impacts calcium absorption – on average, adults absorb about 20% less calcium than children.
- On the other hand, adequate protein in the diet increases calcium absorption and stimulates the production of hormones that promote new bone formation. This effect is more than sufficient to counter the increased urinary excretion of calcium observed upon increased protein consumption.
Finally, one additional note: vitamin D3 and K are both fat soluble – meaning they require some fat to be absorbed in the bloodstream. So a low fat diet (like the kind we’ve all been advised to eat for the last 20 years) may impair your body’s ability to absorb these two vitamins, which can also diminish bone health.”
“We can see in a day’s worth if USDA meals that the RDA is slightly exceeded at 123%, while the Paleo diet (PD) comes a lot closer than parents might assume at 90%. Now, I wasn’t specifically searching for calcium-rich foods when I calculated this day, but you can see how a child can easily come close to the RDA for calcium without a DROP of dairy in his or her daily diet. That said, even at 90% of the RDA, the amount of calcium that’ll be absorbed by the child’s body is likely going to be much higher since the cofactors for calcium absorption are higher across the board in the PD day. Vitamin and mineral cofactors required for calcium absorption include Vitamin D (56% in Paleo vs 12% in USDA) and Magnesium (103% in Paleo vs 87% in USDA). So, by allowing a child to eat a diet that is not only fairly high in calcium from non-dairy sources but also providing balanced nutrition to allow for the absorption of calcium, it’s clear that the need for dairy in the diet as a calcium source is overstated and inaccurate.  Furthermore, studies show that the phytic acid in grains (specifically whole wheat products in one study) reduces the absorption of dietary calcium from milk products, which would likely then leave the USDA diet at a much lower level of bio-available calcium than the PD. ”
Do I think conventional dairy affects everyone? Probably not everyone. Do I think we should consume it? Most definitely not.
So what do my kids drink? They happily drink water, occasionally homemade juice (I’ll get into conventional orange juice and fruit juices in subsequent posts), and almond milk. You know what? I am really not concerned about their mineral intake. They eat tons of fresh produce and they run and play! My kids occasionally have dairy at school functions, when we visit family, and we do occasionally get local soft serve ice-cream in the summer (and then pay the price afterward). I also buy Kerrygold 100% grass-fed cheddar and butter. So we are not completely dairy-free. However, I do my best to limit their consumption as I truly believe conventional dairy can do more harm than good, and I believe is not necessary for them to have in their diet as we have been led to believe.