Today is National Milk Day and, while we’ve all been raised to believe a tall, cold glass will help us grow big and maintain strong, capable bones, Lou Ann Binkley, RN, nutrition counselor/RN, PPG Integrative Medicine, tells us there’s a bit more to it. “Our physicians frequently remove dairy from a patient’s diet for a short time, and we do find that dairy can be highly inflammatory,” she said. “Look into the various plant-based milk, but watch out for carrageenan and other additives placed in plant-based milks.” Below, Lou Ann helps us take a closer look at what’s on the market, and what might be the best option for you.
We believe that there is more calcium that is easily bioavailable to the body in dark leafy greens, like kale, spinach and collards, than in cow’s milk, which contains added hormones. At times people can tolerate small amounts of cow cheese and yogurt (even ice cream, 1-2 times a week), but I’ve noticed patients tolerate sheep or goat cheese and kefir better. It’s helpful to see if dairy causes more harm than benefit.
In looking at dairy and how it affects the human body, Professor Loren Cordain dedicates an entire well-cited chapter in his most recent book The Paleo Answer, to the many reasons milk should not be consumed. To summarize:
- Milk is not as nutrient-dense as meat, fruits and vegetables.
- Milk is highly insulinogenic, meaning it causes a large spike in blood insulin levels, disproportional to the amount of sugar and protein in milk. This may contribute to the development of insulin resistance, at least in the context of a high carbohydrate diet. Insulin is also pro-inflammatory.
- Milk contains active bovine (cow) hormones, which have the potential to alter our hormone levels. The effects of dietary intake of most of these hormones have not been studied. However, other hormones have been studied. For example, the milk hormone Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1) has been linked to risk of breast, colorectal and prostate cancer, with the strong indication that consumption of dairy protein is a large contributor to blood IGF-1 levels 1.
- Milk contains protease inhibitors, which might contribute to the development of a leaky gut.
- Milk increases mucus production. This may aggravate conditions such as asthma but also creates excess mucus in the gastrointestinal tract, which may irritate the gut lining and inhibit nutrient and mineral absorption.
- Lactose is poorly tolerated by adults. Approximately 25 percent of Caucasians (American and European) are lactose intolerant, 97 percent of Native Americans are lactose intolerant. This argument does not apply to drinking raw milk since raw milk contains enzymes to help digest lactose.
- Dairy is highly allergenic.
Conversely, there are some very compelling arguments for including dairy in our diets. Studies have shown that consumption of dairy, especially full-fat dairy products and fermented dairy products, can protect against Metabolic Syndrome (cheese, full-fat dairy, and fermented dairy), Type II Diabetes (fermented dairy only) and Cardiovascular Disease (cheese, full-fat dairy, and fermented dairy) 2-6. Fermented dairy is an excellent source of probiotics. There are also some valuable proteins in dairy, such as glutathione (important for reducing inflammation and protecting against oxidative stress) and whey (which may prevent cancer).
There is also evidence that dairy proteins are beneficial for children due to their growth-promoting effects. Traditionally, children would have received some breast milk until approximately 5 years of age. In our current society, most children are weaned by age 1. The current scientific view is that, provided cow’s milk is not introduced too early, it is a good substitute for human milk in terms of its growth promotion 7.
The science can be confusing, but one thing that is abundantly clear is that, beyond lactose-intolerance, which can be treated with the aid of digestive enzymes or consumption of raw milk, allergy to milk proteins is very prevalent. Epidemiological reports of cow’s milk allergy (IgE antibody reactions to cow’s milk proteins) range between 1 and 17.5 percent in preschoolers, 1 and 13.5 percent in children ages 5 to 16 years and 1 to 4 percent in adults 8. Cow’s milk proteins are also known gluten cross-reactors, so those with gluten intolerance might produce antibodies against gluten that also recognize dairy proteins. For these people, eating dairy is the same as eating gluten.
So, what is recommended? For those battling autoimmune disease or other conditions where a leaky gut is a potential contributing factor, it makes the most sense to omit dairy. We suggest leaving it out of your diet for at least 2-3 months. Then based on your doctor’s recommendation, try reintroducing it and see if you notice any obvious symptoms (this is the best way to determine if you are allergic or sensitive).
While it’s not very popular in the Western world, goat milk is actually one of the most widely consumed milk drinks in the rest of the world and with good reason — it tastes great and it’s chock-full of nutrients.
1. It’s easier to digest.
While the fat content of cow and goat milk is similar, the fat globules in goat milk are smaller, making it easier for your body to digest. (2) Once it reaches your stomach, the protein in goat milk forms a softer curd than cow milk (only about 2 percent of goat milk is curd, compared to about 10 percent in cow milk), helping your body digest it with less irritation. Goat milk is also lower in lactose, or milk sugars, than cow milk. Because many people aren’t as lactose intolerant as they believe, or simply have trouble digesting cow milk and aren’t actually allergic to lactose, goat milk can be a viable option. (3)
2. It has fewer allergenic proteins and causes less inflammation.
Most people who are intolerant of cow milk are actually sensitive to one of the proteins found in it, A1 casein, and lack the ability to digest it. Additionally, cow milk is the No. 1 allergy among children and can persist throughout adulthood. That’s because it contains more than 20 different allergens (including A1 casein) that can cause allergic reactions, often confused for seasonal allergy symptoms, which can range from hives and runny noses to abdominal cramping and colic in babies. (4, 5)
So what’s the big deal with A1 casein? This protein is highly inflammatory for some people, and inflammation is at the root of most diseases. A1 casein can contribute to gastrointestinal issues like irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s, leaky gut and colitis — and some less obvious problems, like acne, autoimmune diseases and skin issues like eczema. (6, 7, 8) While there are some cows who don’t produce A1 casein, namely Jersey and Guernsey cows, the majority of bovines in the U.S., Western Europe and Australia are Holstein and Fresian, do. Milk that contains mostly or exclusively A2 casein produces none of these inflammatory effects. Goat milk contains only A2 casein, making it, protein-wise, the closest milk to human breast milk. (9) In fact, one study suggests that goat milk, when used as the first protein after breastfeeding, is less allergenic for babies than cow milk. (10)
3. It’s high in calcium and fatty acids but low in cholesterol.
While cow milk is often touted as one of the main calcium-rich foods, goat milk is actually richer in the mineral, with about 33 percent of the daily recommended value versus 28 percent in cow milk. Goat milk also has high levels of medium-chain fatty acids — 30–35 percent as opposed to 15–20 percent in cow milk. These fatty acids provide an energy boost that isn’t stored as body fat, help lower cholesterol, and can even help treat conditions like coronary diseases and intestinal disorders. (11, 12, 13) Goat milk helps increase “good” cholesterol levels while reducing the bad ones. In fact, it’s got healing properties similar to olive oil and is recommended for keeping high cholesterol in check. (14)
4. It keeps skin looking good.
The fatty acids and triglycerides found in goat milk not only keep your insides running smoothly, but they help you look great on the outside, too. Their moisturizing qualities help keep skin baby soft. Goat milk also has high levels of vitamin A, which can improve your complexion, fight acne and improve overall skin health. In fact, it should be considered one of the home remedies for acne. The lactic acid found in goat milk helps rid your body of dead skin cells and brighten skin tone. (15) Because goat milk has a pH level similar to humans, it’s absorbed by the skin with less irritation and helps keep bacteria at bay.
5. It absorbs nutrients and minerals better than cow milk.
While goat and cow milk might rank similarly for mineral content, goat milk might still be the winner. That’s because early studies have found that nutrients like iron, calcium, magnesium and phosphorous were more easily digested and used by the body in goat milk. Because of the bioavailability of these minerals, goat milk also looks promising for treatment of nutritional deficiencies like anemia and bone demineralization. (16) In addition, it can help address all-too-common iron deficiency and magnesium deficiency. In fact, researchers suggest that goat milk should be consumed regularly by individuals with malabsorption issues, anemia, osteoporosis or prolonged treatments with iron supplements. Regularly consuming goat milk enhances the body’s ability to use iron and boosts regeneration of hemoglobin, making it a safe and natural way to treat osteoporosis and combat anemia. Its high levels of zinc and selenium also help prevent neurodegenerative diseases.
Goat Milk vs. Cow Milk:
So how does goat milk stick up against cow milk? Take a peek at our cheat sheet:
Goat Milk Pros:
When you look at how your digestive system works, you can see how a gut problem like leaky gut can easily crop up. Fortunately, goat milk is easily digestible by the body, making it a great option for those with gastrointestinal problems. Goat milk is also better tolerated by those with lactose issues and doesn’t cause inflammation the way cow milk can. It’s also a great option for children once they’ve moved past breastfeeding, as it contains fewer allergens than cow milk.
Because it’s not as common, goat milk can be substantially more expensive than cow milk. Raw goat milk, the best for you, can be difficult to find outside of health food stores and farmers markets. The taste and smell might not also be pleasing to everyone, particularly those raised with cow milk.
Cow Milk Pros:
Regular cow milk is cheap and can be found everywhere. If you manage to get your hands on A2 casein cow milk from Jersey and Guernsey cows, you can enjoy many of the benefits enjoyed by goat milk drinkers. For people who can’t give up their cow milk, it is highly recommended to try raw milk over pasteurized milk. The raw milk benefits include skin health, fewer allergies and weight loss.
A2 cow milk is difficult to come by in many areas and usually has the price tag to prove it. And whether it’s A1 or A2, cow’s milk is still more difficult for the body to digest, taking hours versus about 30 minutes with goat milk. For those with cow milk allergies — and this is a big group — this type of milk just isn’t an option. If you have any gastrointestinal issues, leaky gut or irritable bowel syndrome, you might want to keep away from cow milk anyway.
What’s the right type of goat milk for you?
For the optimal benefits, I recommend drinking raw goat milk. You can usually find this at your local farmers’ market or at health food stores. Similar to raw milk benefits from a cow, drinking raw goat milk ensures you get the most benefits of this nutritious drink.
If raw goat milk isn’t available in your area, there are other options available, mainly in fermented products. These increase good bacteria to keep you healthy and support nutrient absorption in the gut. One of my favorite fermented products is kefir, which helps leaky gut, boosts immunity against disease, builds bone density, protects against allergies and even improves lactose intolerance. Be sure to purchase goat milk kefir to get goat’s great benefits, as cow and sheep versions are sold as well. Drink kefir solo or add it to your favorite dishes that call for yogurt.
If liquid goat milk isn’t your thing, fermented goat milk yogurt might be a good substitute. The probiotics benefits present in goat milk yogurt help support healthy digestion, lower your risk of diabetes, support weight and fat loss and reduce high blood pressure. Try it with fruit or granola for a healthy breakfast or snack. Soft, raw goat cheeses are also packed with probiotics and available in all 50 states. Spread it on a cracker or nibble it solo to get all the health benefits in a tasty way.
These days, we have “milk” made from nuts, seeds, grains and even beans! But are they healthy? Which one is the best? And the worst?
The plant-based caveat
In most cases, these milks are recreational beverages. Adult humans have no more need for almond milk than we do for cow milk. Our bodies need water to drink, and the rest is just for fun, taste or enjoyment, or maybe a source of calories for the underweight and a few additional grams of protein for those concerned about their protein intake. Babies or very young children should be breast or formula-fed, as per the instructions of your pediatrician.
Which plant based milk is the most nutritious?
When evaluating different plant-based milks from a nutritional perspective, there are several issues to consider: nutrients, sugars, sodium and carrageenan. Different brands of milk will have different nutritional properties.
Soy milk, with its smooth, creamy taste, is one of the most popular non dairy milks and with 8-10g of protein per cup, it is also the most protein-rich of all plant milks. It is often fortified with calcium and vitamin D as well. Soy has protective health benefits due to its phytoestrogen content. On the flip side, soy is a common allergen, it is often GMO, and if you eat a lot of soy foods daily, such as tofu or tempeh, it’s best to avoid drinking it in addition to your solid diet.
Hemp milk contains 4 times more omega-3′s fats than soy milk, though it is lower in protein. Hemp is generally well-digested and contains 10 essential amino acids. Hemp milk is my personal choice from a nutrition perspective.
Almond milk and hazelnut milk generally have only about 1g of protein per serving but are also often lower in calories than soy milk. Almond milk is a good source of calcium. Hazelnut milk is rich in B vitamins, and vitamin E, which promotes healthy skin and hair, among other benefits.
Oat milk has less protein than the other milks, but the highest amount of healthy fiber. It also contains a decent amount of calcium and iron.
Rice milk has little nutritional value and is often heavily sweetened. It is best tolerated by people with allergies, but everyone else should skip it.
Coconut milk is controversial. You can find as many people pro-coconut as anti, and even the health experts can’t agree. Coconut milk is very high in calories and fat. A glass of coconut milk has between 90-500 calories, depending on whether it is canned (higher) or boxed and watered down. Coconut milk is 3 times higher in saturated fat than even cow milk! Whether that fat is “good fat” or “bad fat” remains to be seen. I am going to suggest cautious moderation here. Enjoy a splash in your coffee for a creamy taste, relish a decadent coconut curry, or a post-workout coconut smoothie, but unless you are an endurance athlete, someone trying to gain weight, and you have low cholesterol and no family history of heart disease, I would not make coconut milk a daily habit.
Added sugars in plant-based milk
The biggest concern with plant milks by far, is their added sugar content. Don’t be fooled! Ingredients like “evaporated cane juice” are just fancy names for sugar. Some plant milks have over 20g of sugar per glass – that is equivalent to a tablespoon of sugar. Look for brands where sugar is less than 12g per serving.
Keep an eye on the sodium
Plant milks can also be high in sodium, which is not good for your health. Keep sodium to less than 100mgs per serving.
Carrageenan, or Irish Moss, is a seaweed used as a thickener and emulsifier in foods such as ice cream, candies, vitamin supplements, and you guessed it, plant milks. Recent research has shown that carrageenan can cause gastrointestinal inflammation, lesions and even colon cancer in animals. People suffering from inflammatory bowel conditions are advised to avoid products containing carrageenan. Now, if you are just using say 1/3 cup soy milk in your coffee once a day, I don’t think you need to worry too much about the small amount of carrageenan you may be ingesting. But if you are drinking several glasses a day, and eating other products containing carrageenan, it would be important to choose a brand of plant milk that does not contain the ingredient.
Making your own plant-based milk
The basic template for homemade nut, grain and seed milk is easier, cheaper and contains no additives. Try this simple approach adapted from theveganwoman.com and markhymanmd.com.
You will need:
- 1 cup nuts, grains or seeds (try raw almonds, cashews, flax seeds, oats, hemp seeds, unsweetened coconut)
- 4 cups filtered water
- 1-2 dates for sweetness
- vanilla or almond extract
1. Soak the nuts, seeds or grains overnight in water. Drain and discard the water.
2. Place the soaked nuts, seeds or grains in your blender and add the 4 cups of fresh water. Blend for several minutes until the mixture is smooth.
3. Strain in a strainer or special nut milk bag (available on amazon.com for under $15), saving the nut pulp for use in baking.
4. Return the strained milk to the blender and add dates and any additional flavors. Blend until smooth. Nut milks will keep for 3-4 days in a glass jar in the refrigerator.
Making your own yogurt
Fermented foods, such as yogurt, are often missing from our daily diets. They provide good bacteria, which helps strengthen the overall gut health and improve the immune system. They also aid in the reduction of inflammation in the body and realign the gut natural flora. This particular yogurt recipe is higher in beneficial bacteria than traditional store-bought yogurt, without the added sugar. Enjoy the benefits of natural foods.
Homemade Coconut Yogurt
You will need:
- 1 32-ounce mason jar (or any glass container with a secure lid)
- 1 can original full fat organic coconut milk
- 2 probiotic capsules with live cultures of your choice
- 1 cup fresh strawberries, blackberries, blueberries or raspberries, for topping1 handful chopped nuts (optional), for topping
1. In the mason jar, combine coconut milk and a high-quality probiotic by opening the capsules and pouring the probiotic powder directly into the coconut milk. Discard the capsules. Close the lid tightly and shake.
2. Store the mason jar in a cool, dark corner on the kitchen counter away from heat, for 3 days, shaking periodically. After 3 days, the yogurt is ready to serve. For thicker yogurt, refrigerate the jar/mixture for up to 1 week. Thickened yogurt should be stirred prior to serving. This is a more kefir-like yogurt.
3. Top with fruit and nuts and enjoy!
Another method is to put the sealed jar of yogurt in the oven with the light on for 24 hours. Do not turn the oven on. Just close the oven door and turn on the oven light. The closed oven and the light generate a stable temp of about 105-110°F, perfect conditions for the coconut milk to incubate.
Note: If the yogurt doesn’t culture, check to be sure the lid is properly sealed. Secondly, various brands of probiotics affect the recipe differently. For the next recipe, replace the probiotic capsules with a different choice from a health food store. As you make more yogurt, use a store brand coconut milk yogurt as a starter or the yogurt you made here as a starter. Stir in 1 tablespoon coconut milk yogurt per 1 cup of coconut milk. (I use 2 tablespoons yogurt per whole can of coconut milk.)
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2. Louie JC et al “Higher regular fat dairy consumption is associated with lower incidence of metabolic syndrome but not type 2 diabetes.” Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2012 Sep 26. pii: S0939-4753(12)00193-7. doi: 10.1016/j.numecd.2012.08.004. [Epub ahead of print]
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4. Sonestedt E et al. “Dairy products and its association with incidence of cardiovascular disease: the Malmö diet and cancer cohort.” Eur J Epidemiol. 2011 Aug;26(8):609-18. doi: 10.1007/s10654-011-9589-y. Epub 2011 Jun 10.
5. Sluijs I et al “The amount and type of dairy product intake and incident type 2 diabetes: results from the EPIC-InterAct Study.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Aug;96(2):382-90. Epub 2012 Jul 3