So much has been and continuous to be written about this topic that the best is to cut the chase and go straight to the point: The milk issue has become a matter of extremisms. On one side, the supporters who see in milk a wholesome food that has been part of our diet for milennia, and, on the opposite side, the detractors, who consider consuming milk some sort of aberration with pernicious side effects for our health.
So, let’s take a look at a summary of the main arguments on both sides:
– Highly nutritious
– Important source of calcium, choline, potassium, vitamins A and B, and protein
– Nourishes all tissues and is a mild laxative
– Balances emotions
– Promotes Ojas, the essence of life energy which is directly connected to the immune system
– Good quality milk, mixed with the appropriate spices, can be an excellent remedy for sore throats and pharyngitis
(turmeric), insomnia (nutmeg), bronchial congestion (pippali), lymphatic congestion (peppercorn), sexual weakness (ashwaganda), or indigestion (ginger)
– Humans are the only mammals who consume other mammal’s milk or their own as adults
– Dairy protein seems to increase IGF-1 which has been implicated in several cancers
– D-Galactose, a component in milk, has been found to be pro-inflammatory
– Milk has been linked to acne, high cholesterol, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and atherosclerosis
– The dairy industry has made cow’s conditions inhumane
– Large part of the population is lactose intolerant
– Milk is one of the world’s most common food allergens
Ayurveda categorizes milk as sweet in taste, with a cooling energy and a sweet post-digestive effect. This makes milk a great food for air types (Vata) for its nutritional value and calming and grounding properties, and for fire types (Pitta) for its cooling and sweet properties. It is not advisable for earth-water types (Kapha) as milk is the archetypal kapha food and therefore creates imbalance in Kapha individuals.
However, there are a number of factors that need to be met in order for milk to be beneficial to our system:
1- Because of its heaviness and cold energy, milk should never be drank cold. In order to digest it properly, it needs to be gently boiled along with warming spices such as cinnamon, ginger, cloves, black pepper, or cardamom. Otherwise,milk will cause digestive problems and accumulation of toxins and mucus in the body.
2- When pasteurized, homogenized or under any other treatment (lactose-free, fat-free), milk becomes much more difficult to digest and creates stagnation in the body. Milk should be organic and raw as it used to be before the dairy revolution.
3- Milk should never be mixed with fruits, yogurt, nuts, fish, meat, spicy or salty food, or bitter vegetables as it produces toxins due to poor digestibility. Therefore, Ayurveda recommends us not to drink milk with meals but to use it as a snack (mixed with spices) or mixed with sweet grains to make rice or tapioca pudding, oatmeal, or pancakes.
4- Certain ethnic groups and individuals cannot digest milk properly, which may result in complications for their health (Latin America and Far East Asia are two examples) and therefore should avoid it altogether.
Detractors do have a point when mentioning the horrendous conditions cows have to live in these days and which should not be tolerated. And I think this has a lot to do with intolerance, allergies, and links to various diseases that may be intimately related to the way we process milk and our poor education on how to prepare and combine it with other foods. It is these factors that have made milk an easy to demonize food when it has been a great supporter in human development throughout history.
So, should we drink milk or not? Unfortunately, the milk we are made to consume nowadays does not resemble the model proposed by Ayurveda. So, despite all that has been said and unless you can find wholesome, raw,
organic milk, it is better to avoid it or reduce its consumption drastically. Other types of dairy such as fresh goat cheese, fresh curd, and lassi (not yogurt) can still be taken in moderation if they are coming from an organic source.
Finally, it is important to point out that alternative milks (soy, almond, rice, hemp, etc) may contain a number of
suspicious ingredients (carrageenan, guar gum, xanthan gum, etc) normally used as thickeners that create digestive discomfort in some individuals and are currently being investigated as potential precursors of some cancers. So, is
there any solution whatsoever to making a creamy oatmeal or wetting your morning granola? One answer is to make your own alternative milk, either the traditional way or by purchasing a simple milk maker. Not only will you notice the unique flavor but you will have to drink it fast as they normally go off after only three days in the fridge…the beauties of freshness.