How To Buy Milk
Choosing the right milk can be daunting with so many options out there. Organic, conventional, grass-fed, raw, pasteurized, homogenized, reduced-fat, full fat? Seems kind of complicated, huh?
The good news is that choosing milk does not have to be as complex as it sounds. What you need to know is the source of the milk, and how your body reacts to that source.
We receive our milk from cows, and what do cows naturally eat? Plants! Plant cell walls have tough cellulose to breakdown. Most mammals cannot make cellulase to breakdown the cellulose. Cows, however, are ruminant animals with multi stomachs equipped with microbes, making it is easier for them to create cellulase which helps break down cellulose. Ruminant animals like cows absorb nutrients and extract the energy from plants much more efficiently. This is why it may be a good idea to choose dairy products from cows that have been grass-fed. Some key nutrients we receive from cow’s milk include calcium, vitamin D, B-6, B-12, C, E, protein, selenium, beta-carotene, omega 3 and omega 6. All of these key nutrients can help us heal tissues, enhance pro/anti-inflammatory properties, increase antioxidants that protect cells from free radical damage, improve vision, strengthen bones and much more!
So what does all of this mean, and how does it factor into our milk selection? Let’s unpack this, shall we?
Omega 6 : Omega 3
The human body can make most of the types of fats it needs from other fats or raw materials. That isn’t the case for Omega-3 fatty acids. These are essential fats—the body cannot make them from within, therefore, it must get them from food. Salmon and flaxseeds are all great sources of Omega-3. Omega-3’s are EPA and DHA rich foods that specifically help inflammation or brain growth and development, respectively. The human body can convert ALA to EPA and DHA, but this conversion process is inefficient. Furthermore, these Omega-3’s help produce and transmit neurotransmitters like serotonin more easily, which heavily affects our mood, bone health, bowel movements, appetite, sexual function, sleep and it even helps us form blood clots to heal wounds. They help reduce our risks for heart disease by improving triglyceride levels, depression, Alzheimer’s, asthma, ADHD, reduce joint pain/inflammation and aid baby development.
Pro-inflammatory Omega 6’s (sunflower, corn, soy, tahini in hummus, often found in processed foods etc.) like LA, GLA and AA are necessary to heal from injuries and recover from training sessions. However, too much Omega 6 fat can crowd omega-3 fats; not allowing them to do their job. This is why more emerging research is finding that what’s most harmful to our health is our Omega 6 : Omega 3 ratios. A healthy balance is around 2:1, to even 8:1, favoring Omega 6. In the US, we consume around 10:1 or even 20:1. This is probably why milk may get a bad rap, because processed, grain-fed milks could have a ratio as high as 6:1 compared to grass-fed at 1.8:1. This is precisely why grass-fed is ideal. In fact, an international team of experts led by Newcastle University in the U.K. found that both organic milk and organic meat have around 50 percent more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids than their conventionally produced counterparts.
All types of milk are also pasteurized (heated at around 161.6 degrees Fahrenheit) to destroy some illness-causing bacteria and increase shelf life. Ultra-pasteurized is performed at 280 degrees for an even greater shelf life (9 months). This process can inactivate certain enzymes like lactase, which breaks down lactose, a sugar found in milk. This process also reduces certain vitamins like B6, B12 and Vitamin C, killing beneficial bacteria essential in digestion and leading to constipation. On the other hand, filtered milk goes through an extra-fine filtration system that does not affect nutrient content and increases its shelf life by 15 days when refrigerated and unopened. Many organic and grass-fed milk producers pasteurize at the lowest allowable temperatures to preserve enzymes and enhance taste, resulting in a shorter shelf-life (22 days unopened versus 40 or more).
Have you ever seen the older style milk bottles where the cream sits on top? That’s what non-homegenized milk looks like. Homogenization is simply the break down of fat molecules in milk so that they resist separation. Without homogenization, fat molecules in milk will rise. This process also increases shelf life and makes it easier for farmers and retailers to create 2%, 1% and skim milk. This process seems to allow some fat to bypass digestion affecting the structure of proteins in raw milk, which means less absorption of the protein.
When “low-fat” started trending in the 80’s and 90’s, reduced-fat milk options started to become available. When selecting reduced fat milk, or, milk products, be sure to check how many added sugars are in the product, as sugar is often added to compensate for taste. As you have learned by now, the fat in milk is essential and beneficial! But the poorer the source of the milk, the better idea it is to reduce the fat; it reduces that omega 6 : 3 ratio.
It seems that the healthiest choice is raw milk from pasture-raised, non-homogenized, full-fat, grass-fed cows raised on clean and free range farms. These qualities enable all of raw milk’s nutrients, digestive enzymes, healthy bacteria, more balanced omega 6 : 3 ratio and proteins. Raw milk can sometimes be hard to find, or even forbidden to sell by state. If your local grocery store does not carry raw milk, opt for organic grass-fed, full-fat milk. If you can’t find grass-fed, go reduced-fat organic, and if you can’t find that, go with skim milk. A 2013 research study revealed that organic milk contained 25 percent less omega-6 fats and 62 percent more omega-3 fats than conventional milk.
How does it affect you?
After choosing the milk that’s right for you, be your own food scientist. After ingesting, assess how you feel. Do you feel symptoms of intolerance/sensitivity? Or is it an allergic symptom? If it’s an allergic response, stop immediately and contact a licensed physician. If these responses are continuously ignored, it may lead to the onset of many other bodily complications, even disease or disorders. If you do have an intolerance, experiment with a smaller portion size.
Milk substitutes are a great strategy if you expereince intolerant or allergic-like symptoms from cow milks. Fortunately, it’s such a growing market and there are endless options such as: soy, rice, hemp, almond, cashew, macademia nut, coconut and even pea protein ‘milk’. Choosing the right substitute can be daunting as well and are often processed with added sugars (go for the unsweetened kind). Here’s some helpful information when making your milk substitute choice.
Soy is a decent protein source because it contains all the amino acids we need. However, soy milk products are typically highly processed containing soy protein isolate, phytic acid and GMO soy which can create defficiencies within many different minerals and vitamins.
Almond milk has really gained popularity and is thought to be a healthier option to dairy. A handful of almonds contains protein, fiber, antioxidants and healthy fats, but to get the equivalent nutrition, you would need to drink about 48 ounces of almond milk, and consume a lot of calories. It’s also a bit hefty on our envirnonment, almonds require a large amount of water to grow, and almond milk takes even more. The amount of almonds you actually get in a glass is pretty low and are often the third listed ingredient. Cartons of almond milk can contain as low as 2% almonds, the rest water, sugar, added vitamins and minerals, and thickening agents like carrageenan, and guar gum, which can upset stomachs. However, the Trader Joe’s brand we’ve chosen in your program is minimally processed and almonds are the first ingredient.
Coconut milk is loaded with medium-chain triglycerides (an easily-digested healthy fat that helps burn fat), potassium, a host of fortified vitamins and calcium. It is generally lower in protein and calcium than almond milk. Try not to confuse the canned version with the more processed coconut milk in the carton. Coconut milk has a smoother, creamier flavor and generally does not have much of a coconut taste.
Cashew milk is made by blending water-soaked cashews with water and is pretty smooth. It is fiber, antioxidant, copper and magnesium rich, but low in protein.
Rice milk is a bit watered down and sugary. It’s low in protein, but may have some fortified vitamins and minerals.
Hemp milk is a smooth creamy texture deriving from hemp seeds, a complete protein containing all essential amino acids and omegas. It’s a great option if you’re allergic to nuts, dairy and coconuts.
Pea Protein Milk
Pea Protein milk is relatively new and contains simiar beneifts as hemp milk. It delivers a comparable protein source to cow’s milk. It contains sunflower oil, added omega 3’s, iron, vitamin D and calcium. It even uses 93% less water than dairy milk, making it much more environment-friendly.
How does it affect you?
You should have the same mentality when choosing milk substitutes. Be your own food scientist, after ingesting, assess how you feel. Do you feel symptoms of intolerance/sensitivity? Or is it an allergic symptom?