By George Rundle, Jan 18 2015 03:39PM
So here we are at week 3 of my 'be kind to your body' series. How are you getting on so far? I hope you have found something to inspire you.
This week I'm going to look at dairy products and question how beneficial they are to include in our daily diet, their effect on our body and why and if we need them all. For years, we've been told we need dairy in our diets to provide calcium for strong and healthy bones. At the other extreme, dairy foods have been linked with health issues in some people. It is worth pointing out that we are all individuals and so a particular food group may affect some and not others. In addition, those that are affected may suffer from very different symptoms so it is always essential for any nutritional plan to be tailored to suit the individual needs.
Dairy products is an umbrella term which includes milk and all foods made from milk. Cow's milk and its products form the backbone of dairy consumed in this country but goats and sheeps products are increasingly popular as demonstrated by their appearance on supermarket shelves. There are also alternatives to dairy in the form of grain based milks e.g. rice, oat, nut based milks e.g. almond and finally there is soya milk.
For most animals, milk is their first source of food. It is this milk that provides essential nutrients for growth and survival and a health blueprint for a newborn baby. Human breast milk contains lactose, a milk sugar, and babies and infants up to 2 years old can produce the enzyme lactase to digest it. Once weaning stops, the levels of lactase may decrease or the body may stop producing it altogether making digestion of dairy products potentially a challenge. Cows and goats milk contain casein proteins which can prove too much for a baby's system to handle and so if they are substitued for breast milk during the nursing period, a milk allergy may result. However, the proteins in goats milk seem to be more easily digestible than those in cow's milk.
As humans, we are the only animal to continue drinking milk beyond childhood as well as drinking the milk of another animal. Dairy products ready availablity and our encouragement to consume them beacuse of the "calcium factor" tends towards our over consumption. Green leafy vegetables are actually a very good source of calcium and consider where the adult cow get's its nutrients from, if it's lucky it will be grass fed and mass produced cattle will be fed grains or hay. It certainly isn't fed milk. For heatlhy teeth and bones calcium isn't the end of the story either, we need magnesium and vitamin D3 as part of a balanced diet for calcium to work effectively in the body.
We also need to consider how milk is produced. Most milk goes through a process of pasteurisation: the milk is heated at a high temperature for a short time which destroys bacteria (beneficial and bad) and 'disease-producing organisms' which improves the shelf life. However, some enzymes, proteins, vitamins and minerals are destroyed. Other proteins are denatured (structure is changed) meaning digestive enzymes can't get to them to break them down. This can tax the pancreas leading to degeneration and allergies. Boiling milk can help to make these proteins more digestible. 50% of vitamin C, about 25% of B vitamins and some vitamin E is lost through this process. Sterilised milk uses a higher temperature than pasteurised milk to kill all organisms and so the level of nutrient destruction increases.
Homogenised milk uses a process which forces the milk through small holes in a metal sheet to break up the fat droplets. The resulting milk no longer separates into cream and skimmed milk making it easier to bottle and once again improves shelf life. It is also supposed to make the digestion of fat easier for our bodies as it is already partially broken down. However, this interferes with the body's natural digestive process and may therefore present new health issues.
There is also the option of raw milk which hasn't been subjected to any of the above treatments but you are unlikely to find this in the supermarket. It retains all the nutrients and can be sourced through local farms or farmers markets. Investigate what is available in your local area.
Milk is sold as full fat, semi-skimmed or skimmed. Skimmed milk removes the cream or saturated fat but as I talked about in last week's blog, low fat foods aren't always the best food of choice. In this instance, the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K will be removed which means the amount of calcium available to the body without the necessary vitamin D to help absorb it will be reduced. Another example where whole foods or foods consumed in their natural state surpass foods that have been tampered with.
Of course there is also the choice of organic or non-organic milk. Dairy cattle are often given medicines, anti-biotics, growth hormones and grain containing fertilisers and pesticides which then form part of the food chain. The chances are that they are raised in un-natural conditions too. On the other hand organic milk will be derived from cattle which are naturally reared, grass fed and are not given any artificial medicines or stimulants for disease prevention or growth.
Other dairy products include cheese (milk curd or solids which generally have lots of salt added), buttermilk (the liquid remaining from the cream after making butter), cream (the saturated fat of milk), whey (milk liquid), evaporated and condensed milks (pure sugar) and ice cream (high fat and sugar content). They all inherit the problems that milk presents. Natural yoghurt on the other hand is easier to digest because the lactose in the milk is already partially broken down through fermentation. It uses 'good bacteria' for this process hence why it has been marketed as a 'gut healthy' product.
Butter although a saturated fat has many health giving properties. It contains short and medium chain fatty acids which are absorbed directly by the small intestine without the need for emulsification and so can be used immediately for energy. They also have anti-microbial, anti-fungal and immune stimulating properties. It also contains Conjugated Linoleic acid which is linked with anti-cancer properties, muscle building and general immunity. As well as containing the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K and it also has good levels of the minerals chromium (good for blood sugar balancing), iodine (needed for the thyroid gland), manganese, selenium and zinc (both good anti-oxidants). Margarine is also a dairy derivative however, check out last weeks blog on Fat for more information as it is essentially a processed food and should be avoided.
The milk protein casein and caseinates are also readily found in processed foods, ready meals and convenience foods acting as binders and fillers e.g. sausages. They are generally poorly absorbed.
So although milk has high protein levels and high calcium levels and would therefore be considered a beneficial product in your diet, these perceived benefits can be outweighed by the detrimental effects that dairy has on the body.
Poor absorption can occur due to the result of partially digested proteins making their way into the gut. This leads to the production of mucus as the body tries to digest the protein. The mucus lines the gut wall and may become caked with food residues and this can block nutrient absorption. As well as causing gut problems (bloating, discomort etc), the mucus production has been linked to sinus and lung issues, particularly asthma.
As the proteins that milk contains are formed from a cows diet not a humans, the body may not recognise them and therefore struggle to digest them. This can result in skin conditions, eczema, ear infections and hyperactivity.
Milk contains 10 times more calcium than magnesium and given that magnesium is key to calcium regulation and they act as partners in the body, this may cause other unwanted health issues.
The way in which dairy is produced may also cause sensitivity in our body, so a dairy product which is raw (un-treated), organic, unprocessed and in its natural state as nature intended will be much kinder on our systems and will retain and provide its healthful aspects.
Just a reminder that all dairy product are also acid forming in the body so eating them as part of a diet which includes a high level of alkalising foods (e.g. vegetables, some fruits, almonds, apple cider vinegar) is essential to avoid increasing acidity levels in the body. Acidity can lead to inflammation, dehydration and ultimately degenerative health conditions.
Those with dairy intolerances can consume grain milks made from fermented grains or grain flours. because they don't contain the lactose and casein proteins. Although, they do have a lower protein and higher carbohydrate content and often contain added calcium, B12 and sometimes sugars or sweeteners, something to watch out for.
Some people find that they cannot tolerate cows milk but find that sheeps and goats products are less stressful on their bodies.
Soya milk is another alternative although I wouldn't necessarily recommend this as research has shown that foods made from soya can disrupt our hormonal system, for both men and women.
Unless you have an allergy to nuts or seeds, my milk of choice would be a home made nut or seed milk. It provides all the beneficial properties of the nut or seed (good fats, vitamin and minerals) whilst avoiding the problems associated with an intolerance to dairy or grains. You can also buy very tasty, raw and organic nut and/or seed butter which can be used as a spread or in smoothies or sweet treats.
So I've tried to present enough information to enable you to decide whether to include dairy in your diet and if so how much, where it comes from and how it's been treated. I myself choose to avoid dairy products as much as possible but do include the occasional bit of goats cheese and goats butter. Instead I make almond milk, the recipe for which is below along with a recipe for dairy free banana ice cream.
Soak 1 cup/150g of raw almonds (ideally for 4 hours) and then drain.
Place in a blender with 750ml to 1 litre of filtered water.
Strain the resulting liquid and place it in a glass container in the fridge for 2/3 days.
Banana Ice Cream
Slice 2/3 ripe bananas and spread them out on a baking tray and place in the freezer for 2 hours minimum. Place in a blender and start to add almond milk slowly until you reach the desired consistency. Make sure all the banana is blended in. If by any chance you have any left, place it back in the freezer in a container.
Option: You can try adding frozen berries of your choice and maybe sprinkle with some finely chopped or lightly ground pecans/walnuts or macadamias.
Next week in the final instalment of my "be kind to your body" series, I look at grains and gluten.
Until then, have a great week and hope that this provides more food for thought!