Milk & Milk Products
Milk, other than mother's milk for infants, is relatively new in the human diet, and the people of many cultures are still not at all able to digest it as adults. Among the people of milk drinking cultures, there are still some individuals who cannot digest it.
In the Western World, milk and milk products are very popular with
Lacto and Ovo-lacto Vegetarians, but be aware - you can't be an
"Ethical Vegetarian" and consume milk or milk products. See our
Veal Controversy page.
Photo by Jonathunder distributed under license
Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 unported.
Mammals feed their young with secretions from the mammary glands, for which they are named. The evolution of these glands is currently very uncertain, as fossil evidence of such soft tissues is largely not preserved. These complex and nutritious secreted fluids are called "Milk".
Milk is a new element in the human diet, beginning only 8 to 10 thousand years ago when several milk producing beasts were domesticated by successive selection and breeding by humans over a great many generations. Goats may have been first, followed by sheep and then cattle. These beasts are genetically different from their wild precursors, and they would be of very questionable viability returned to the wild.
Animals, including humans, lose their ability to produce the enzyme lactase, necessary to digest lactose in milk, upon being weaned from their mother's milk. The ability to retain lactase production into adulthood was evolved in the harsh environment of nomadic herding societies in temperate regions, and does not exist in arctic or tropical cultures.
The fat, enzyme and microbial makeup of animal milk differs significantly from human mother's milk. As evidence of the effects of these differences, as well as social effects, has accumulated, the trend away from breast feeding human babies has been reversed. Even doctors of conventional medicine now recommend it.
[Cow squeezings; Leche (Spanish)]
In North America, we are most familiar with milk from cows, but it is also obtained from water buffalo, goats, sheep, horses, donkeys, camels, moose, reindeer and yaks, depending on region. Many regions of the world are not at all suitable for herding cattle. Of course, the nutritionally ideal milk for feeding human infants is from human females, particularly the milk provided right after birth which transfers antibodies and growth factors from the mother.
Dairy cattle have been selected and bred for very high milk production, far more than would be produced in nature, 8 to 10 gallons a day. They are pretty much dependent on humans to milk them twice a day or they will be in pain.
Milk is a very complex substance, composed of water, proteins (3.3%), particularly caseins, carbohydrates (4.9%), particularly Lactose, Fats (3.4%), over 400 fatty acids, a wide selection of vitamins, both water and fat soluble, minerals, and a selection of enzymes (percentages are for cow milk).
The fats can be separated from the milk as cream, either partially or entirely - or the milk can be homogenized to incorporate all or part of the fat inseparably into the milk. The proteins and carbohydrates can be separated out to form cheese.
Milk can be pasteurized with heat to sterilize it, with consequent
loss of nutrients (see Nutrition & Health).
Of course, milk from pastured cows will be significantly more
nutritious than milk from factory fed cows.
[Yogurt (Turkish), Yoghurt (UK, Australia, English Canada), Yogourt (France, French Canada), Madzoon (Armenia), Da-hi (India)]
Without qualifiers, the name "Yogurt" implies "plain yogurt", just as the bacteria have fermented and coagulated it. It has a light, delicate texture but is solid enough to be picked up with a fork. It is made in both "natural" and "industrial" versions - read the ingredients list on the label. In commercial production, plain yogurt is often flavored with fruit, honey or other flavoring substances.
The origin of yogurt, both time and place, is uncertain, but the earliest written mention is from ancient Greek sources that attribute it to barbarians to the north (Bulgaria, etc.). Since antiquity there have been many claims of health benefits from eating yogurt, and many of them may be true.
Yogurt is a bacterial fermentation product of regular milk. In this fermentation lactose is converted to lactic acid, which acts on the milk proteins to form a gel. Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus bacteria are the major bacteria, but others may be added.
Yogurt is made predominantly from the milk of cows, but also from water buffalo, goats, sheep, horses, camels, and yaks, depending on region.
Industrial production was started in Spain by Isaac Carasso, a Sephardic Jew from Ottoman Salonica, with his Danone company, later called Dannon in North America.
This is the butterfat in the milk, which can be skimmed off after unhomogienized milk has been allowed to stand, or, in industrial production, separated in a continuous centrifuge. Cream from the milk of pastured cows eating a natural diet may be slightly yellowed, in other words, cream colored.
Cream is graded depending on how much of the product is butterfat and how much is milk. Below are the US Federal guidelines, but the actual content may vary somewhat with region. I know that Alta Dena "Heavy Whipping Cream" here in Southern California is about 34% butterfat. Ingredients: heavy cream, skim milk - less than 1% each of mono and diglycerides, polysorbate 80, carrageenan (01). For details of the terms used in other countries, see our Cream page.
Butter is made from cream, by agitating the cream in a churn or mixer until the coating around the butterfat globules breaks down and the globules stick together as a solid mass. This mass consists of butterfat, milk proteins and water. The cream may be sweet or mildly soured by fermentation. If soured, the whey that is drained from the butter is called Buttermilk.
For economic reasons and production volume, butter is normally made from the cream of cow milk, but sheep, goat, buffalo and yak milk can also be used. Commercial butter is about 80% butterfat and 15% water, the rest being mostly milk solids. Home made butter is usually somewhat lower in butterfat.
Butter is sold in two basic forms - salted and unsalted. Unsalted is more common in Europe and salted more common in North America. Salted stores longer and tastes better. Many recipes call for unsalted butter because the amount of salt in salted butter varies by manufacturer, or just because that's what fancy European chefs use.
This substance is very widely used in dairy and beverage products as a gelling agent and stabilizer. It is derived from seaweed, Irish moss and others. It is allowed in standard and organic foods in the United States, including baby formula, but is banned from baby formula in Europe as a precautionary measure.
Carrageenan is currently under fairly intensive investigation for possibly causing gastro-intestinal inflammation, tumors and other GI tract problems. So far the evidence is inconclusive and somewhat contradictory. Part of this uncertainty may result from method - carrageenan may be more dangerous when fed in water than when bound to proteins as it is in dairy product usage. More investigation is warranted.
On the plus side, carrageenan is an active antiviral agent for topical applications. It is the first to be found effective against the common cold (applied proactively as a nasal spray) and is also effective against Herpes Simplex (HSV) and Human papillomavirus (HPV) applied as a "personal lubricant", but has not proved at all effective against Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
How much milk should people drink? Is it really safe? These questions are hard to answer, especially since most scientific research is bought and paid for by the powerful dairy industry. The current official recommendation is three glasses a day. "Anything less than three glasses a day, and you won't get all of the nutrients that you need" - Connie Weaver, head of food and nutrition at Purdue University. Her funding comes mostly from the National Institutes of Health, but also from the National Dairy Council.
"This is one of the most complicated and interesting areas of nutrition and we simply don't have all of the answers" - Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. Dr. Willet recommends one or two cups of milk a day and considers anything beyond that a possible risk.
Of course, people like myself, who do not drink milk at all (I am not lactose intolerant), don't seem to have any deficiency problems whatever from our lack of consumption. Again, milk is not a natural food for adult humans. It has been adapted to, imperfectly, by some cultures.
Vegans, including PETA members, spread alarmist propaganda against milk, much of it exaggerated or simply not true (ethics never apply to true believers - "The ends justify the means"). The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is another anti-milk propaganda operation, actually a stealth front for PETA - again with the ethics thing.
These groups claim milk increases the risk of heart disease, cancers of the breast, prostate and ovaries, doesn't help prevent osteoporosis, and is linked to allergies, obesity, constipation and other diseases. and is in general "Gross", often contaminated with cow blood and pus.
None of these allegations has been confirmed by legitimate scientific research, including large demographic studies. In fact, just about nothing has been unequivocably confirmed scientifically, the evidence simply isn't strong enough in one direction or the other.
The most substantial evidence so far is that milk does produce some improvement in bone density and may reduce heart attack rates in both men and women, and possibly reduce colo-rectal cancer. On the other hand some studies, but not others, have indicated a small increase in prostate cancer among men who drank a lot of milk. None of this evidence is strong enough to be conclusive.
Of course milk matters only for persons descended from the herding tribes of Europe, Western Asia, Mongolia and a few parts of Africa. The rest of the world, well over half its population is largely lactose intolerant and won't be drinking any milk at all once they are beyond infancy.
Strangely, not drinking three glasses of milk a day has not devastated these populations. The industry has been feeding you a lot of bull (bulls, by the way, don't produce milk).
Raw Milk: There are quite a few nutritionists who recommend drinking only raw milk, because the nutritional content of pasteurized milk is significantly lower than that of raw milk. Also, some people who cannot tolerate pasteurized milk can drink raw milk without problems.
While the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) admits the lower nutritional value of pasteurized milk, and that the actual risk is very low in properly operated dairies, and the public demand for raw milk is high, the FDA will make every effort to prosecute and put out of business any dairy that provides raw milk. FDA Raids from California to Pennsylvania have been similar to raids on dangerous drug traffickers.
A large dairy operation here in Southern California, Alta Dena, which was fully certified to produce and sell raw milk, was simply hounded out of that business by continuous FDA harassment. Alta Dena's other milk products still have a major presence here, and I very much recommend their Sour Cream.
Incidentally, a number of cheeses cannot be properly made with pasteurized milk. The FDA will not allow the import or making of such cheeses if they are not a very long aged variety.