Back in the day, there was one type of milk delivered to every front porch. Today you almost need an MBA to pick up milk at the grocery store. The options are overwhelming, and the theories on which type of milk is best are prevalent and confusing. Some even argue milk is unnecessary or harmful for you.
So let’s cut through all of the bull’s you know what because the bull has nothing to do with a good glass of milk. This subject is all about the cow.
Milk has been used for milleniums by people in a supportive way. According to ancient Ayurvedic principles, when digested properly, milk nourishes all the tissues, promotes balanced emotions, and helps to balance all of the doshas. It is one of the most important foods to promote Ojas, the body’s strength and vitality.1 Milk is often used in Ayurveda as a carrier for medicines that need to strengthen the deeper tissues of the body.
Cow milk is processed differently than it was 5,000 years ago, however. While raw, organic milk might be the closest to what nature intended, it can be time-consuming and expensive, and it can be very dangerous if you are not fully committed to boiling it before consumption each and every time you drink it. Make sure you understand the risks prior to purchasing raw milk.
Organic milk is a must in my book. There are too many hormones in non-organic milk that can lead to weight gain and hormone imbalances in the human body. In addition, potential exposure to pesticides consumed by the animals and mistreatment of the animals can further alter the quality of the non-organic product.
There are many opinions on how pasteurization and homogenization impact the nutritional value and digestibility of cow’s milk. While substantial research has shown that heating milk to high temperatures has little impact on its nutritional benefit, higher temperatures can certainly destroy enzymes, making milk more difficult to digest. Vat pasteurization, the way that milk was pasteurized since the late 1800s, heats milk to a lower temperature for a longer period of time followed by rapid cooling. Vat pasteurization would be my recommendation if you can find and afford it. Regular pasteurization and Ultra pasteurization (the worst) can lead to more issues if you have any digestive challenges with milk.
There have been reports that the greater the processing of milk, the more acidic the pH balance created in the body. The more acidic the pH balance, the more likely it is that the body will try to alkalize itself by pulling calcium from the bones. Eventually, this could cause osteopenia or osteoporosis, the opposite of what we would expect from drinking milk. Naturopath Dr. Axe recommends drinking only unprocessed raw milk in its natural alkaline state for this reason. As an avid milk drinker from an avid milk drinking family with exceptionally strong bones, I have not found this to be true. Neither does recent research. I suspect that the real culprit is a deficiency of magnesium or Vitamin D, both of which are needed for the body to digest calcium.
Homogenization is basically a physical process that breaks down the cream in the milk so it integrates throughout the bottle instead of separating out and staying at the top. Most milk in the U.S. is homogenized whether it says it on the bottle or not. Don’t sweat this one!
Skim, 1%, 2% or Whole Milk – which is the best? This is really a personal decision based on taste and your physical body type. If you need to lose weight, go with skim or 1%. If you need to gain weight, 2% or whole milk will be more supportive, and is more likely to help you relax and sleep. I would not get too caught up in worries about high cholesterol. We need it, and stress will kill you quicker.
Now what about the growing number of people who have trouble drinking cow’s milk? There are those who are allergic to the lactic acid in cow’s milk. There are other people who simply have a difficult time with milk due to weak digestion. Many cultures did not consume cow’s milk for generations so their tolerance is not the same as someone with a Northern European heritage. For any of these individuals, there are many options. There’s lactose-free milk, almond milk, rice milk and soy milk to name a few. There’s also the option of going milk-free, consuming plenty of green vegetables and fish instead to get your daily intake of calcium and Vitamin D.
Ayurvedic Recommendations to Help You Digest Milk
Ayurveda has always recognized the differences between people’s body types and the qualities that each type needs more of. When it comes to the consumption of dairy, it considers the qualities of each type of milk and suggests the best types of milk to balance the individual’s prevalent qualities. For Kaphas, goat milk, skim milk and soy milk are the best. Pittas do well with all types of milk, except buttermilk, based on the alkalyzing effect milk has on the digestive system. Vatas can drink buttermilk, kefir and any other type of milk as long as it is prepared properly.
The Ayurvedic preparation for milk includes warming it to just below boiling and serving with a small amount of ginger or cardamom. This is recommended for all doshas to support the digestion of milk which can be difficult for anyone to digest in its cold state. Note: if you are drinking raw milk, you must boil it first and then let it cool down. Be sure to use this proper home pasteurization technique (microwaving is not recommended!)
While cow’s milk is not for everyone, it can provide nourishment for your mind and body when properly processed and prepared. Try using some of these Ayurvedic suggestions to see if your digestive issues subside. If they do not, then chances are you come from a country that has not traditionally consumed milk or your digestion is weak. If it’s the latter, consider working with an Ayurvedic practitioner to strengthen and balance your digestion in support of your optimal ojas.
The sole purpose of this article is to provide information about the tradition of Ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have an acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or email Karen Callahan at firstname.lastname@example.org.