Friday, November 19, 2010

NT in a Nutshell Part 6: Milk and Milk Products

Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats
We left our series on Nourishing Traditions last week with a discussion on the importance of protein in the diet. We pick back up today with a summary of the information presented in the book on Milk and Milk Products. This information is condensed from pages 33-35 of Nourishing Traditions, and is not intended as medical advice, but as an introduction to healthy eating practices.

Before I begin my summary of this section of the book, I need to state up front that after researching this topic further I have decided that I disagree with much of the information the authors present in this section. Before I discuss the information that I disagree with, I will state up front that I do agree that cultured milk products are very beneficial to overall health, especially kefir, yogurt and buttermilk, and that processed cheeses should be avoided due to the excess of preservatives and other food additives in them.

As a matter of fact, I also avoid pre-shredded cheeses as well due to the anti-caking chemicals added to them. {If you like to keep shredded cheese in the house for the convenience factor – try my quick-tip solution instead: shred an entire block (lb) of cheese, toss with just enough corn starch to keep the shreds from sticking together, and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Works like a charm.}

After a brief discussion on the prevalence and possible causes of milk intolerance and milk allergies, the authors progress into a graphic description of the state of the modern dairy cow, held in confinement and selectively bred for over-active pituitary function which supposedly increases milk production by incredible proportions and which causes bovine growth hormones to spill over into the water fraction of our milk supply.

They go on to say, “The freak-pituitary cow is prone to many diseases. She almost always secretes pus into her milk and needs frequent doses of antibiotics.” (page 34) In addition, the authors also report that these cows are fed “high-protein soybean meal” (page 34) which “stimulates them to produce large quantities of milk but contributes to a high rate of mastitis and other problems…” (page 34) However, none of this information is footnoted.

They go on to discuss that modern milk production methods make pasteurization (heating at moderate temperatures for certain amounts of time in order to kill bacteria present in the milk) unnecessary and to detail how the nutrients and enzymes in milk are destroyed by the process, and to encourage the readers to use only raw (unpasteurized and not homogenized) milk and milk products from pasture-fed cows. While I do agree that milk from pasture-fed cows is preferable and healthier than that of feedlot cows, I have serious concerns over the consumption of unpasteurized milk, especially since the authors have just stated that pus (a sign of infection) is nearly always present in the modern dairy cow’s milk.

Now let’s discuss the additional research I did on this for my own benefit, and as I did not record where I found this scattered on the web, I encourage you to research this further for yourself also. First of all, let’s consider the reason why we began to pasteurize milk in the first place, and why the process was so revolutionary.

Cows are carriers of tuberculosis, which can be passed to humans through milk. As you may recall from your American history, tuberculosis was epidemic in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This highly contagious disease ripped families apart as stricken members were isolated in sanitariums, where there was a very high death rate. The ability to kill the bacteria in contaminated milk was one of the ways in which the disease was finally controlled, and is one of the reasons why most of us have never known anyone with this disease.

Secondly, in many states, including my own, it is against the law to sell raw milk (except for pet consumption), specifically because of the risks to a public that has largely had no exposure to TB in modern times. Even if you live in a place where you can legally purchase raw milk, common sense would dictate that you only purchase from a farmer whose herd has been tested for TB and shown to be disease-free. In fact, this is recommended in the book on page 35:
“If you can find a farmer who will sell you raw milk from old-fashioned Jersey or Guernsey cows (or from goats), tested free of tuberculosis and brucellosis and allowed to feed on fresh pasturage, then by all means avail yourself of this source.”
I did not even research brucellosis, as I found the info on TB made me too uncomfortable to consider pursuing the dietary change to raw milk any further. Maybe it’s because I have never been around cattle, but I think that even if I had my own milk cow that I would test regularly just to make sure that she was disease free.

There are some dietary changes regarding our consumption of milk that are worth considering, however. The authors do not talk about the dangers of homogenization or of ultra-pasteurization in Nourishing Traditions, but they do go into further detail in Eat Fat, Lose Fat.

Milk is made of two fractions, a water fraction and a butterfat fraction. Normally, the butterfat (cream) portion rises and floats atop the water fraction. The cream could be skimmed for use as cream or to make butter, buttermilk or cheese. However, as it used to be done before the days of homogenization, the cream and milk could be shaken up for use as old-fashioned whole milk.

In the process of homogenization, the two fractions of the milk are subjected to extremely high pressures during which the milk is passed through screens which serve to break down the butterfat molecules into a form that will allow the fat to stay suspended in the milk instead of floating to the top (as is natural). If you remember your chemistry, you will remember that temperature increases with increasing pressure, so the milk is also subjected to another round of “cooking” in addition to the pasteurization. This significantly changes the taste of the milk, in addition to the unnatural changes to the fat in the milk.

I do believe that the process of ultra-pasteurization is detrimental to milk and its nutrients and enzymes. In this process, the milk is heated for a shorter period of time, but at a very high temperature. After this process, the milk is effectively “dead.” Nothing will grow in it, not even beneficial cultures. I can speak from personal experience on this one.

A couple of years ago I purchased some heavy whipping cream at the grocery store so I could try to make homemade butter. At that time I had never paid any attention to whether milk or cream was pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized, but I have since come to notice that in most stores one has no option except to purchase ultra-pasteurized cream or half-and-half. The butter turned out fine, and I saved the liquid left from when the cream broke to make homemade buttermilk. I placed it in a sealed mason jar, just like my recipe said to do, and placed the jar in a warm place and left it undisturbed until the next afternoon. I expected to have thick, creamy buttermilk, but all I had was watery, nasty-smelling liquid. I tried this again, this time inoculating the buttermilk-to-be with a tablespoon of store-bought cultured buttermilk, but I got the same results.

Last spring I purchased a quart of heavy whipping cream at Whole Foods that was not ultra-pasteurized; it was just plain pasteurized. I tried again. Viola! Buttermilk on the first try! Therefore, it is my belief that ultra-pasteurized dairy products are best avoided in favor of products that have only been exposed to a traditional pasteurization process.

In our area, there is a small family dairy farm that has changed its farming practices to offer consumers the alternative to purchase milk and milk products from pastured cows. Their milk is not homogenized and is only put through the traditional, lower temperature pasteurization process. The difference in taste is amazing. For the first time in my life I understand why older folks call whole milk “sweet milk.” It really does have a sweet taste!

With the increase in the popularity of “organic” foods, more farmers are realizing the benefits of meeting this demand, and it is increasingly possible that there is a farmer near you who will follow similar farming practices.

I hope this information sheds some light on the use of dairy products in your diet. We will pick up our series again the week after Thanksgiving with a discussion on the role vitamins play in our diets and the proper used of vitamin supplements.

1 comment:

  1. Hi. You visited my blog a couple of days ago. I've enjoyed reading your recent posts. I would love to be able to email you, but I don't see any contact information. I have a question. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for visiting my blog! I am so happy to hear from you. I appreciate you taking the time to leave a note here. Blessings!

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