The Many Milks

>> Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A glass of milkImage via Wikipedia

Once in a while I break down and actually get a latte at a local coffee shop, Cafe Patteen, and the conversation with the owner (I'm usually drawn to places where the owner actually works) often comes around to talking about milk due to the rather strange way I order.  IF I order a latter, it's always a decaf latte, extra hot, made from 50% half-and-half, and 50% water.  You may ask, "why not just order 2% milk, in that case?" But there are reasons to my insanity. Sometimes.

Before getting into the milk aspect, I realize that decaf coffee is often chemically decaffeinated, and that's why I don't do this every week, let alone every day. Getting past that to look at the milk situation, then, brings us to the homogenization and pasteurization problems. Homogenization breaks down the fat molecules to a point where their ingestion becomes a problem for your body. Pasteurization, while having its uses, is ultimately unnecessary when milk is harvested in a sanitary manner but it also removes the necessary vitamins and enzymes required to process it. It's what takes milk from a calcium-enhancing food to a calcium-stripping one.

What I do in times when a coffee shop cannot offer me raw milk (which is always), is that I choose half-and-half diluted with water; this at the very least reduces the amount of oxidized cholesterol that I would otherwise consume if I were drinking reduced fat milk. Organic milks are all ultra-pasteurized and due to that are perhaps worse than regular milks since they may or may not have growth hormones added to them. It's enough to make you break down and cry, "is there any milk I can drink at ALL?!"

Well, there is, of course. While some may argue the point that humans are the only species that drink the milk of other species, especially after infancy, this is invalid because there are actually many species that would drink other species' milk if given the opportunity. We're just blessed with opposable thumbs and the know-how to apply those thumbs properly to milk a cow. That allows us the opportunity to get milk from a variety of sources which, when unprocessed, is clean and highly nutritious. It's like letting cows, goats, or other animals go out there and graze for us so that we can consume the best parts of the grasses and other plants that we otherwise wouldn't be able to. Raw milk from a healthy and organically-raised animal is bursting-full of vitamins and the needed enzymes to digest it.

But even when you know all this information, it's still incredibly daunting to realize just how many varieties of milk there are - how many choices the dairy industry creates for you to choose from. Milk can be: Skim, 1%, 2%, or whole. It can also be conventional, hormone-free, organic and/or raw. It can be flavored or colored. Or, it can be multiple combinations of most of the previous options. It can also come in different, less-drinkable forms such as evaporated or condensed (i.e. evaporated plus sugar), powdered, purified, so on, and so on. Whew! Let's stick to the stuff you might drink or, if you still eat cereal, pour on cereal. Here are some general rules. When possible, raw milk trumps all, but make sure you get it from a trusted source. Moving on to the "commercial world" as it were, where laws make it illegal to sell real milk, you're still facing a lot of options.

Choosing organic milk is in SOME way preferable than conventional because you definitely avoid the added growth hormones and are probably supporting a more sustainable method of food production due to the lack of chemically-laden feed and so forth. But don't go thinking that everything's fine and dandy just because it's organic. All (or nearly all) organic milk is ultra-pasteurized, which means it's so dead it can sit on the shelf, unrefrigerated, for about half a year before anything starts to decay. This kind of "food" is not food at all; if bugs won't touch it, you shouldn't, either.

If all you're stuck with is conventional milk, try first to see if they have any RBGH-free offerings; stores such as cafes and coffee shops often do, because they know their customers often care at least a little about their milk. Just say "no" in places where you can't even see them pour out the milk; they're probably serving the cheapest junk they can buy.  And cheap junk is exactly how to describe it; when milk is pasteurized, the cleanliness of the milk before it's cooked is really up to the producer - and how much time and money do you think they're going to spend if they don't have to? After it's all finished with pasteurization, it's also homogenized, which mutates the fat molecules into a probable allergen. Homogenization is purely aesthetic, done so that you'll psychologically feel better about buying a milk with consistent appearance. But it's not healthy.

Thinking about fat, stay away from the fat-free/reduced fat/skim varieties. Milk fat is needed in order to process the vitamins and minerals that are found within it. If the food you eat (i.e. milk) doesn't have the necessary properties to break itself down, odds are good that your body will draw from its own reserves in order to do so. Also, any milk with reduced fat has powdered milk added for protein, and this is bad for your heart. Natural Bias has done an excellent job of detailing skim milk for you, so go check that out.

Thus, when I absolutely "must", I try to choose the rich-fat half-and-half, diluted with water to make the best of a bad situation. Perhaps some day we'll actually find ourselves free to choose real milk wherever we want to consume it, but until then, for me, the coffee shops can just make a little less money while I stick to my raw milk.

A follow-up: Coffee shops often also give you the choice of soy milk. Personally, I also approve of alternative milks such as almond milk; they're usually delicious, often healthy, and almost as equally available as soy -- and they're a much better option than soy is, too. Take a moment to reach out to businesses at their corporate offices by sending them an email to explain how you would like to see them using healthier milks than what they have right now.

This post is part of Real Food Wednesday, this week hosted by Kelly the Kitchen Kop.

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Psychic Lunch was founded in 2009 by a nerd and father who wants people to be healthy. The information on this site is researched, but should be considered opinion; that is, you should always do your own research and come to your own conclusions about what is and what is not healthy. Products endorsed on this site are actually believed in and used by the author.


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