Friday, January 04, 2008

Drink a Tall Glass of Milk.

Ever since I was a little kid, I have enjoyed drinking milk fresh from the carton. Unlike many children, I didn't need the adulteration of chocolate to stomach its taste. I'd simply drain it directly from the glass. I honestly don't know where this preference comes from. It's a bit of a mystery as to why we like what we like, so I'll not try to speculate on it too much. My maternal grandparents always encouraged me to consume as much milk as I desired, even promising to go out to the store should their supply run out. For some reason I've always preferred skim or 2% milk, but I wouldn't turn my nose up at whole milk. It's very thick on my tongue, but once in awhile I like it for a change of pace.

Despite our society's official advocation of milk (it's been a staple of the school lunch program for as long as I've been alive), there are many that caution against its consumption. It's not too difficult to find outspoken critics. Here's a site that is particularly vocal about the dangers of milk. Some highlights include death by cancer, mad cow disease, obesity, chemical and hormonal poisoning, etc. If you want a reason to stop your intake of milk, then this is a great place to find a reason. The case is even made that this food is even particularly inefficient at delivering the substance it is most often promoted for- calcium. Not only do people question the necessity for the FDA's recommended amount of calcium, but they say that there are better sources for it than milk.

Still, with a minimum of internet searching, you can find plenty of sources that dispute the assertions of milk's critics. This article actually claims that drinking milk decreases the risk of heart disease. Some nutritionists and researchers suggest that its consumption can prevent osteoporosis, reduce hypertension, help fight the risk of tooth decay, and decrease your risk of colon cancer. In addition, American milk manufacturers started supplementing their products with Vitamins A and D. While some may charge that any and all boosters work directly for the dairy industry, it's kind of hard to ferret out the truth.

One thing I can say for sure is that I am skeptical about the way milk is processed by the American dairy industry. A bit over ten years ago, the federal government approved the use of recombinant growth hormone (rBGH) to stimulate milk production in cows. This synthetic chemical mimics natural substances produced in bovine pituitary glands. Some observers were worried that rBGH was responsible for the onset of early puberty in American children, but the research doesn't necessarily support that conclusion. However, studies have proven that the use of rBGH and the antibiotics used to treat cows that are rendered more vulnerable to mastitis (due to rBGH) can be hard on the animals. Even more troublesome was the FDA (and state departments of agriculture) practice of banning labels notifying the consumer when artificial growth hormones are not used.

Commercially accepted processing techniques also tend to cloud the picture. Pasteurization is used to kill bacteria in milk stocks- it involves heating the liquid for a time, and then cooling it off quickly afterwards. This process kills e coli, salmonella, listeria, and other types of toxic germs. Homogenization is done to give milk a consistent texture by dissipating its fats evenly. There is a current trend of buying and consuming "raw milk" (neither pasteurized nor homogenized). This is legal in 26 states, including Pennsylvania. Consumers who prefer this milk claim it is richer in taste and more nutritious. Apparently pasteurization destroys the "good bacteria", protein and enzymes naturally contained in the beverage. Many imbibers take both physical and legal risks to procure their supply- there are actually black markets popping up throughout the nation to service their needs.

Whatever conclusions I ultimately draw about the benefits/risks of pouring a glass of milk everyday, there are a lot of considerations to sift through. It seems that the most fervent battles regarding food are fought over the dairy case.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think there is a lot of evidence that human breast milk is an amazing food in line with our needs. Whole milk from cows is a bit better at creating a cow in terms of it's fat content.

5:48 PM  

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