Potato Soup; Milk – good or bad?

Is cow’s milk (or sheep or goat or horse or yak) good for humans or bad for humans?

Should adult humans consume milk products or avoid them like the plague?

Simple questions that, as best I can tell, have no clear answer.

Last week, at our French conversation class, one person began lecturing about how all dairy products should be avoided because all farm animals are now given hormones to speed their journey to our table.

What he said made sense, but most persuasive arguments make sense whilst one is listening to them.

I decided to find out for myself.

After several hours of internet research I have no answers.  I assume that research has been done and studies conducted and, somewhere, out there, are answers to my questions.  I was barred from the most likely looking sites because I am not: a doctor; a Harvard professor; a member of the AMA; a student (with ID) of Johns Hopkins; etc.

I did gather rather a lot of interesting stuff, though, – both facts and opinions.

Opinion: Adult humans are the only members of the animal world that consume milk after childhood.

Rebuttal:  That’s because we can.  Other animals would if they could and will when they can. Every see a cat turn her dainty nose away from a dish of cream?
We have brains that figured out how to preserve it for later consumption, make cheese, yogurt and ice cream.  We think, therefore we can.  (sorry, Descartes)

Fact:  Most mammals (humans are mammals) stop producing lactase, the enzyme necessary to digest milk, about the same time as they are weaned from their mother’s milk.
About 10,000 years ago, when Neolithic man started changing from hunter/gatherer to farmer, he figured out how to milk animals and how to grow crops.  Some changes occurred in the genetic code that allowed him to enjoy the fruits of his labor: the lactase enzyme started to be produced into adulthood and enzymes for digesting grains were developed.  (Remember, prior to that humans were primarily carnivores. Vegetarianism had to be adjusted for.)
Because not all cultures developed the same way, not all populations developed the same way genetically. The descendants of cultures that did not develop dairy farming are ‘lactose intolerant’ today.  The descendants of cultures that did not rely heavily on grains have a difficult time digesting some carbohydrates today.

Fact:  About 70% of humans are ‘lactose intolerant’ meaning they stop producing the enzyme lactase after the age of 3 or 4.  They produce it initially in order to digest human breast milk, which is very high in lactose.  In some cultures, such as Japan, where the consumption of dairy is increasing, there is a decrease in lactose intolerance. In China, the majority of the population is lactose intolerant – but not in  Mongolia and the Steppes, where horse milk has long been part of the diet.

Opinion:  Children under one year old should never be given cow’s milk.

I couldn’t find a documented reason for this, but I’m assuming, since babies are normally breast fed or given ‘formula’, that this its true.  Of course, they should also not be given hamburgers or barley soup.

Opinion: Cow’s milk is the main cause of Type 1 Diabetes in children.

Fact: According to the Mayo Clinic, early intake of cow’s milk can increase the risk…. as can early intake of cereals, nitrates in the water, a mother under the age of 25 and quite a few other things.

Babies are, apparently, fragile little things…. Who knew?

But, then again, we have done rather well as a species – look at the current population.

Some opinions I’m not bothering to address: Milk is poison.  Milk leaches calcium out of our bones. Milk causes weight gain.  Milk causes weight loss.  Milk is the cause of all of the (weight-related) illnesses in the US.

The biggest thing I learned in my research is that whatever opinion most people have is a very strong one, usually /often unsupported by empirical evidence.

A lot like most political opinions these days…. But I won’t go there.

Oh – one more thing about milk:

When you add it to a soup it turns it into a chowder.

Just to be contrary, I still call this Potato Soup!

This is a soup with as many variations as their are cooks: some like it puréed, some thicken it with flour, some like it thick, some thin, some use carrots, some wouldn’t think of it.

This is mine….

The recipe, Potato Soup, has been updated, nutrition information added, and re-posted here: Potato Soup.

Do I dare….

Okay, I dare….

What is your opinion about milk?

Can you offer any sources of empirical evidence to support it?

Enquiring minds want to know.

Any and all opinions welcome – but no diatribes.

We dislike diatribes.

Last updated:

15 thoughts on “Potato Soup; Milk – good or bad?”

  1. Katie your soup looks scrumptious! I have no facts to share, but I have made a few discoveries in my 15 years of being Lactose Intolerant. Aged cheeses are divine, there is no lactose in them. Homemade yogurt is wonderful too as is Yogurt cheese which I use in place of cream cheese. Then last year I made a most heavenly discovery: Specific Carbohydrate Diet Cream or SCD cream. Essentially it is whole cream made the same way as yogurt, the only difference being that it must “incubate” for 28 hours. Worth every full fat creamy delicious minute! Delicious whipped for deserts, or left plain added to sauces and soups. My friend Sophie lives in Brussels, Belgium, she can buy lactose free milk, cream and butter! Here in Canada, at least where I live we can only buy lactose free milk. Learning to make Yogurt cheese, SCD cream has been a godsend. Despite being Lactose Intolerant, I am a huge dairy lover, and there are great alternatives available. You came up with a lot of interesting research, thanks for sharing. Ina

  2. My first born couldn’t keep regular formula down (I had severe complications re breast feeding) and we had to put him on a soy supplement. Now he can eat/drink all the milk products he wants.
    I think what counts here is that if one has a negative reaction to milk products, don’t coonsume them. And if one tolerates milk products well, go ahead.
    Our local milk products mostly come from organically-grown pasture-fed cows and no BST is added. But we’re lucky.
    And about that delicious looking potato chowder? I often add buttermilk instead of regular milk, to good results.

  3. What Christine said makes sense to me, too. I do carefully look for organic milk with no added hormones but milk is naturally full of different hormones, so the debate rages on. I’m one of the lucky few who happily digests milk and milk products, so I eat them.

  4. Excellent article, Katie!!
    I have no facts to add except that that when we were kids, we drank copious amounts of cow’s milk (3.2% initially and then 2% when it was introduced). There were many many dinners that required at least 4 glasses of milk each to wash down the horrifying (tiny) clumps of vegetables on our plates. I have a recollection of drinking one glass of milk anticipating eating a teaspoon or so of cooked cauliflower that had been put on my plate and then quickly drinking another glass of milk to wash down the cauliflower when I finally got the nerve to put it in my mouth.
    Interestingly, I can’t stand milk now unless it has been steamed and put into freshly brewed coffee. But I adore yoghurt. I also adore cooked cauliflower – especially if it is pureed and mixed with milk to make cream of cauliflower soup….
    My younger sister drank 3.2% cow’s milk when she was a tiny baby, because my mother was suddenly unable to breast feed. The result? She gained too much weight. (When Mom took my sister to the doctor, gravely concerned with how much weight she had put on, the doctor asked her what kind of formula she was drinking. My mother looked blank and said, “Formula??” Nobody had told my mother about formula….)
    As far as I know, my sister has not suffered from being fed cow’s milk before she turned one.

  5. Milk is comfort food for me, and I am not aware of ever having any negative reactions. All things in moderation is my general approach. I agree with Zoomie and Christine.

  6. I don’t usually drink milk, except for the occasional hot chocolate. I don’t like how French milk tastes. But we eat a lot of cheese and yogurts. My youngest daughter doesn’t like milk, so I don’t make her drink it. I do try and buy organic dairy products in hopes of avoiding hormones.

  7. Katie,
    The TV doctor, Doctor Oz, has highlighted several studies of the effect of adult consumption of (cow) dairy products. The one study I remember showed:
    Daily consumption of non-fat dairy causes significant amounts of fat to be removed from your body and passed out of your system. As he put it on the Oprah show, “When this occurs, your poop floats.”
    About, “all farm animals are now given hormones to speed their journey to our table.” Alas, in the US, this is apparently true. I don’t know about France. I combat this by not eating beef. If I want red meat I’ll buy buffalo or get a friend to give me some venison.
    But, the other problem is with milk. The United States is the only developed nation to permit humans to drink milk from cows given artificial growth hormone. The stuff goes by the initials rbST and rbGH. Luckily, we are able to easily find stores that sell milk that doesn’t contain those hormones.
    From Wikipedia, “The United States is the only developed nation to permit humans to drink milk from cows given artificial growth hormone.”

  8. I always rebutted people who use the “other animals don’t drink each other’s milk” argument in a similar fashion. Humans drink other animals’ milk because we can, because we have the brains to seek nourishment anywhere we can find it.
    It’s hard to believe in a country where cheese is so heavily prized that one would ever heard and argument against dairy. 😉
    Excellent point about what milk does to your soup. Touche!

  9. Hi Katie,
    Thank you for your blog, I follow it with some regularity and always look forward to what you have to say. My husband and I live mostly in Co. Clare, Ireland next to what was (last year) a dairy farm. I would help milk the ‘girls’ and got paid in milk…all I could drink or use. I used the raw milk for making yoghurt and home cheese, but rarely would drink the milk. I had also purchased this book from Anne Mendelson, her book on milk through the ages.
    Not many peoples of the world can drink cow’s milk with no ill effects. I’m one of them. But I can eat cheese and cultured milk products. In the US, raw milk is one touchy subject! EU regulations are tough on farmers looking to sell raw milk to area folks. I know these regs are in place to protect the health of individuals, but common sense is the way to go. This is a bit of a rambling email, so…Bon Chance!

  10. Funnily enough when my mother stopped feeding me at 1 year I refused any cows milk. I still don’t like it, can’t stand the smell makes me vomit BUT love and can eat all by products including cream and itvseems when you turn milk into a sauce or in your case chowder, it must change it’s molecular status as I can eat that as well. So that proves how clever was man to learn how to make dairy palatable for generations to follow. World without cheese…I don’t think so. Good provoking post Katie.

  11. Oh by th way. I only use full organic milk. Have you read Fran mcculough ‘s “the good fat book ” I think you will like. Got lots of good advice and facts there. You will never touch soy milk ever again!!! Of course we do produce excellent milk in new Zealand .x

  12. I used to drink milk a LOT as a kid — still love the taste — but as I stopped drinking so much in college, I developed a bit of intolerance to it. It doesn’t make me *sick*, per se, but is does cause some, to put it delicately, “gastric distress”. I think very hard about whether I really want cold cereal with milk, or ice cream. Strangely enough, the more high end the ice cream, the less I react. I am not sure if it’s due to the higher fat content in premium ice cream or the lack of thickeners/fillers. I shall have to test this. Rigourously. Extensively. 🙂
    I can eat yogurt and cheese with absolutely no ill effects, though, so obviously the Scandinavian genes are good for something. The problem is finding good yogurt in the States. I shall have to do more testing there, too.
    I think that milk really should be hormone free — yes, there are some cow hormones floating about in there anyway, but *extra* ones, to make the cows grow more quickly so they can be bred and give milk sooner….well, there’s just something wrong with that. Unfortunately, you have to hunt to find the hormone free stuff, and it’s sometimes more expensive. Not a huge issue for us, with just two people, but could play havoc with a small budget and several kids.
    Thank you for the caution against diatribes. It’s really nice to visit somewhere that is civil these days. 🙂

  13. that topic was a huge subject of contention between my ex and myself; he claimed the kids were milk and dairy intolerant, yet they had no symptoms; he took them to a quack doctor who confirmed this and so we fought about it for years, and my kids kept drinking milk. Personally I hate milk, since childhood, in Lebanon we could only get it in powder form and it tasted nasty. I love yogurt, yogurt cheese (labneh, as we call it) grew up on the stuff.
    Now I am curious to find out about this cream your first commentator raves about.!

  14. Ina, I would be lost without cheese…. and yogurt. Thanks for the tip on the SCD cream
    Christine, commons sense is wonderful… if it bothers you don’t. Thankfully, living in the land of cheese, we can eat it. I use yogurt in place of buttermilk, which I can’t find here….
    Zoomie, yes the debate goes on, and can get quite heated…. I try for the organic, too. And really avoid the long-life!
    Elizabeth, thanks for the kind words…. I’m sure we all drank cow’s milk too. My mother’s generation didn’t breast feed at all. I love milk in all it’s forms…
    Mimi, milk and cheese…. in moderation, right!
    manningroad, I don’t drink milk – rather have wine… but I do have it in my coffee and on my breakfast cereal…. and I eat yogurt every day.
    Meredith, I like the fresh milk, but all we got in Andorra was the long-life, which I detest – even in coffee!
    brassfrog, thanks…. I didn’t know that about the growth hormones. And really interesting about the fat thing…. Unfortunately I can’t test that theory as we have, um, low-water toilets over here…. (LOL)
    The beef is pretty closely regulated here…. no buffalo… but venison!
    Rachel, well…. there’s always someone ;-)) But, you are right, I was surprised!
    Hi Roz – we came very close to living in Co. Clare… We did live in Co. Cork for a year…. Loved it. Anyway, thanks for the book tip. We now have a raw milk dispenser outside one of our supermarkets. One of these days I’m going to make cheese – but I don’t think we’ll drink it! I would if I new the farmer. We always drank raw milk as children.
    Gilli, thanks for the book tip (I’ve got some good reading on my list) I don’t like the smell of milk either, but have no problem drinking it. Also can’t stand the smell of bananas ;-))
    Laurie, thanks – we do try to be civilized. I agree about the hormones. I just don’t see the need.
    tasteofbeirut, I hate powdered milk, too. How bizarre that your ex believed that without any proof or symptoms! It’s the cheese that I could never do without, creamy, strong, stinky cheese!

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