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….
4 medium potatoes
4 medium carrots
3 ribs celery
1 1/2 onion
1 tbs butter
6oz (180gr) ham, preferably dry-cured, such as Prosciutto
2 bay leaves
1 tsp Herbes de Provence
4 cups water
2 cups milk, cream, or a combination
Roughly chop onion. Peel carrots. Slice by cutting in half the long way (in 2 or mores sections) then into half circles. Peel and slice potatoes to a similar size. Slice celery, cutting the wide end in half lengthwise. Cut ham into small pieces.
Melt butter in small soup pot or large saucepan. Add onion and sauté until it starts to get tender, about 5 minutes. Add celery and sauté 5 minutes longer. Add ham and sauté briefly. Add carrots, potatoes, herbs and water. Cover and cook until vegetables are tender, 30 – 40 minutes.
To finish: remove bay leaves. Add milk and heat through. Serve.
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.