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Got milk? Here is the latest science on organic and whole milk

If you are near my age, you grew up drinking four glasses of milk everyday. After all, dairy was one of the Four Basic Food Groups you needed to be healthy. Funny thing about nutritional knowledge is it is constantly evolving. We went from Four Basic Food Groups to the Food Pyramid and now to My Plate. And guess what? A lot of what you believed to be true about milk is no longer scientifically valid.

First a little personal milk history from the Hawaiian Islands

When I was a kid growing up in Hawaii in the 60's, we still drank whole milk. The problem was in Hawaii, milk was expensive. We had local dairies, but the feed had to be imported. So some genius came up with the idea of imitation milk, also known as Filled Milk, which was made from some sort of dried milk product, fillers and coconut oil.

 

My mom was very thrifty and decided that a great way to save money would be to switch from real milk to imitation milk. The only problem was imitation milk, as you might imagine, tasted disgusting. No matter how many times mom told us, "you can't tell the difference," my sister and I gagged on it whenever we tried to down a glass.

 

But my mom was creative and a little cunning. She saved the real milk cartons and poured the imitation milk in them, thinking we wouldn't be able to tell the difference. Much to her frustration, the whole milk cartons did nothing to persuade my sister and me. The main reason was imitation milk smelled awful. So you knew before you even took a swallow. Finally my mom gave up, probably because she realized she was spending more money trying to persuade us to drink fake milk than she would have if she just bought the real thing.

 

This was my first experience with the concept of the benefits of eating whole real food.

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But back to milk and nutrition

We have learned a few things that have turned everything we thought we knew about milk upside down.

Lactose intolerance

Does everyone need four glasses of milk a day? The answer is overwhelmingly "no." Humans are the only species on earth that drink milk as adults. Turns out, most of us lose the ability to digest lactose sometime between the ages of two and five. In fact, being lactose intolerant is the normal state. The outliers are those genetic anomalies who can digest lactose as adults. Less than 40% of people around the world fall into this category. These adults who can digest lactose are called lactase persistent. For most adults, drinking milk causes an array of problems, including gas, nausea, vomiting, cramping and diarrhea.

The low-fat dead end

Based on a theory developed by Ancel Keyes in the 70's, fat became the go-to culprit for our nation's spreading waistlines. An enormous market for low-fat and nonfat products was created, including lowfat and nonfat milk. Whole milk was thought of as overly rich, fattening, and artery-clogging. The problem is, when you take the fat out of milk, you also take out the nutrition, and are left with mostly sugar.

Is organic milk better?

Turns out, yes organic milk is better in several ways. For the simple reason that what you put in is what you get out. If your cows graze in open pastures on grass, the milk they create is much more nutritious than those that feed on dried corn and soybeans, are injected with growth hormones and antibiotics, and relegated to a life of confinement. The organic milk industry has specific regulations as to what their cows consume, whereas the regular milk industry does not.

 

A recent study out of Washington State University shows that organic whole milk is much higher in omega-3's, in fact 62% higher than nonfat regular milk. Omega-3's are those good guys that promote cell permeability, help metabolize glucose and calm inflammation. Additionally, non-organic milk is significantly higher in omega-6's, which can be good guys, if we keep a 1:1 balance of omega 6's and omega 3's, but when consumed in the 10:1 to 15:1 ratio consumed by most Americans, omega 6's become bad guys that promote widespread inflammation. Inflammation is now thought to be the root cause of chronic disease.

 

Organic milk also has 50% more vitamin E, 75% more beta carotene and 200-300% more antioxidants.

 

If you are still not convinced, here is one more benefit to organic milk, it has much better shelf life than regular milk. Organic milk has a shelf life of about a month compared to non-organic milk, which has four to six days.  

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