Should Humans Drink Milk? 5 Things You Should Know

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The history of milk is the history of civilisation. Without it, there would be no civilisation.

Milk has been a dietary staple for at least as long as humans have been documenting their diet.  But the question of whether or not humans should drink milk from another animal has been a comparatively lesser consideration - until recently.

Yes, there are varying and conflicting beliefs out there about whether 'milk is milk' and whether 'milk from an animal is fit for human consumption'.  

Over the last few years, drinking milk has been called into question for a variety of dietary, cultural and ethical reasons.  Also, because of the way that milk, particularly dairy milk, is mostly raised and farmed for mass consumption.

Drinking milk is frowned upon by vegans, those who have lactose intolerances and also some animal rights groups.  But milk isn’t necessarily the enemy and there’s a reason why it has long been a staple of the human diet.

Earth friendly raised, unpasteurised milk, from micro farms where the cows are treated with kindness, can actually be a beneficial food - full of nutrients, vitamins, minerals and good bacteria that are actually helpful not harmful to your health.

However, the biggest issue today is how mass-produced milk from the commercial dairy industry is produced, which generally uses questionable farming practices and treats milk to destroy its nutrients, for shelf life, economies of scale and in order to meet big supermarket chain price targets.

If your belief systems around milk means that it's simply not for you, the good news is that you have some great alternative options to take the place of dairy milk.

Here, we discuss the main things to consider when it comes to dairy milk in your diet and offer our top plant-based alternatives if you decide that it is not for you.

Important Things To Know

1. Different Views on Milk

There are many different cultural, ethical and personal beliefs around the subject of drinking milk from animals.

With so many different types of diets and food preferences out there these days, it seems everyone has an opinion as to whether cow or goats milk is fit for human consumption.

Vegans, for example, believe that any animal by-products should never be consumed.  Whereas a vegetarian might feel more comfortable drinking milk since no animals were killed in the process of producing it.

Some vegetarians are completely against drinking cow's milk, just as there are some vegetarians who say 'yes' to free range eggs and some who don’t. 

Over the last few decades, milk allergies have been on the rise, putting a focus on milk alternatives.  However, the primary reason for allergic reactions to milk have more to do with the way that milk is pasteurised and treated for commercial purposes, rather than the efficacy and nutritional value of traditional whole milk itself.

The bottom line is, there are different opinions and views on milk as a dietary staple which all have some degree of merit.  Therefore, the choice to drink milk from animals, ultimately comes down to your personal perspective, beliefs and lifestyle direction.

2. Raw Milk versus Conventional Milk

Raw organic dairy milk is very different in terms of nutritional quality and taste from conventional milk that is sold in the big supermarket chains.

Raw milk is packed with protein, vitamins, minerals and enzymes that can be very beneficial to your body, whilst industrially farmed conventional milk is overly heat-treated and laced with additives and chemicals that can be harmful to your health.

The benefits of raw milk include tissue and muscle repair, calcium for strong healthy bones and fatty acids that are supportive of your immune system.  It also has probiotics that help maintain a rich gut flora for healthy digestive function.

The problem is, unless you're able to source milk directly from a local dairy, the sale of "raw" milk for human consumption has been regulated to the point where it is actually illegal in several countries such as the USA and Australia.

The Food Standards Code requires that milk is pasteurised, heat-treated, or equivalently processed, to ensure its safety for human consumption.  This has meant that certain raw milk varieties found in some health food stores, have had to be labelled "Bath Milk" because they're legally "not fit for human consumption".

Thankfully,  these regulations have recently allowed unpasteurised, unhomogenised varieties of milk to be sold in certain states, so long as they're labelled as "cold-pressed raw milk". 

This is definitely better than regular pasteurisation, which involves treatment with heat, the "cold-pressed" milk undergoes high pressure processing (HPP) to eliminate pathogens and extend shelf life.

The important thing to realise, is that raw milk has been consumed by many long-lived cultures for thousands of years. Pasteurisation wasn’t introduced until the 20th century.  It was primarily used to combat unsanitary production methods, to kill bacteria and to allow the transportation of milk for commercial retail purposes, so that people didn’t develop illness from drinking it.

Beyond this, the treatment of raw milk for mass consumption and economic industry, has meant that farming methods have been compromised and scaled up to include antibiotics and hormones in animal feed, and pesticides have been added to the pastures where livestock grazes, all of which have potentially harmful effects to our health.

The good news is that as more and more people become health conscious and wary of how their food is produced, there has been a big shift to supporting local farmers and small independent dairies who continue to produce milk as close to the way that its meant to be - free from chemicals, pesticides, GMO's, hormones, antibiotics and with minimal pasteurisation.

The bottom line is, if you have no ethical objections to drinking milk, you should enjoy the benefits and taste of milk from a trusted source. 

Raw and organic milk that is free of harmful additives and that has not been heat treated to within an inch of its life, contains healthy nutrients and bacteria that can be very beneficial to most people. 

3. A Little Milk Wisdom

As mentioned, high-temperature pasteurisation of milk and all of the chemical additives used in commercial dairy farming, turns a traditionally raw, living food, into one that is not the way nature intended.

Interestingly, when most mammals - even adult ones - are offered raw milk they will usually drink it immediately without any natural resistance.   

Also, humans with their mobility and intelligence, figured out long ago how to have ongoing access to milk, since it was noticed that there was wisdom in that fact that we have opposable thumbs and hands which makes squeezing milk from an udder possible. 

These are simple considerations that most people give no thought to, but they're little pieces of wisdom to keep in mind when it comes to the questions of why adults can drink milk or whether animal milk is fit for human consumption.

4. Recommended Dairy Milk Alternatives

Regardless of the benefits of raw milk, if you choose not to consume it that’s perfectly okay.

The great news is, there are plenty of milk alternatives that taste delicious and can be used as an easy substitute for dairy milk.

Some of these alternatives include:

  • Soy Milk (choose organic non-GMO only)
  • Coconut Milk
  • Almond Milk
  • Macadamia Milk
  • Oat Milk

All of these plant-based milks are readily available in most good supermarkets these days, but just know that you generally get what you pay for in terms of quality.

Read the labels carefully to choose varieties and brands that use minimal additives.  Try to avoid products that display the following fillers and additives:

  • Sugar
  • Gums and emulsifiers
  • Flavouring
  • Lecithin
  • Carrageenan

Shop around, try different brands and you'll soon find a variety that suits your taste.  Then, enjoy your favourite plant-based milk in preparing smoothies, on your home-made muesli or as an accompaniment to your morning coffee.

You can even learn to make your own nut milk at home.

Almond milk is generally the easiest to make.  Soak 2 cups of raw almonds in a bowl covered with water over night.  Rinse the next morning, then add to a vitamix or blender and cover with 4-5 cups of filtered water and blend until smooth.

Strain the mixture through a nut milk bag into a large jug and gently squeeze to extract the milk.   Store in a glass bottle and chill in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Learn more in our blog 5 Amazing Non-Dairy Milk Alternatives.

5. Finding the Right Source

As with anything you consume, knowing a little about the source is important.

There’s a big difference between mass-produced milk from factory farms and organic raw milk sourced from a small, independent dairy where the cows are healthy, happy, raised without chemicals or hormones and free to roam on lush green pasture.

This is why, if you're going to drink milk, just be sure to look for those brands that produce milk the way it's meant to be.  It tastes better and your health will be so much better for it.

Again, if you don't have access to a local dairy, you'll find the best quality milk at your fresh food markets, farmer's markets and good health food stores, all of which have high quality milk products available from micro dairy farms.

The Main Take Away 

There are a lot of conflicting views and opinions on dairy milk, however the choice to consume milk should be a personal one based on your own beliefs and lifestyle.

From a health perspective, whilst it's true that some people cannot stomach milk and suffer from lactose intolerances, most of the problems are due to the quality of the milk that they consume.

If you do choose not to drink milk from animals, the nice thing is, there are some great alternatives in terms of plant-based nut milks which are readily available substitutes.

However, if milk is a food you decide to include in your diet and lifestyle, just be sure to shop for brands from small independent dairies that treat their animals right and produce milk the way it's meant to be.

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