If you look like this little guy, replace the “?” in the title with an “!”. Because if you are a calf, cow’s milk really is nature’s perfect food for you. Nature designed it especially for you. It includes all the goodness you need to grow and develop into an adolescent and it will build the base on which you will transform into a strong, fully grown cow or bull. There really isn’t anything better. If you are a calf…
If you are not a calf but rather a human being, well, then there is still a perfect milk for you: Your mother’s breast milk. Again, nature designed it especially for you with all the nutrients that you need as a little baby human. Yet, we feed our children cow’s milk from a very early age and health services are running campaigns to persuade mothers to breastfeed their children.
And here is where it gets crazy. Wherever you go, you can buy milk. Cow’s milk that is. And you are being fed that story that it is ever so good for you. Even though you are not, yourself, a baby cow. However, an ice cream place in London was told to remove their breast milk ice cream because Westminster Council officers wanted to make sure it was “fit for human consumption”.
Fit for human consumption? It is breast milk. It is made for human consumption. Cow’s milk, on the other hand, is a different story entirely.
An argument to reduce the consumption of cow’s milk
The common sense approach
First and foremost, I would use the common sense argument: YOU ARE NOT A BABY COW! And then there is the whole question whether we are even able to digest cow’s milk. It certainly was not part of our diet until very recently (in evolutionary terms). Homo Sapiens appeared around 200,000 years ago. Maybe it is my lack of imagination, but somehow I just cannot picture an early homo sapiens chasing a wild buffalo around to milk it. Wild buffalo are fierce animals and a mommy buffalo is very keen on defending her baby. Any approach would have been seen as an attack. And taking milk and thereby stealing food from baby buffalo? I doubt mum would have looked kindly on that kind of behaviour.
Other humanoids have existed for a while longer than homo sapiens and I doubt any of those would have been stupid enough to steal milk from mommy buffalo either. Farming and the domestication of cattle only started around 10,000 years ago. That is barely a heartbeat in evolutionary terms and therefore not much time for our digestion and every other system in our body to catch up with the consumption of cow’s milk. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
The Nutrition Approach
So why then do we still have milk? Well, there is a very strong lobby (of course there would be, there are money making businesses involved here). This lobby will tell you about all the advantages of drinking milk. Only they somewhat distort the facts.
For example, while milk is rich in some nutrients, it is severely lacking in others and many fruits and vegetables are higher in manganese, chromium, selenium and magnesium, which we humans need. It is very rich in calcium, however. That presents its own problems: our bodies need a ratio of 2:1 of calcium to magnesium. The ratio in milk is 10:1 and 28:1 in cheese. This means that your body uses magnesium that is already in our body to make use of the calcium, which can lead to magnesium depletion in our body, which in turn has been linked to heart disease.
The Nature Approach
Cows these days have little to do with what nature designed them to be. Extensive breeding has ensured that cows have udders so big they can barely walk, so they can hold more milk and hormones off the chart so they produce milk all year round. To ensure the milk keeps flowing, the dairy cows are almost constantly pregnant while never getting to breast feed their babies.
The cows are pumped full of hormones and medication while on a very unnatural diet. Cows are designed to eat grass. By eating other stuff, the cows no longer produce the milk that is so good and nutritious for their calves. The production is flawed from the onset.
The Hormone Approach
Cows are meant to give milk after they had a calf, so little baby cow has something to munch on to get big and strong. Humans have managed to breed cows so that they can give milk even while they are pregnant, when their bodies are full of oestrogen. By feeding the population with milk, we are oestrogenising them (another word I just made up) and putting their own hormone balance out of whack.
It is therefore not surprising that milk has been closely linked to certain types of cancer such as prostate and testicular cancer in men and ovarian and breast cancer in women. Is it a coincidence that the cancers milk has been linked to are all of the sexual organs? I believe the hormones in the milk have something to do with that.
Studies comparing the incidence of cancer to the consumption of milk have further confirmed that link. For example, the incidence of those “sexual” cancers are significantly lower in China, a country with very low dairy consumption (in large cities in which dairy has become more fashionable, the incidence of cancer was higher than in the rest of the country). When we look at survival rates from cancer, the results are even more dramatic. The chances of a woman dying from breast cancer in China is 1 to 10,000 compared to 1 in 10 in the UK. The incidence of prostate cancer in rural China is only 0.5 in 100,000 yet the prognosis for 2015 is that 1 in 4 men will have it in the UK at some point in their live.
The Environment Approach
Dairy cows produce a lot of waste and green house gases. Now almost all living beings do, but we keep many more cows than would usually live in such small spaces. An average dairy cow produces about 120 pounds of waste per day. To put that into perspective, that is equivalent to 24 people. And cows do burp and fart a lot. With 4 stomachs, each digestive stage creates its own little burps.
And if you have a soft spot for furry creatures, there is of course the happiness of the cows to consider. While I know of small farms that keep their cows in very humane conditions, most of the dairy production is done in factories with no regard for the animals. On a factory like dairy farm, the cow’s life expectancy is reduced from a natural 25 years to 4.
The reasons I have outlined to encourage you to consider reducing your consumption of dairy is by no means complete. Studies have also linked milk consumption to heart disease and infant onset diabetes. When fed to babies, studies have also shown an increased risk of milk allergy and intolerance. Many adults suffer from milk intolerance as many of us lose the ability to digest lactose (milk sugar) as we grow up (which makes sense since we would not be breast fed once we grow up and therefore naturally there is not need for us to be able to digest it).
Still fancy milk? I have replaced it with alternatives, such as almond and soya milk. There is a much wider range out there from oat milk over rice milk to all sorts of nut milks. With so many reasons to avoid milk, why not try one of the many alternative choices?
And remember, a reduction alone can improve your health, even if you do not cut milk out from your diet completely. Strive for better, not extreme. But make your diet a little better every day. And one day, maybe you leave it out completely.