I remember not being able to leave the dinner table until I drank my glass of milk. If I did leave, it was put in the fridge for me to finish later. The only way I would drink my milk was by loading it with chocolate syrup. But, we all need milk to grow strong and healthy bones, so whatever worked, right?

Most parents today were raised on the, “Milk, it does a body good” campaigns, so it doesn’t even take us a second thought to start our babies on whole milk at around one year. This is what we grew up on; this is what doctors, the government, the media all say is best. I’m here to bust that myth and say, this is not what is best. So now, you are probably either intrigued or thinking I just lost all credibility and you don’t believe anything I say because I must be a crazy weirdo. I will do my best to explain and provide enough resources so you can walk away at least questioning the milk that your little ones (and you!) are drinking every day.

In a quick Google search you will probably find a lot of articles explaining the “common sense” reason why we shouldn’t be drinking cow’s milk: cow’s milk is made to grow baby cows, just like human milk is made to grow baby humans. We are the only species who consumes the milk of another animal and drink milk past weaning. But you know what, we are the only species to do a lot of things – we’re pretty evolved, you know. So, although I do believe there is some truth to the fact that humans aren’t meant to be drinking cow’s milk, it doesn’t really convince me. If you seem to tolerate milk just fine, then that’s great (did you know that milk is the most common food allergy in young children, according to the CDC?). BUT, unless you are drinking raw milk from grass fed cows, you are doing more harm than good to your body. Ok, so here I go with my explanation.

Milk is not milk anymore. It is highly processed (pasteurized and homogenized).

Until the early 1900s, the milk people drank was raw milk. Raw milk from cows who were free to roam and eat fresh grass and hay. When industrialized farming began, more cows were raised in less space and were fed cheaper feeds (grain, corn, soy, even candy?!) – cows became diseased, and the fresh milk was a perfect medium to carry and spread bacteria. People began getting sick, so pasteurization was invented and touted as a healthy and beneficial alternative to raw milk. After years of fear-based advertising for pasteurized milk, pasteurization laws began to be passed in the US in 1948.

OK-so what is pasteurization and why is it a problem?

In short, pasteurization is a way of killing any and all bacteria (good and bad) in the milk by heating it to high temperatures. Not only does the high heat kill essentially all the bacteria, it also denatures the proteins, meaning it changes their natural structure (we’ll get into why this is a problem in a second…). The pasteurized milk is also homogenized (filtered at high pressure), destroying the makeup of the fat so the cream doesn’t separate and float to the top.

All of these changes at the molecular level, without going into too much detail, essentially change how your body sees and uses the protein, fat, and minerals (calcium and others) in the milk. The now denatured proteins and mineral complexes aren’t recognized as ”good” for your body so your body sends out signals to “fight” them, causing digestive issues and potentially intolerances or even allergies. Additionally, the new makeup of the calcium in the milk makes it harder for the body to absorb (we’ll get into this in a minute too…).

If all of that isn’t enough, the high heat of the pasteurization process also damages the amino acids (they are what make up proteins) in the milk, meaning processed milk has less protein in it than raw milk. On top of that, the damaged amino acids turn into oxidized, inflammatory nasties that are also potential allergens.

Phew, you still with me? Not good stuff, am I right?

Alright, so we learned why pasteurization began in the first place (industrialized farming), what it is (high-heat processing of milk), and how it effects the milk (all kinds of ways, effecting its nutrient content and how your body sees and uses it’s nutrients). I hope this has convinced you that the regular milk you buy at the store isn’t giving you the health benefits you may think, and certainly far from the health benefits you would be getting from raw milk.

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE CALCIUM (and protein) that my kid NEEDS from his milk?!?!

First of all, there are a lot of studies out there proving that milk may actually leach calcium from your bones, but I’m not convinced of this either. What we’re going to focus on here is what I touched on up above, pasteurizing of milk reduces the bioavailability of calcium.

Did you know that the RDA (recommended daily allowance) of 700mg of calcium a day for children (1,000-1,300mg for adults) is based on about 30% bioavailability, the bioavailability of pasteurized milk? That means by eating foods with more bioavailable calcium, you actually don’t need that much. In some countries where milk isn’t the primary source of calcium, RDAs are closer to about 300-400mg. I’ll let you do some google searches on bioavailability of calcium in foods for yourself. Different resources have slightly different numbers, but the exact number doesn’t really matter in my opinion. Eat a variety of real foods and make sure your fruits and veggies are seasonal and, even better, local and you shouldn’t have to worry one bit about RDAs!

Here are some foods my family relies on for calcium (of course depending on what’s in season!): coconut yogurt, cooked spinach and other leafy greens, oranges/clementines, beans, oats, almonds and homemade almond milk, broccoli, eggs.

So now what?

Baby steps:
If you are drinking conventional milk, at least switch to organic
Start slowly reducing the amount of milk you or your children drink every day
Switch to a plant based milk (I recommend homemade nut milks, but store-bought unsweetened nut milks like almond, cashew, or coconut are OK for first steps)
Maybe try out some raw milk, check out realmilk.com for places near you that sell raw milk.

There are many many books on this topic but I did my best to summarize in a helpful and hopefully understandable way. Below are some of the resources I’ve used:

Deep Nutrition, Catherine Shanahan M.D.
Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby and Child Care, Sally Fallon Morell
The China Study and Whole by T. Colin Campbell
Westin A. Price Foundation / Realmilk.com

Alright, what’s it going to be? Are you going to make some changes?

Originally published at mlbfamilywellness.com