Should children drink milk? The answer depends on two things: which children, what kind of milk. For children drinking mother's milk, the answer, universally and unequivocally, is yes. For any age children drinking cow's milk, the answer depends on the culture, the family, and the child. And in our society, more often than not, it is no. The Physicians Committee on Responsible Medicine, headed by Dr. Neil Barnard, cautions against the near universal custom of giving children pasteurized homogenized cow's milk, as it is associated with juvenile diabetes, allergies, and mucus conditions. Frank Oski, MD, a member of that group and the author of Don't Drink Your Milk (Syracuse: Mollica Press, 1983), points out that many cultures normally lose the lactase enzyme that helps digest lactose, or milk sugar, around the age of weaning. Therefore, people of Asian, African, Malay, Filipino, and Native American descent are often lactose intolerant and respond to milk products with digestive distress.
What is the role of milk? As you know, the females of the mammalian species produce it to feed their newborns until the young ones can eat regular food. Thus milk is the perfect food for infants. With all mammals, the infants are weaned at the appropriate age and never again partake of milk. The exceptions are certain groups of humans, such as Hindus, Europeans, and their American descendants, who consume the milk of cows or other animals throughout their lives. A sizable majority of traditional cultures in the world do not drink milk, including most Asian and African populations. Europeans brought the consumption of milk and its derivatives (cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and the skim products) to the US; here, this dietary custom has been relentlessly promoted by the dairy industry, whose influence has reached the entire nutrition education establishment as well as the government. As a result, peoples whose tradition does not include milk have been using it, with the predictable result of an increase of the diseases of "civilization," such as heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
What about children? Isn't milk the most nutritious food for them? The fact is that milk is a whole food: it is designed to nourish an infant/baby calf completely until the infant is ready to partake of other nourishment. Therefore, technically nothing else is needed in the diet when milk is consumed. Obviously, we cannot feed growing children nothing but milk; yet adding milk to an otherwise well-balanced diet simply overloads the meal. As a result, children who drink milk or eat cheeses and ice cream often do not have much of an appetite for other foods. Many parents complain that their children will not eat vegetables, so they at least try to get them to drink milk or eat ice cream. But children do not like vegetables because they eat dairy foods. They are actually making a very reasonable nutritional choice, because milk is vegetables that went through the cow, so why should they eat them twice? I have found that children who do not consume milk products generally eat vegetables with gusto.
What are some of the problems with milk?
Production: Most milk nowadays is extracted from cows that are kept producing milk with the help of hormones, long after they need it for their calves. The cows are fed commercially created feeds that may include hay, grain, cardboard, and wood shavings; they are regularly plied with antibiotics; and they are often sick and below par. The injection of genetically engineered (recombinant) Bovine Growth Hormone (rbgh) into dairy cows promises to increase milk production from 15 to 25 percent. This is good for the farmers but bad for the drugged cows, which are more prone to infections when under that drug. These infections are then treated with large amounts of antibiotics, which then find their way into the milk. We don't know yet if milk from cows treated with rbgh is good for people, but surely it won't be any better than it is now. Do we really need more milk production when there already is a surplus?
Processing: Milk is naturally sterile when it comes out of the nipple, but as soon as it comes in contact with the air, bacteria begin to grow rapidly. Cow's milk is pasteurized, a process that kills the bacteria present up to that point; what most of us forget is that all those dead bacteria are still floating in the milk. New live bacteria continue to proliferate shortly afterwards.
Pasteurization also destroys up to 50 percent of the vitamin C present in the milk. Homogenization breaks up the milk fat globules so that the fat mixes throughout; this process has been associated with hardening of the arteries, a problem that in some cases begins at birth. The addition of vitamins A and D can cause the problems associated with hypervitaminosis; it is well known that these two fat soluble vitamins produce toxic reactions when used in excess. In fact, vitamin D promotes calcification and in milk it may cause serious damage to the kidneys. There have been hundreds of scientific papers showing the damaging effects of added vitamin D; among these effects are kidney stones and urinary calculi, hypercholesterolemia, and damage to the eyes.
Idiopathic hypercalcemia of infants-a condition that emerged in the 1950s after milk began to be fortified with irradiated ergosterol-is characterized by extremely high levels of blood calcium, often accompanied by increased levels of cholesterol in the blood. Its consequences may be severe mental retardation due to abnormal development of the bones of the head and face; irreversible damage to the heart and circulatory system due to deposition of bone matter in these tissues; and generalized arteriosclerosis of infancy, which may result in mild or severe mental retardation later in life. There is evidence that this condition may develop in utero because of maternal supplementation with D2.
All these problems have been recognized for years, yet we keep plying our children with this substance in a food that naturally does not have it in such large quantities. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine investigating eight cases of vitamin D intoxication in children studied the milk from one dairy and found that the amount of vitamin D in the milk there varied "from undetectable to 232,565 IU per quart." The RDA is 400 IU per day, which is the amount allowed per quart. Another study in the same issue of that journal found that seven of ten samples of infant formula contained more than 200 percent of the amount of added vitamin D stated on the label; the sample with the highest concentration contained 419 percent of the labeled amount.
Health conditions and effects: Allergies to milk and its products are extremely common and result often in fatigue or behavioral problems. Dairy consumption is related to runny noses, frequent colds, bronchitis, ear infections, being overweight, digestive distress, intestinal upsets, and skin outbreaks. In addition, it worsens asthma and breathing disorders. The culprit is not the fat but the protein, so low-fat or skim products are not any better. In fact, a higher content of butterfat in the diet may be helpful for children with neurological problems (as the 80 percent fat ketogenic diet is helpful for those with seizures). Where, then, do we get our calcium? The answer to that question is quite simple: from the same place that cows, horses, and elephants get theirs-the vegetable kingdom. Leafy and dark green vegetables are an excellent source, and we don't have to eat the amounts suggested by the RDA's; the World Health Organization finds that most populations on calcium levels as low as 400 mg per day have no calcium deficiencies, as long as they get it from natural animal and vegetable sources. Other dietary sources of calcium, as well as additional minerals, include beans, nuts, sea vegetables, and sesame seeds. For those who are not vegetarians, calcium is found in whole fish with bones such as sardines and smelts, and soft shell crabs; stock made with bones and a bit of vinegar or wine, which draws the calcium out of the bones into the stock, is an excellent and very traditional source of calcium and other minerals.
Thus, for good nutrition without milk products put some fresh chopped parsley on one dish per meal; always have something dark green, including broccoli, kale, mustard greens, collards, arugula, or watercress; use beans regularly; use chicken, beef, or fish bones to make stocks; eat the bones of fish such as sardines, canned salmon, and fresh anchovies; give older kids crisp, well-cooked chicken bones to chew on; add sea vegetables, like kombu, to soup or stock; and sprinkle roasted and ground sesame seeds on your rice or barley, a condiment that is a superior calcium source. Let your kids snack on it anytime they want.
1 ounce dry wakame seaweed, baked at 350 degrees for 10 minutes
1 cup toasted unhulled sesame seeds
Grind the wakame in a mortar or bowl until powdered; discard the tough inner ribs. Measure out 2 tablespoons. In a suribachi or mortar, grind the sesame seeds a bit, add the wakame, and continue grinding by hand until well mixed. Use as a condiment or snack.
Written by: Annemarie Colbin. Annemarie Colbin, MA, CCP, CHES, is the founder of the Natural Gourmet Cookery School/Institute for Food and Health in New York City. She is a regular columnist for Free Spirit Magazine and the author of The Book of Whole Meals, The Natural Gourmet, and Food and Healing (all from Ballantine Books). Her next book, Food and Our Bones: The Natural Way to Ward Off Osteoporosis, will be published by Dutton in 1998.
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