In 1993, an advertising company developed the “got milk?™” campaign. It became the most successful commodity advertisement in history and still runs to this day. It has been incredibly influential on the way a generation of parents feeds their children. It seemed to validate the idea (around for even more generations) that humans need cow’s milk and other dairy products for essential health. But does the science validate this sentiment? Why do we think milk is healthy for human consumption?
The History of Human Milk Consumption
Milk is the source of primary nutrition for baby mammals, whose mothers produce the milk they need. This food provides the baby with all the nutrients it needs. Once the baby can digest other, more adult forms of food, weaning takes place and the baby never again drinks its mother’s milk for the rest of its life. This leads us to two questions.
First, why did humans start consuming the milk of other mammals and, second, why do humans keep consuming the milk of other mammals after they are weaned?
Scientists have discovered that milking cattle for human consumption began in central Europe. I’ve seen dates put at between 6,000 to 12,000 years ago.
Milk from cows, goats, and sheep were all consumed by the Hebrews; the earliest reference of this is in Genesis 18:7-8.
And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetcht a calf tender and good, and gave it unto a young man; and he hasted to dress it. And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat. (Genesis 18:7-8 KJV)
In the book Everyday Life in Old Testament Times, E. W. Heaton writes about beverages used by the Israelites:
“Since water was scarce and not very palatable, a good deal of milk was drunk. It came from goats and sheep. Hebrew has a word for fresh milk, but in the climate of Palestine it cannot have been used as much as another term meaning sour milk or curds. As soon as the fresh milk was put into the goat-skin bottle, it thickened slightly and went sour. All the better, it was thought, for quenching the thirst.”
In addition to being less contaminated than water, milk also provided a calorie- and protein-rich food source that wasn’t dependent on seasonal crops and weather changes. However, it was usually second-choice to drinks like ales, beer, hard cider, and other alcoholic drinks.
These are logical reasons as to why humans started drinking the milk of other mammals. The second question, why do humans keep consuming the milk of other mammals after they are weaned, is more complicated.
Why We Keep Drinking Milk
By the late 1800s, conditions among milking operations were becoming less sanitary, leading to fewer people drinking milk. Louis Pasteur conducted the first pasteurization tests in 1862, and he is credited with revolutionizing the safety of milk and, in turn, the ability to store and distribute milk well beyond the farm. Commercial pasteurization machines were introduced in 1895. (1)
Later, as the temperance movement spread, groups advocated serving milk instead of alcohol. In the 1920s in the United States, producers of agricultural products, including milk, formed associations to promote their products. Eventually, as the “got milk?™” campaign got underway, it became a staple of the Standard American Diet.
Does Milk Really “Do a Body Good?”
The dairy industry has convinced many Americans that milk is good for them. But, is it really? In 2013, Care2 developed this infographic:
Keep in mind that the Bible verses that refer to milk are referring to milk in its God-given natural, raw, unadulterated state. Clean raw milk from grass-fed, pastured sheep and goats provides many wonderful health-promoting nutrients. The pasteurized cow’s milk we have today is something else entirely, as you can tell by the above infographic.
The Autoimmune Connection
The connection between dairy products and autoimmune disease is beta-casein. Beta-casein is a protein that is found in cow’s milk and there are two types: A1 and A2. (2) Most people who are intolerant of cow’s milk are sensitive to A1 beta-casein and lack the ability to digest it. A1 beta-casein is highly inflammatory for many people, which can lead to leaky gut syndrome. (3, 4)
Whether the milk you drink has A1 or A2 beta-casein depends on what breed of cows it comes from. Milk from breeds of cows that originated in northern Europe is generally high in A1 beta-casein. A1 milk comes from breeds like Holstein, Friesian, Ayrshire, and British Shorthorn.
It is recommended that people with dairy sensitives switch to A2 dairy products. Milk that is high in A2 beta-casein is mainly found in breeds that originated in the Channel Islands and Southern France. This includes breeds like Guernsey, Jersey, Charolais, and Limousin.
Unfortunately, the is no way to know if your dairy products (milk or cheese) are from A1 or A2 cows unless it is specifically labeled as such. It is best to assume that it is A1, and should be avoided unless labeled otherwise.
Goat’s milk and sheep’s milk contain only A2 beta-casein, therefore, they should be preferred over cow’s milk/cheese. Milk products from goats and sheep are available in specialty/health stores. You may need to ask for it.
The Problem with Modern Dairy Products
Another problem with modern dairy products is pasteurization, which alters the chemical structure of food, makes fats rancid, destroys nutrients, and results in the formation of free radicals in the body (5). Pasteurization (which is the heating of food to 280 degrees Fahrenheit) isn’t just for dairy products; it is used on commercially produced fruit juices, vinegar, sauerkraut, eggs, and nuts, as well.
If you wish to keep dairy in your diet, I recommend raw dairy products (even raw goat and sheep products). Even better is giving up dairy products altogether. Another option is to switch to coconut milk products, which are not pasteurized. This is my personal choice.
Learn more in my new book, Be in Health: Bible-Based Health Restoration: Living in Harmony with God’s Ways Regarding Health. Available now.