If there is one food in my practice that I’ve seen contribute to tremendous health challenges for children, it is dairy!
The dairy industry has changed enormously in the last 100 years; both in farming practices and also how often + how early cow’s milk is being introduced – sometimes from birth for formula fed Littles.
What used to be an inherently healthful food, is quickly becoming a detriment to our overall wellness.
Dairy can play a significant role in conditions such as eczema, asthma, chronic cold + flus (especially in the respiratory system), chronic ear infections, seasonal allergies, digestive issues like colic, constipation, diarrhea, tummy aches, IBS, food sensitivities or yeast related conditions such as systemic candida, diaper rash and vaginal infections.
It would prove unwise to reduce children’s illness or chronic disease to a single food however, in my practice the removal of dairy has unequivocally played the most influential role in remedying the mentioned health conditions.
There have been dramatic changes since the industrialization of our farming industry which are having a serious impact on dairy, and consequently what it is doing to our bodies. The conditions in-which cows are commonly being raised are considerably different than 100+ years ago;
Cows are naturally very social + nurturing animals who graze outdoors on grassy pastures (grass + forage is their natural food source) however modern factory farms keep their animals in unnaturally small confinements with very little accountability to a natural, health-promoting environment while feeding their cows corn, grain or soy.
It is cheaper to raise cows this way however it comes at a tremendous cost to their health.
How well would you feel being locked in a sun-deprived pen, barely able to move while being fed something you couldn’t actually digest?
Such unsanitary conditions breed very sick cows with significant health problems rendering the necessity of high antibiotic use as well as the pasteurization of all dairy products. Pasteurization practices mean to protect us from harmful bacteria, however during the process we lose a key enzyme (lactase) necessary for the efficient digestion of dairy. Undoubtedly cow’s milk sensitivities are on the rise as a result.
Why Are Hormones Used?
It’s quite simple – to keep the cow lactating. Factory farmed dairy cows endure a very sad life of abuse; they are taken away from their young immediately after giving birth then confined to a small pen. They are pumped full of hormones to mimic the postpartum / lactation environment while being hooked up to a mechanical milking device causing them extreme pain + suffering, especially to their mammary glands which become very inflamed + infected.
The environment they live in is often very dirty + dire causing health complications which again, warrant the necessity of antibiotic use.
Conventional factory farmed cattle being raised for their meat are (often) injected with high doses of hormones (steroids) which increase the size of the animal making the cow much more profitable.
These are gravely unhealthy animals and the resulting health implications of ingesting animals being raised as such, is daunting.
Why Organic is Important
There are large inconsistencies across the dairy industry and certainly not all non-organic farming practices are as horrific as discussed above.
It is still my personal opinion that purchasing milk from (smaller) farms with humane, clean, and organic practices is of the upmost importance;
Hormones + antibiotics + toxins + pesticides + chemicals are fat soluble molecules rendering the milk of a cow the most concentrated source of these. Cows which are raised organically however, are not exposed to these toxins ensuring a clean + healthy (and nutritious!) product.
This is a (simplified) list of Canadian + USDA certification standards:
- Animal grazed on organic pastures for entire season
- Grass-fed for at least 3 months out of the year
- Pasture is free of synthetic pesticides or fertilizers
- 100% organic feed if not on pasture
- No hormones / antibiotics / animal by-products given
- No hormones / antibiotics / animal by-products in feed
- Allowed movement / access to outdoors + sunlight
- Insistent upon humane treatment of animals
Traditional Dairy – Raw / Fermented
Traditional methods of preparing dairy offer us a lot of wisdom! First though let’s look at the basic constituents of cow’s milk:
WATER + FAT + LACTOSE + CASEIN + WHEY PROTEIN + MINERALS + ENZYMES
Lactase is the enzyme present in raw milk which is responsible for the breakdown + digestion of lactose (milk sugar). During pasteurization or any type of heating this critical enzyme is destroyed.
Casein + Whey are the protein molecules which account for approximately 3% of the milk solids; casein is known to be one of the most difficult proteins to digest.
The lactose molecule from a cow is 4 X larger than in human breast milk meaning, even raw milk can be pose many digestive challenges (however I find this much more rare).
So what has changed? Why are there seemingly so many more health problems associated with dairy?
Are we exaggerating this?
No – I don’t believe we are. Cultured (fermented) dairy products such as yogurt, kefir, buttermilk and whey have played a significant role in traditional cuisine, however there is now a definite absence of such practices. The process of fermentation is indeed incredibly beneficial making for an easy to assimilate, nutritive product. Culturing catalyzes numerous beneficial changes; an increase in nutrient content + probiotic bacteria, the breakdown of casein, and the restoration of enzymes destroyed in heating which all-in-all greatly improve our ability to digest the product.
To put it further into perspective, natural, unsweetened store bought yogurt is typically fermented for 30 minutes – 6 hours which will reduce the lactose content, but does not eliminate it.
Traditional methods allow for an average 24 hours for proper culturing.
Grass-Fed – what does it mean + is it any better?
Grass-fed is a dynamic term since organic pasture offers a variety of ‘grasses’ depending on the season. In Canada most dairy cows graze for 5 – 6 months on grass, or what’s called “forage” which may include any of the following: fresh grass, hay, winter rye, barley, turnips, alfalfa, clover and so on.
“I think there is a wide range of opinion what grass fed is; we try to feed the cows a well-balanced diet. This is done by feeding the soil with different minerals, manure, natural soil additives (liquid fish, molasses) to feed soil life. Crop rotations play a very important role in the health of the plants. In addition to all this we have a nutritionist on staff to balance the needs of vitamins, minerals, and probiotics to the feed, to keep the cows healthy.”
You’re Going Dairy-Free. Now What?
For those who are simply lactose-intolerant or lactose-sensitive, fermented dairy products are an ideal choice. For those who react to the other constituents of milk such as casein (protein) or whey (protein), going 100% dairy free is a more suitable choice.
Need help finding out? Wish to learn more? Curious if going dairy-free will benefit your health?
My Favorite Local Dairy Farms:
Vital Greens (my #1) / Primrose / Rock Ridge / Fairwinds