One of the services I offer as a personal trainer in London is nutrition coaching. Face to face clients get nutrition advice at no extra cost, and for those who don’t train face to face with me, I offer online coaching. One of the issues I come across a lot is the effect of milk on people’s digestion.
In the past, cows ate grass in clean pastures and exercised outdoors in pollution-free air. The result: great tasting milk which most people could digest well. Better still, it was milk without artificial chemicals which mass produced milk contains today.
Non-organic milk today contains antibiotics, growth hormones, pus from mastitis-ridden (mastitis is an inflammatory condition) overworked udders, estrogens from more concentrated reproduction cycles in commercial farming’s year-round intensive milking regime. That’s why I advise all my personal training clients to drink organic milk.
Raw unpasturised milk vs homogenised milk
Unpasturised milk retains the digestive enzyme lactase, whereas this enzyme is depleted by pasturisation/homogenisation. However, unpasturised milk is less commonly available, and has a shorter fridge-life. If you are lactose-intolerant, try raw unpasturised milk from grass-fed cows. You might find you can digest it without the usual bloating, wind, stomach cramps, and diarrhoea. The same applies for people who suffer from eczema, which can be caused by homogenised milk and other highly-processed dairy products. Eczema sufferers sometimes find raw milk doesn’t trigger their symptoms.
I had a personal trainer in north London who grew up on an organic dairy farm, and he spent his childhood drinking raw unpasturised milk from his family’s cows. He was convinced it helped him grow big and strong.
Calcium in milk
Milk is a great source of calcium, which helps build strong bones and teeth. However, there is more to bone and teeth health than just calcium intake. The brittle bone disease osteoporosis is not always caused merely by inadequate calcium in your diet, but more often your inability to absorb the calcium you consume.
Vitamin D (from sunlight or food sources such as eggs) is crucial for calcium absorption. So is the mineral phosphorous.
There is some evidence to suggest that excessive consumption of animal protein can leech calcium from your bones, as the kidneys struggle to process the excess protein. It has been suggested that this is one reason why osteoporosis is high in the USA (despite calcium intake being high), and low in China (where the average person consumes half the calcium as someone in the States, and much less animal protein). However, this theory is not universally accepted.
Organic full fat milk
Recommended for children under 2 years old, as the fats help rapid growth and development. However in adults, over 90g of dairy fat per day can increase the risk of breast cancer.
Organic semi-skimmed milk
This contains half the fat of full-fat milk, but less vitamin A, a fat-soluble vitamin.
Organic skimmed milk
This is higher in calcium, which resides in the non-creamy part of milk, and also higher in the water-soluble B vitamins.
Recommended for lactose-intolerant people. Soya milk is made from soaked soy beans which are then ground and mixed with water. It can also be converted into tofu, just as cows’ milk is converted into cheese.
Soya milk has roughly the same protein content as cows’ milk, but with a different amino-acid profile. However, the calcium in soya milk is poorly absorbed by humans.
Soya milk has several advantages: it is high in isoflavones (anti-oxidant compounds), and the phytochemical geinstein, which inhibits the growth of early-stage tumours.
The downside is that soya milk is often quite high in sugar.
Suitable for vegans. However, calcium and vitamin A do not occur naturally in rice milk, so choose a brand which is fortified with these minerals/vitamins. The fat content is very low, at around 6g per pint, compared with 22g of fat in a pint of whole (full-fat) cows’ milk.
More friendly for lactose-intolerants, but the effect varies from person to person. The vitamin B12 may not be as easily absorbed as in cow’s milk.
There is no cholesterol or lactose in almond milk. Nor is there any calcium, but some brands fortify their almond milk with calcium, so it’s worth checking. The sugar content is generally lower than in soya milk. Beware sweetened brands, however, which have a sickly taste.
Almond milk is not advised for people with low thyroid function, being harmful to the thyroid in large amounts (goitrogenic).
Some people enjoy its nutty taste and smooth texture, others find it strange to the taste. It’s one of the most expensive types of milk on the market, and is not as readily available in supermarkets as cow’s milk. Try the allergy section!
As a personal trainer, I think the biggest advantage of milk is that it’s a complete source of protein, and extremely convenient to consume. It’s great for kids and older people, who might not otherwise get enough protein on the regular enough basis required for optimum protein absorption, which is every three hours. A glass of milk makes a great protein-rich snack between meals.
Dominic Londesborough is a personal trainer in London who also offers online nutrition coaching.