Wednesday, 12 October 2011


Today I'm going to talk about a wonderfully nutritious food that most of us probably take for granted. We splosh it on our porridge and maybe add it to our tea and coffee. Some of you might even drink it neat (good for you!). Yes, I am of course talking about milk.

The good stuff

However milk, and more specifically “whole” milk has gained an increasingly bad reputation, in our crazy “low fat” obsessed world. It is often the first food that is called into question when people look to reduce fat intake in their diet in the misguided belief that it will help them loose weight.

It seems to be the de-facto advice to anybody starting a healthy eating regime. Dietitians and health professionals the like will quickly advise “Reduce milk and dairy consumption or make the change to skimmed milk”.

Well as we all know, eating fat does not make you fat, and reducing fat does not help you loose it – the body just doesn't work like that.

In fact, the opposite can happen, as many “Low Fat” dairy products are loaded with sugar (well if you remove the fat, you gotta get taste from somewhere!).

Danone say this of their Activia Fat free yoghurt...

The new fat-free Activia yoghurt from Danone combines many benefits for your health: not only is it delicious, but it's now available with zero percent fat and without artificial sweeteners”

What they don't say is that is contains more sugar gram for gram, than a fizzy soft drink like Fanta!! Yes..more sugar than Fanta!! So don't eat these products thinking they are doing you any good at all – they are not. You might as well drink a can of pop.

As bad as each other and far from healthy!

So here's my attempt at restoring the name of one of natures most nutritious and healthful foods....

So... “whole”, “skimmed” and “semi-skimmed”. Basically, all milk but with different percentages of the “Butterfat” removed.

As I will hopefully illustrate, butterfat is where a lot of the good stuff can be found and removing it reduces the nutritional value of milk.

Butterfat is a valuable commodity and the stuff that is removed from milk goes on to become other expensive food commodities such as butter, cheese, cream, ice-cream etc. (all the good stuff!)

So skimmed milk must be cheaper right? Otherwise it would be a complete con?


It's not any cheaper than whole milk, and, yes, it is a complete con.

It's like charging you the same price for two bits of bread as they do for a filled sandwhich (and then selling you the filling elswhere as a salad!!)

Well that's what happens with milk, and while they can get away with it, there is clearly real financial motivation to push the supposed (but fictitious) health benefits of skimmed milk.

So what of nutrition?

Well, most people know that milk contains calcium and protein – good for the bones and teeth right? Advocates of skimmed "milk" are quick to point out that skimmed actually contains more calcium. However, remove the fat from the milk and your body can't digest the protein or absorb the calcium – not so good.

People may well be confused if they are consuming large amounts of skimmed milk and following a low fat diet, yet have to de-mineralise their bones to get adequate calcium. Osteoporosis anyone?

Simply put, the various components of milk are there for a reason, take out any one and the “bio-availability” of what's left is reduced (or eliminated).

All milk contains vitamins A and D. It's actually removed, along with the fat, from skimmed milk – and then put back in again! (fortified). However, vitamins A and D are fat soluble, and you also need vitamin D to absorb Calcium! - See! It's all linked! 

Actually, ALL milk contains only very small amounts of Vitamin D anyway – you get most of your needs from the sunshine in the summer! Many people in the UK are vitamin D deficient, but you'd need to drink A LOT OF MILK to make up for that! (but you all know that because you've read my blog post on Vitamin D right?)

You can read my blog entry on Vitamin D here if you want to know how best to make sure you are getting enough.

Milk fat contains glycosphingolipids, this is a type of fat linked to immune system health and cell metabolism. Consuming dairy is therefore a great way of bolstering your immune system.

The fat in milk triggers the release of the hormone cholecystokinin, which helps produce a feeling of fullness so you are less likely over eat. Fats also slow the release of sugar into your bloodstream, reducing the amount that can be stored as fat. In other words, the more fat in your milk, the less fat around your waist!

Even the scare mongers who harp on about the life-threatening dangers of fat are having to take notice of recent studies into fat intake from milk. These studies have shown that people who consume calorie reduced diets containing whole milk loose more body fat that those consuming the same number of calories from skimmed or semi-skimmed milk. Explain that one low fat fans!!

Off course they are still not prepared to admit they are just plain wrong about dietary fat, they suggest that milk has some other “magic mechanism” that renders the, usually harmful, fat benign – or better still beneficial! They just can't explain it, but they are working on it. (and may be for some time!)

I can help here.... If it looks like a duck and's probably a duck as opposed to a bi-lingual chicken in a duck “disguise”! As my regular readers know, there is nothing harmful about dietary fat! (except trans fats and hydrogenated oils of course!)

Quack - Quack!!

Additionally, 80% of the protein in milk is in the form of casein (the rest is whey). Casein is a slowly digested protein. As a food additive, casein is cheaper than whey and, for this reason alone is often the main type of protein used in “off the shelf” recovery drinks. These drinks, while “ok” are substandard in terms of recovery and are no better for protein synthesis than a pint of milk with some sugar added. So for speedy recovery and exercise adaptation, whey is your friend (ideally isolate or hydrolised), not casein. For goodness shake, I mean sake, check your labels ;)

But casein does have it's advantages. It's digestion is slower so results in a less rapid, but more prolonged, increase in blood amino acids. Perfect time for a glass of milk? Just before bed of course! Just like when we were kids right! Perfect for providing a steady stream of amino acids to reduce muscle protein breakdown as we sleep. Speed of digestion is also slowed by fat so reduce the fat content and loose some of the benefits of prolonged protein synthesis!

Ok, big one this, nothing new to my regular readers, but worth repeating... low fat and fat free diets do not help prevent heart disease – fact! Science has now revealed that the link between saturated fat and heart disease was based on bad science, selective data analysis and incorrect assumptions. In actual fact, saturated fat has an overall positive affect on blood cholesterol as it raises both LDL and HDL cholesterol (Not all LDL is bad. Some LDL is actually good and essential for health. It's the good LDL, the so called “large fluffy LDL” that milk increases.)

We need look no further than human breast milk which can be over 50% saturated fat (and high in cholesterol). Seems odd that nature should deem it appropriate to feed infants a type of fat who's sole purpose (we have been lead to believe) is to cause heart failure??

It is amazing stuff like Lauric acid (found only in saturated fat) that makes breast milk so important to babies.

Lauric acid is antibacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal, and anti-parasitic and helps nurture the immune system. Without it, few babies would survive beyond the first few months of life before becoming malnourished and highly susceptible to any number of infectious diseases.

While we are on it – Lauric acid is also found in abundance in coconut oil, one of the many reasons it makes such a brilliant addition to a healthy diet. (use is to cook, fry, bake, and spread – hell, even eat it by the spoonful!)

It's also worth noting that the body chooses to store fat in it's “saturated” form. The same fat it uses for fuel. Surly another shot in the eye for anybody who says we should not consume saturated fat!

I've wondered off track, but to summarise, yes, whole milk contains saturated fat, but thank goodness!!

Healthy food are natural whole foods, or as close to "as nature intended" as possible. Meddling with milk and removing the fat throws its nutritional profile out of whack and removes many of the health benefits. The best milk is straight from the cow, unpasturised and unhomogenised.

It gets a little more complicated now, but bear with me.

The majority of milk on our shelves, since leaving “Daisy” has undergone 2 main processes.

Pasteurisation” and “Homogenisation”.

Pasteurisation and Homogenisation

Keeping things pretty simple (it helps me understand it!), pasteurisation uses high temperatures to kill off any bugs. It kills the bad bugs but sadly kills the good guys as well. So, it's fair to say pasteurisation doesn't make milk “bad” for you, it just makes it “less good” for you.

Homogenisation is a different story. This process is simply about aesthetics. It makes our milk a uniform shade of white – people prefer it that way apparently? If you can see a layer of yellowy “butter fat” on you milk, then it has NOT been homogenised. Depending on your age – you may remember this from your childhood as “Gold Top”. Think your self lucky that you got to drink the good stuff as a kid, rather than the watery rubbish kids get treated to today!

So what happens? Simply put, the milk is passed under very high pressure through very fine metal filters which break down the fat globules to such a size that they can't reform. Bingo! Milk is now a uniform colour, and the separate butter fat layer is “homogenised” throughout the milk.

Additionally, to make skimmed milk even whiter, some companies fortify their product with powdered skim. Powdered skim is produced by spraying the liquid under heat and high pressure, a process that oxidises LDL cholesterol. Oxidised LDL triggers a host of biological changes, and can lead to plaque formation in the arteries (the precursor to arteriosclerosis) and heart disease. Not so good then.

The really bad news though is that the structure of milk changes during homogenisation. Another brilliant example of man being so “clever”, he thinks he knows better than mother nature.

So what's the big deal?

Well firstly, homogenised milk just doesn't taste as nice! But more worryingly it could have implications to our health.

Now this is an area of study that is not widely and completely understood so proceed with caution and keep an open mind for the next few paragraphs.

Milk contains an enzyme called xanthine oxidase (XO). We need this enzyme, but not from our diet because, our body actually makes it's own supply. Our bodies are also very careful what they do with XO as it can cause health problems if allowed to enter the artery walls and heart tissue (it has been suggested it can lead to arteriosclerosis and CVD).

In NON homogenised milk, XO is found on the outside of the fat globules and so can be easily and safely removed during digestion.

By homogenising milk, XO becomes bound up or “protected” within the modified fat globules allowing it to pass through the digestive system “undetected” and into the bloodstream where it has potential to do damage.

I don't want to dwell on this one, because this theory is still being debated. But I think it is fair to say, that milk is best drunk as nature intended. Full of fat and unmolested! 

I'll take mine straight from Daisy!!

If I had to choose, I'd say pasteurisation is the lesser of the two evils. For that reason I have given up trying to source a reliable, cost effective supply of “Raw” milk (straight from the udder). It's just too difficult. (In America it's actually illegal to sell Raw Milk and many “underground” retailers have suffered police raids at gunpoint before being carted off in handcuffs! I kid you not!!)

Thankfully, Unhomogenised milk is now available in most UK supermarkets. Sainsbury sell unhomogenised milk in their “Taste the Difference” range and Prince Charles' “Duchy Originals” milk is available in Waitrose. Both are absolutely delicious! I know my milkman also still sells Gold top!

It's also worth noting that even all raw milk is not created equal. Try where you can to obtain milk from happy, outdoor reared, grass and clover fed cows. Avoid milk produced by unhappy cows fed on grain, soy or chicken crap (poor things).

There is another important variable that contributes to the quality of milk (and it's affect on the body) and that is the “type” of cow that produced it. We've talked about what they are fed, but I'm referring here to the specific “breed”.

Most milk in the UK comes from Holstein, Freisian and Ayrshire cows.

Now again, without getting too bogged down in biochemistry, these breeds are comparatively “modern” in terms of human evolution and have a specific genetic mutation that causes them to produce the amino acid “Histidine”, instead of “Proline” in the casein protein of their milk. This is known as A1 Casein.

Histidine forms a weak bond to it's neighbouring amino acid.

So what? You may well ask.

Well this weak bond between Histidine and it's neighbour is easily broken down during digestion into a “peptide” (chain) of 7 amino acids called beta casomorphin 7 (bit of a mouthful that, so often referred to as BCM-7). Some BCM-7 can then "leak" from the GI tract into the bloodstream.

BCM-7 is problematic because it’s an “opioid”. This makes it equivalent to a narcotic with morphine like effects. It’s also an oxidant (opposite to the good things called anti-oxidants we hear so much about) This particular oxidant is known for damaging (oxidising) low density lipoproteins (LDL) and we spoke about the damaging affects of oxidised LDL earlier (plaque formation in the arteries, heart disease, etc)

BCM-7 itself can also have adverse health affects ranging from minor stuff like diarrhoea, cramps, bloating and gas, to rather more serious stuff like, Osteoporosis, Arthritis, Heart disease, Cancer, Type 1 diabetes, Infertility, Leukemia and Autism! Hells bells!!

The “minor” ailments listed above may sound familiar to anybody who may think they have a lactose intolerance.

There is some good news though.

Guernsey” and “Jersey” cows (as well as African and Asian cows) produce much lower levels of A1 Casein. Instead, they produce A2 Casein which contains Proline instead of Histidine. Proline forms a much stronger bond with it's neighbour so is less likely (if at all) to be broken down into the damaging peptide BCM-7 during digestion.

What other animals produce A2 Casein? Well goats and sheep for starters. This explains why many people who believe they have a lactose or dairy intolerance find they are able to consume goats milk without ill effect.

In reality, people with a suspected lactose intolerance may well just be more sensitive to A1 casein and would experience similar beneficial results to goats milk if they simply switched their consumption to milk produced from Jersey or Guernsey cows!

So, “Lactose intolerant”? Switch to Jersey produced unhomogenised whole milk and see how you get on!

There is actually a growing body of evidence linking heart disease not to saturated fat or whole milk consumption per se, but specifically to “A1 Casein” consumption.

As I've often stated, observation studies and epidemiological evidence has to be viewed with caution, however, it's impossible to ignore some very interesting correlations...

The populations of Iceland and Finland for example. These groups are ethnically very similar, as are their diets. Finland has one of the highest levels of heart disease in the world. Iceland's levels are 60% that of Finland. Could this be linked to Iceland's consumption of A1 Casein consumption which is around half that of Finland?

What about the home of the A2 casein producing Guernsey cow?

Well, inhabitants of the island of Guernsey (who naturally consume A2 casein from their own Guernsey cows) benefit from rates of heart disease about that of the UK mainland. There can be few confounding variables between two such similar populations.

Also interesting are the Masai tribes of Africa. They consume large amounts of milk but have very little heart disease. However, the milk they drink comes from cattle and goats that don’t produce A1 beta casein.

Smoke and fire spring to mind?

Labels on unhomogenised milk, will normally tell you what breed of cows were used in the milk's production. I also asked our milkman and he was able to tell me that their gold top is produced from Jersey cows – great news!

Sainsbury “Taste the difference” is produced by Jerseys (Low A1 high A2), but Dutchy Originals is produced by Ayrshires (about equal A1 to A2).

So in summary this one should be a no brainer..

Whole milk tastes great
Whole milk is better for you
Whole milk promotes fat loss
Whole milk satisfies appetite
Whole milk boosts your immune system
Whole milk promotes protein synthesis as you sleep
Whole milk has a “neutral” affect on cholesterol – it could even be beneficial to your heart
Whole milk will not clog your arteries, give you a heart attack, or kill puppies

A quick note to “Paleo Dieters”

I understand that milk / dairy is off limits to fans of the “caveman” diet.

While it is highly unlikely that paleolithic man had domesticated livestock (ok, they didn't have domesticated livestock), paleolithic woman would certainly have breast fed her young. Paleo man may even have consumed any excess human breast milk from nursing mothers (seems strange now, but it wasn't that long ago that advice given to mothers producing an excess of breast milk was to give it to your husband!!) I think it highly unlikely that this valuable, nutritious food would have been wasted.

Also, one might surmise that paleo man would have observed other animals “feeding” their young and made the link between that and food.

Is it so fanciful to believe that paleolithic man might have had a crack at obtaining some of that food for himself?

No doubt, he wouldn't have just approached the nursing sabre toothed tiger and tried to milk it – at least he wouldn't get to try it more than once! Maybe the animal would have been killed?

If a lactating mother was killed for food – most parts of the animal would have been consumed, including no doubt the mammary glands which could have contained milk. Cavemen were probably less picky than we are today!

In the same way. Bushmen of the Kalahari will kill camels because they know they can obtain a source of almost pure water from an area within the stomach of the animal.

Paleolithic man would have known, for sure, that certain animals, at certain times, would contain milk in particular areas of their bodies and they would no doubt know how to obtain it.

So yes I think paleolithic man probably consumed small amounts of dairy – And if he did, it would definitely have been unpasteurised and unhomogenised!!

What is indisputable is that a healthy percentage of modern man and woman are able to consume dairy without ill effects, whereas some are not.

Dairy is incredibly nutritious and healthful, and if you can consume it without problems then you would be mad not just because somebody has suggested that cavemen didn't have access to the local dairy!

Love this animation - lots more like them on Youtube

My advise, therefore, would be to maximise the beneficial effects and minimise the harmful ones by drinking whole, unhomogenised, ideally from Jersey or Guernsey cows.

Hope you found this of interest, please feel free to Tweet or Facebook a link to my blog if you think it might be of interest to others!!

Bedtime now - Time for a lovely glass of white gold!!