I grew up in a world where milk was milk. It came from a cow, and that was that. And of course everybody believed milk was good for you. A few people drank skim milk. That was about as far as anyone went toward the idea that anything about milk might not be healthy.
But go to any grocery store today and you’ll find as many as six different “milks” – some from animals, some from nuts, some from rice and some from a fruit. Today I’m going to break down the different types of milk so you understand which ones provide sound nutrition and which types increase the risk of disease, including cancer. . . .
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Despite doubts about whether it’s healthy or not, a lot of people still drink cow milk. It’s a deeply ingrained part of our culture. Some of our most delicious dishes incorporate milk, butter and cream. And as far as I’m concerned, in heaven they can forget about the 72 virgins of Muslim lore, but there’d better be ice cream.
You’ll find cow, aka, “dairy” milk at every grocery store, in every convenience store, and even in a lot of vending machines.
Dairy milk has a lot of nutritional benefits, including 30% of your recommended calcium intake. Most dairy milk is also fortified with vitamins A and D (usually the inferior D2, not the better D3), and one cup contains about eight grams of protein.
But for anyone with a dairy intolerance, vegan preferences, or milk allergies, there are several milk alternatives on the market. Rice milk and soy milk are two that have been around for years. More recently, almond, coconut, and cashew milks have become popular.
From a nutritional standpoint, these milks are not created equal. For anyone who hopes to prevent or ward off cancer, some milks have more benefits than others. Here are some helpful facts I was able to find. . .
When most people say “milk,” they mean pasteurized cow milk. To bring it to market, milk from a cow gets heated and then quickly cooled. The point is to kill bacteria like listeria, salmonella, and E.coli. But it’s widely thought – and for good reason – that pasteurization destroys valuable nutrients.
Cow milk is a top source for protein, calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin K. It comes in a few different forms, including whole, skim, 1%, and 2%. Skim or 1% are the preferred choices of people trying to lose weight, but I tend to think the less the milk is processed, the better it is.
I would personally never touch dairy milk that’s not organic and free of hormones, and this should be the choice for anyone fighting cancer – IF they refuse to give up milk.
That’s a big “if” because I believe cancer patients should avoid milk. It contains a relatively high amount of sugar – cancer’s best friend. Each cup you drink of cow’s milk has 3 teaspoons of sugar (that’s the lactose).
Farm-fresh, organic, pure raw milk may be the best way to go, though that’s a whole different debate. Raw milk is almost impossible to get where I live.
Rice milk is made from a mixture of partially milled rice and water. Brown rice milk is rich in B vitamins and other nutrients, and works well as a milk substitute when cooking or baking. It contains no saturated fat or cholesterol, but it also has almost no protein. Rice milk is also the least likely option of all to trigger allergies.
The biggest problem with rice is arsenic. Consumer Reports released a report not long ago that showed nearly every rice product on the market today contains detectable levels of both organic and inorganic arsenic – including several organic and “all-natural” rice products. Inorganic arsenic has been shown to cause cancer. Organic arsenic is less toxic but still a matter of concern.
The FDA doesn’t see the need for arsenic regulation, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has publicly stated there’s no “safe” level of inorganic arsenic exposure. This makes me think rice milk intake should be limited at best.
Soy milk is right up there with traditional milk in terms of nutrient content. It’s got just about the same amounts of protein, potassium, and calcium as dairy milk. It’s made from an extract of mature soy beans, then typically gets mixed with water and some type of natural sweetener. Soy milk tends to be a bit thicker than cow’s milk, and it’s safe for people who are lactose-intolerant or have other dairy allergies (casein, another substance in cow milk, is a common allergen).
The main thing to know about soy milk is that you want to buy a non-GMO brand.
It’s also worth noting the argument that women with breast cancer should avoid soy milk because of its high levels of phytoestrogen. Phytoestrogens are plant estrogens that are believed to mimic the action of human estrogens. Too much estrogen in your body can fuel tumor growth in hormonally sensitive tissues like the breasts and endometrium (lining of the uterus).
This is a matter of hot debate in the alternative health community. Some of the best, most competent nutritional experts I know tell me that soy is healthy, and that cancer patients should consume as much as they can. Soy is known to contain beneficial phytochemicals such as genistein.
Based on what I’ve shared in past issues of Cancer Defeated, there are no studies that confirm you can help prevent cancer by avoiding soy products. In fact, some research says that women who consume 10 mg or more of soy each day actually have a 25% lower risk of breast cancer recurrence.
I can’t resolve this controversy. To be on the safe side, I consume only moderate amounts of soy. Soy is not a terrible thing, but I’m wary of eating large amounts of a food that may mimic estrogen activity.
To make almond milk, manufacturers blend roasted almonds. The liquid that results then gets enriched with nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin E. It’s free of saturated fat, lactose, and cholesterol. (Only animal products contain cholesterol – and anyway the cholesterol in your food doesn’t cause heart disease, much less cancer. Even the government – always the last to know – has finally admitted this.)
A lot of non-dairy, anti-soy drinkers prefer almond milk for the simple reason that it just seems healthier. But from a nutritional perspective, almond milk is not a replacement for milk. Not many people realize there are only four almonds in each cup of almond milk, meaning a single cup of almond milk only has about a gram of protein.
Brands of almond milk that are fortified with vitamins or other nutrients can provide some nutrition, but almond milk as such is mostly sweetened water.
With all the craze about the health properties of coconut oil, it’s not a huge leap to assume coconut milk is equally healthy. But again, that’s not necessarily the case. While whole coconut contains some protein, coconut milk has almost note. Coconut milk, like whole coconut, does contain quite a bit of saturated fat.
The good news is that the fat in coconut is good for you. It’s one of the healthiest foods you can eat. Coconut milk also has medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) that are easily and efficiently burned as fuel by your body.
Coconut milk is made when the grated coconut fruit is squeezed through a cheesecloth. It tends to be a staple fat source for anyone on a Paleo diet (which doesn’t allow grains). Coconut milk is not the same as coconut water. The milk is manufactured from the pulp while the water occurs naturally inside the coconut.
The main thing to be wary of with coconut milk is the packaging used when you buy it. Cardboard or glass containers are okay; plastic bottles or cans might pose a danger. That’s because fatty foods like coconut milk are at a higher risk of picking up dissolved BPA from their containers. BPA or bisphenol-A is often found in plastic and in the lining of certain canned foods. The chemical has been linked to breast cancer tumor growth and other types of cancer.
Plenty of other milk-makers are trying to put new alternatives on the grocery shelves, including cashew milk, flax milk, hemp milk, and oat milk. None of these have as much protein as cow or soy milk, though hemp and oat milks are slightly higher in protein levels than the others. As more research comes out about their risks and benefits, I’ll be sure to keep you informed.
Is raw milk ever a good idea?
The FDA says there’s no nutritional difference between pasteurized and unpasteurized milk. The FDA is not a reliable source of nutrition advice. So – no surprise — there’s a growing movement of pro-raw milk drinkers who say otherwise. Raw milk advocates believe the pasteurization process destroys beneficial bacteria, proteins, and digestive enzymes.
Raw milk has been said to cure or at least relieve everything from asthma to allergies, along with strengthening your immune system. I’m inclined to agree with a lot of the health claims. On the other hand, this huge topic has some definite caveats, which I’ll cover in a future issue.
The best milk for you to drink right now is…
For now, know that none of the above milks are truly bad choices. But they’re also not substitutes for each other. Almond and coconut milks aren’t a significant source of protein and aren’t interchangeable with dairy milk, at least when it comes to nutrition, and each variety of milk carries its own risks and benefits.
If you prefer the milk alternatives, don’t get the sweetened versions. That’s just added sugar in a place where you don’t need it. Any sugars in non-dairy milks are added, which means you can (and should) buy unsweetened brands.
Also, if you opt to stay away from dairy and soy milk, consider protein-fortified versions of the other milks. You’ll also want to consider supplementing your diet with vitamin B-12, potassium, calcium, and vitamin D – though again, some non-dairy milks are fortified with these extra vitamins and minerals.
If you’d like to skip milk and milk substitutes altogether, try to get your calcium and vitamins from leafy green vegetables, tofu (maybe), and baked beans.
Most of us need to supplement with B-12 and vitamin D in any case. So it may not matter much whether these two vitamins are in your milk or milk substitute. On the other hand, few of us need to take a potassium supplement. Citrus, potatoes, bananas and many other foods are rich sources of potassium.
Keeping up your calcium levels is probably the biggest challenge for someone who avoids cow milk completely. Calcium supplements are yet another controversial topic in the health business, for a number of reasons. A topic for another issue. . .
I use only moderate amounts of milk substitutes – a bit on my oatmeal in the morning. So overall my consumption of these foods is low.
Lee Euler, Publisher