Monday Morsel ~ The Dairy Dilemma
just a little something
to begin your week.
One of my favorite treats is a latte from Starbucks. I don’t understand the magic, but holding the warmth in my hand almost instantly calms me. After being diagnosed with cancer and reading about healthy living, I was concerned that I would have to give up this indulgence.
A common theme in all of the literature I have read is to be careful about consuming dairy products, especially non-organic milk. These warnings communicate that consuming conventional milk may contribute to cancer growth, bacterial antibiotic-resistance, and overall less nutrition. Below is a list of recommendations I urge you to consider the next time you are shopping for dairy products:
*Ensure that the dairy product does not contain the hormones rBGH
(also called rBST).
These genetically-modified, synthetic growth hormones increase milk production in cows. They also increase cows’ infections (mastitis) and other health problems. There is evidence that consuming dairy products with these hormones is negatively affecting us as well, but it still remains a controversial topic. However, all of my reading suggests we should limit our intake of hormones in our bodies, and especially consuming milk with added synthetic hormones. One word of caution: milk producers are not required to label if milk contains rBGH, so be careful before you buy! However, if it is marked “organic,” you can rest assure that the milk does not contain added hormones.
*Ensure that the dairy product does not contain antibiotics.
My eyes have been opened to the reasons antibiotics are needed in dairy farms. Many commercialized dairy farms pile the cows into pens so that they can be milked continually (to increase their profits). Antibiotics are used to keep the cows free from sickness harbored in these environments. The problem is that with the over-use of these antibiotics in the cows, antibiotic-resistant bacteria forms, and this can be passed on to us. As a result, we ingest these antibiotic-resistant bacteria and they could negatively affect the way our bodies fight off infections.
I was surprised to read that several large, commercialized organic farms provide similar crowded conditions for their cows (although they do not use antibiotics). However, thanks to new regulations, organic farms are required to allow their cows to graze in pastures and not just have “access” to them. An article in the New York Times explains the new organic regulations in more detail: “The new regulations…say that animals must graze on pasture for the full length of the local grazing season…While the grazing season must last at least 120 days, in many areas it will be much longer. The rules also say that animals must get at least 30 percent of their food from pasture during the grazing season.” (See article list below for more information.) Because of this, antibiotics are not used as routinely, if at all, in organic dairy farms as opposed to those in conventional dairy farms.
*Ensure that the dairy product does not come from cows exposed to pesticides, fertilizers, or herbicides.
According to the Whole Foods website, “The EPA considers 60% of all herbicides, 90% of all fungicides, and 30% of all insecticides as potentially cancer-causing.” That is reason enough to look for milk that is produced on land that does not use these substances. If the milk is labeled organic, it is not exposed to extra pesticides.
*Ensure that the dairy product was produced by cows that are grass-fed.
The health benefits of consuming dairy products from cows that are grass-fed substantially outweigh those that are grain-fed. Omega-3 good fatty acids are found in plants and so naturally, as cows eat in the pasture their milk contains more omega-3s. (This is also true for chickens and the reason behind why you should look for organic, omega-3 eggs.)
Another fatty acid found in grass-fed animals is conjugated linoleic acid. CLA has been linked to suppressing tumor growth among other health benefits. According to the Cornucopia Institute, the Danish Institute of Agricultural Research recently reported that milk produced by pastured cows is 50% higher in vitamin E, and 200%–300% higher in antioxidants than conventional milk. Wow!!
One important caution to note is that just because the dairy from cows is organic does not mean it is grass-fed. Generally, “grass-fed” is labeled on the dairy product if it is. I recommend www.eatwild.com as a wonderful resource for more information about grass-fed cows.
Organic Dairy Recommendations
My research on organic dairy products also revealed that not all organic dairy farms are created equal. I found a helpful website that rated organic dairy farms according to organic standards: http://www.cornucopia.org/dairysurvey/index.html. I highlighted several dairy farms below that were familiar to me. I was surprised to notice some organic brands do not adhere to the organic standards like I hoped, but I was also encouraged that some are still upholding their truly organic practices.
**Five Stars: (outstanding, “hands-on manufacturers”)
- Traderspoint Creamery – This is located in Indianapolis and distributes to many nearby areas, including Chicago. (Yay!) I just scanned the retail location list while writing this and can’t wait to check out their milk. (http://www.tpforganics.com/locations/)
**Four Stars: (excellent, “highly respected and source their milk from family-scale farms”)
- Whole Foods (365 Brand) – I have bought this several times because of how convenient it is to locate.
- Stonyfield Farms – Costco carries their organic yogurt.
**Three Stars: (very good, however, “less control over the supervision of their farms”)
- Ben and Jerry’s
**Two Stars: (good, “private-label brands have what appear to be a questionable long-term commitment to organics”)
**One Star: (substandard, “some or all of their milk comes from factory farms and/or because they refused to be open with their customers as to where their milk comes from…however, better than conventional milk”)
- Trader Joe’s
**Zero Stars: (ethically deficient, “most produce or purchase factory farm milk …none were open enough to participate in this study”)
- Aurora Organic Dairy
- Back to Nature (Kraft)
- Horizon (Dean Foods)
I want to reiterate that it is better to drink organic milk rather than conventional milk, even if it did not receive a high rating according to the Cornucopia Institute study.
I was also pleased to find a few businesses that are listening to the research about organic and hormone-free dairy. I recommend http://www.localharvest.org/restaurants/ and http://www.organichighways.com/ to find organic and healthy restaurants in your area.
Chipotle Mexican Grill serves rBGH-free cheese and sour cream as well as 35% of their dairy comes from cows that are pasture-fed. (http://www.chipotle.com/en-US/fwi/animals/animals.aspx)
And lastly, it was reassuring to read that the dairy in Starbuck’s drinks is rBGH-free. I am thankful to hear there are no synthetic hormones added to my latte, but this doesn’t mean the dairy used in my latte is organic. While enjoying a latte with non-organic milk every blue moon may be okay, I plan to share my research in an upcoming Monday Morsel about milk alternatives.
For more information: