What’s the best, most refreshing drink you could down on a balmy summer’s day? A glass of cows’ milk, chilled to perfection. Nothing added or taken away.
We in Ireland are blessed by the quality of our dairy produce. Located as we are in a rainy, temperate climate, we can almost hear the grass grow. Visitors who arrive by air exclaim aloud at their first sight of our ‘forty shades of green’. Rolling pastures are dotted with herds of cattle who usually graze our pastures for about eight months of the year and spend four indoors. A cow’s stomach or rumen is one of the most perfect bioreactors on earth, converting sunshine and green grass into one of nature’s most perfect foods.
In a base of 87% water it consists of
-3.2% protein, mostly casein and whey protein, which builds and replaces muscle and vital organs
-4% lipids- about four hundred naturally occurring fatty acids including the important Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) which promotes bone formation, supports the immune system, enhances the structure and function of our nervous system and has anti-cancer properties. CLA levels are higher in the milk of grass-fed cows and during summer.
-5% lactose- a simple sugar which occurs naturally in cows’ milk. Most Europeans possess the gene for lactase production- lactase being the enzyme which breaks lactose down into simple sugars. These can be transported across the wall of the intestine and absorbed into the bloodstream for energy.
-0.7% mineral salts- cows’ milk is our best dietary source of Calcium, needed to build strong bones and teeth and repair fractures. It’s also high in Zinc, Magnesium and Potassium, which the body uses in tiny but essential amounts in every single cell , for lively metabolism.
-Vitamins A,D,E and K are all abundant in milk. These help vision, blood clotting, the repair and reconstruction of bone after injury or with aging, and support our immunity. They form the ‘fat-soluble vitamins’ so if you choose skimmed milk, they’re gone, unless the milk is artificially fortified.
-Vitamins B1, B2 and B12. These support healing of tissues, help build a healthy nervous system and increase energy.
Milk also provides bioactive peptides and sustains the ‘microbiota’ of the gut, our internal housekeepers. That’s another story.
So why are we not all drinking more milk? After all, it’s local, it suits our constitutions, it’s nutritious and it’s not expensive. Well, it’s because we’re afraid. We’re afraid we’ll get high cholesterol, we’re afraid we’ll get fat. We’re also afraid our kids will refuse to drink it. In our post-celtic-tiger delusion, we feel we ought to offer them ‘more’. On the last count, it’s a family matter. On the first two, we’ve all got the wrong information. We’ve been misled by ignorance.
Over the past few decades, dairy produce has been wrongfully convicted of being chiefly responsible for the high incidence of heart disease in Ireland and the UK. Recent research has clarified matters and established that we need cholesterol as a building block for our cell membranes and for the myelin sheath of every nerve in the body. It’s now known that we have a higher risk of heart attack and stroke if we have a family gene for high cholesterol, if we smoke tobacco and if we’re overweight.
Dairy produce has received its ‘Get Out Of Jail’ card.
Professor Bruce German of the University of California, Davis told us at ESOF2012 that the incidence of stroke and all types of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and most cancers is significantly lower in those who consume dairy produce than in those who don’t. Prostate cancer is the only exception.
Evidence presented by him proclaims that people who drink milk are taller, leaner, stronger; they break fewer bones at all ages and they live longer.
A member of the audience asked Prof. German about the rising level of lactose intolerance among people she knew. He replied that many of them probably don’t have a clinically proven lactose intolerance. Among those who do, it’s often because they were exposed to cows’ milk protein too early as infants. (A similar picture emerges in peanut farming areas like the southern states in the USA). He made a strong case for breastfeeding in the first six months of life. While some people do lack the gene for lactase, they’re very rare in populations of European extraction.
It is sometimes suggested that milk allergy may relate more to the consumption of grain-fed milk, but this is not proved scientifically.
Further benefits? A large bonus of milk is its high level of tryptophan, an amino acid which is converted by the human body into serotonin, the ‘happy hormone’. This is why, long before science identified these molecules, a glass of hot milk was traditionally taken for a good night’s sleep.
Even though the jury is still out on the “raw milk” debate, I buy raw milk to drink as its vitamin B12 is not removed by pasteurization and its Omega-3 balance is better than in commercial milk. The taste of each ‘single estate’ milk is quite distinctive and wonderful. We’re lucky to have Honest2Goodness Market locally in Glasnevin, stocking Ballymore Farm raw milk, yoghurt, buttermilk and butter from Co.Kildare along with organic milk, buttermilk, yoghurt and cheese from Mossfield Farm in Co.Offaly. David Tiernan from Co.Louth, maker of the award winning Glebe Brethan cheese also supplies raw milk to the market. We don’t know how long this will last as rumours suggest that the Minister for Agriculture may ban the sale of raw milk but for the moment, it’s a great advantage. I also support my local milkman, Jack from Avonmore Dairies who does doorstep deliveries. Milk/cream on the doorstep first thing in the morning? What a luxury!
Have a listen to this audio clip by Ella McSweeney of RTE…it’s delightful…
Happy cows being let out to pasture for the first time in spring by dairy farmer Aidan Harney of Ballymore Farm. As he says “ I’m almost as excited myself!”
There are so many things we have no control over- the weather, the economy for example- but we can change how we nourish ourselves, our children and our elderly folks. All of us would benefit from drinking a glass of milk a day, in this land flowing with milk and honey.
As we look across the Irish sea to the trouble dairy farmers are experiencing in England, we might support our own dairy farmers a bit more and in so doing, improve our own personal health.
Everyone in my family has their own favourite way of drinking milk- cool, straight from the fridge, warmed with honey or with a tot of whiskey on a cold winter’s night. Biscuit/cookie lovers divide into two camps, those who dunk and those who don’t…..you know who you are….! Team it with a slice of homemade soda bread, butter and jam, and you’ve got a real treat.
Having grown up in a household where our neighbour Mikey Hogan arrived at our door to deliver a gallon of milk after the evening milking every day , I’m hardwired. I love it on its own.
What’s your favourite way?