Remember the old Dairy Council commercial that's still widely quoted today: "Milk...it does a body good!"
A highly-effective advertising jingle from Madison Avenue for sure, but how truthful is it?
Before looking into the health benefits of milk, what makes kosher milk kosher?
If you see a "K" symbol on a container of milk, it means that the milk was produced under the supervision of a rabbi, of course, and meaning that no non-kosher procedures, methodologies, or additives were used in the production of milk.
Ultra-orthodox Jews only drink designated "Cholov Yisroel" (Literally, Israeli milk), which means that the strict rabbinical supervision ensured that the animals were milked and bottled under constant supervision, ensuring that the milk was not combined with non-kosher milk. Unless you are very strict about kosher standards, the "K" symbol should be more than adequate for ensuring kosher standards in the milk.
But what of milk's benefits in and of itself, even if it's kosher?
Most people know that milk, whether kosher or not or full fat or skim, contains calcium, the mineral widely thought to be good for the bones, hence the Dairy Council's famous (or infamous, depending on your viewpoint) tagline.
One cup of milk provides one-third of the daily recommended intake of calcium. But Harvard's School of Public Health recommends limiting dairy intake to two servings per day. Most Americans get more than enough calcium, so why are rates of osteoporosis so prevalent? It could be that too much calcium is bad for the bones; there are many other factors such as inflammation levels and other trace mineral deficiencies such as silica.
- Drinking milk also provides dietary fat. But when it comes to skim milk versus whole milk, or somewhere in between, there are several different schools of thought. Whole milk contains more saturated fat (and total fat) than skim milk, and the conventional health wisdom cautions the public to curb saturated fat intake. The problem is that whole milk's fat content makes you feel more full and contains less milk sugars than skim milk. Traditional societies drank whole fat sources of milk and rarely had chronic diseases when they didn't eat refined, western foods. So in this case, you might want to do as the natives did.
- Milk also contains protein. There are two proteins in milk: whey and casein. Cow's milk is mostly casein, which for the tens of millions of Americans who are lactose intolerant (and millions others worldwide), is indigestible. Milk also contains some B vitamins, fortified vitamin D, and some trace minerals.
But is it really halachic to drink milk even if it's labeled kosher? With small dairy farms all but extinct, how much does a kosher certification ring true with kosher principles from ancient times concerning milk. For an interesting perspective, read this article from the Jewish Journal.
The healthiest milk, some nutritionists argue, is straight from a small dairy farm and preferably unpasteurized. Pasteurization, though a scientific breakthrough in the days before refrigeration, is similar to a nuclear bomb. The process kills everything, both good bacteria and bad. Raw milk (unpasteurized) contains beneficial probiotics that help colonize the gut with good bacteria. The good bacteria helps fight pathogens.
If you're interested in finding out if you can obtain raw kosher milk in your area, contact 1-877-RAW-MILK.
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