Tiny cups of sweet, steaming, pink anantha siddha dugdha (sasparilla infused milk) were served to us while studying in India. Memorably satisfying and oddly cooling in the sweltering mid-afternoon classroom. I still savor being able to drink milk regularly. I spent much of my pre-ayurveda adulthood avoiding milk after my mom concluded it was the cause of my childhood sicklyness. This is how we ended up raising goats; milk fresh from the farm didn’t have any adverse effects.
Ayurveda says that the best kind of milk to drink is so fresh it is still warm from the cow. Someday I will have a cow in my backyard. But until then I buy raw organic whole milk for several reasons: I trust it comes from healthy cows as the rules governing it's sale are quite strict. It also tastes better than other milk, perhaps due to happier cows. Finally and most importantly it is fresh.
Milk is a very important and precious food in Ayurveda. In this article I will discuss why so many people have problems digesting it and what you can do to avoid these problems both in terms of what kind of milk to drink and how to drink it.
What milk to drink and why... When the ayurvedic texts discuss milk it is it assumed to be fresh scalded cow milk unless otherwise mentioned. Raw milk is harder to digest and can encourage parasites. Milk is always scalded because heating anything makes it lighter to digest and last longer.
Despite the many great qualities of milk many health conscious people are turning away from milk. More and more people are noticing that they don’t feel great after having milk products. This is not an illusion. The milk we have commonly available to us is pretty toxic.
The main reason that store bought milk is so hard to digest is that is it old, over-processed, packaged in toxic containers, and comes from poorly treated, over-medicated cows. The first sin committed against the perfection of milk is pasteurization, a strange process which allows milk to be sold well past it’s prime. Fresh unpasteurized milk will last less than a week refrigerated and then it will sour, but still be edible. Pasteurization ensures that milk doesn't go bad like normal milk. So it can be sold when it is very old. Pasteurized milk typically has a shelf life of two to three weeks, ultra-pasteurized milk can last two to three months. You can't tell when it is too old to drink because it is so denatured that it doesn’t sour or curdle. Yuck. Pasteurization kills off the lactic acid bacilli which allow for the digestion of milk. Then we are compelled to purchase lactobacilli enhanced digestive supplements in order to compensate for this alteration.
Worse yet is homogenization (try to find unhomogenized milk, even organic!). Homogenization is the process that stops cream from separating from milk. It is done by putting immense amounts of pressure on the milk and squeezing it through tiny tubes so that the fat globules are pulverized into tiny bits. What does this do to the milk? These tiny particles pass easily through the intestinal lining into the blood, bypassing normal digestive processes and overloading the body with proteins and hormones. Ayurvedically any time you add the samscara of pressure to a food you make it more guru or heavy and hard to digest. It might also be hypothesized that breaking the particles of fat into bits increases vata. This is somewhat congruent with what the raw milk people say about processed milk.
And this is without considering the way cows are raised and treated and fed and medicated. The information on this is all over so I won’t bother detailing it. Just buy organic milk that is as unprocessed as possible, or buy a cow.
Why to love milk... Milk is a vital and precious food in Ayurveda. It nourishes all tissues right down to the Ojas, the most subtle essence of our body/mind. Milk is cooling, calming, and balances Vata and Pitta. Ayurveda teaches that cow milk is the most sattvic (mentally calming) and nourishing of foods. It is a natural food for humans, satmya(accustomed to) from birth. It is an aphrodisiac and vitalizing to the productive and reproductive system so that both your sex drive and your offspring are strong. Milk is used in the treatment of many serious conditions like cancer and kidney failure. It easily counters insomnia and constipation. It is used to satisfy hunger and thirst when correcting obesity. Due to its sattvic quality milk leads to a sense of satisfaction and soothing useful in all sorts of dis-ease. Milk is considered to be good for the mind, essential for children, and is used to counter depression.
But milk is rich and heavy and it can create bloating and gas for weakened digestions. Some people will still have trouble with milk even when drinking good quality milk in the right ways. If your ancestors did not drink milk, or you were raised without it, your body may not have the intestinal bacteria needed to digest it easily. Still it is often possible for people who have sensitivities to milk to gradually reintroduce it into their diets if they follow the guidelines of proper milk consumption.
Goat milk is lighter than cow milk; great for loosing weight and easier to digest for people who are sensitive. Goat milk is used to treat tuberculosis and is the best to feed babies who are not able to breast feed. And goats don’t tolerate drugs very well so they are not as heavily medicated as commercial cows.
How to have milk... A main cause for the development of milk intolerance is consuming milk in ways that we shouldn't. Milk is a special food that needs to be treated in a special way. There are 3 main rules to milk consumption: drink milk warm, have milk by itself, and if you do want to eat something with it make sure it doesn’t contain salt, fish, or sour fruit. Most of us adults have milk most commonly in lattes and cereal. Cold cereal with cold milk is likely to cause problems in the short run due to the cold and in the long run because of the salt that most cereals contain. Lattes are a fine way to drink milk- but do watch out for salt in that scone or bagel you have with it.