June is Dairy Month

(Photo provided — Yvona Fast)

(Photo provided — Yvona Fast)

The pastures are green with fresh grass. Cows have given birth to baby calves. Fresh milk is flowing abundantly. That could be why June is Dairy Month.

But milk – along with milk products like cream, cheese, and butter – has acquired a bad reputation. Dairy products are shunned due to their high calorie count and high fat content, which many claim is linked to a rise in cardiovascular diseases.

Many claim that milk is only for babies; in nature, mammals only consume their mother’s milk for a short time during infancy. Yet milk from cows, goats, sheep, horses and camels has nourished man since prehistoric times.

Milk is our first food, representing all that is wholesome. Dairy milk is one of the most nutrient-dense foods. It is high in protein, calcium, vitamin D, B vitamins, vitamin A, magnesium and potassium – and most Americans are deficient in vitamin D, calcium, and potassium. Calcium and vitamin D are also key nutrients to preventing osteoporosis, and may also prevent diabetesi.

While nuts, fish, and green leafy vegetables like spinach, collards and kale contain calcium, you need to eat lots to equal the calcium in dairy. One cup of plain yogurt contains 415 mg. of calcium; 1 cup of milk, 300. In contrast, 1 cup of soy milk contains just 93 grams; a cup of cooked kale or turnip greens contains about 90 grams; a one-ounce serving of almonds, 70 grams.

New studies show the saturated fat in dairy products isn’t directly related to heart disease,iii as was previously thought. Regardless of fat level, consumption of dairy is linked with a lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of CVD and type 2 diabetes. And studies published in the European Journal of Nutrition and the Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care shows that eating high-fat dairy may help keep you slim; this may be due to the satiating effect of the milk protein casein helping you eat lessiv.

According to the USDA, milk consumption per capita has decreased by about a third during the past 40 years.v As dairy consumption has decreased, alternative products like soy milk, nut milk, rice milk have gained popularity. These non-dairy, plant-based imitations are cholesterol-free, lactose-free, low in fat (with no saturated fat), and low in calories. However, plant-based milks need extensive supplementation to match the calcium, vitamin, and protein content of cow’s milk. And often, because nuts suspended in water lack flavor, they’re made with added sugar or sweetener like corn syrup.

In addition to milk, there are many types of dairy products on the market. Cultured dairy products, like yogurt, kefir, yakult and cultured cream, contain important probiotics that keep your digestive tract and immune system functioning properly.

Other dairy products include butter, sour cream or creme fraiche, frozen dairy like ice cream and frozen yogurt and cheeses: fresh or white cheeses (like queso fresco, farmer cheese, cottage cheese or cream cheese) and many types hard, aged cheeses like Parmesan or Cheddar. Generally, fresh cheeses have fewer calories and less fat than aged, hard cheeses. Cottage cheese contains 25 grams of protein and 18 percent of your daily calcium needs in a single cup. Plus, it’s rich in casein, a slow-digesting protein, so it helps you feel fuller longer.vi

Commercial milk sold in supermarkets is far removed from the liquid that comes from a cow’s udder. It has been pasteurized and homogenized, some flavored or lactose-free, others with fat reduced to 2%, 1%, skim and super skim. In contrast, “real milk comes from real cows that eat real food.”vii It is pure, wholesome, unaltered, and alive.

Cows should graze on green pastures, eating fresh green grass in summer and stored dry grass (hay) in winter. But in modern, industrialized dairies, cows are confined in dirty, crowded sheds where they can’t move, have no fresh air, and never see the sun. They’re fed a scientifically designed diet of corn and soy meant to increase milk production. This feed often contains hormones and is laced with herbicides and pesticides. To keep them alive under such unsanitary conditions, cows are given antibiotics and tranquilizers. The FDA Web site warns that “Raw milk can harbor dangerous microorganisms that can pose serious health risks.” The CDC insists “there is no meaningful nutritional difference between pasteurized and raw milk.” However, many raw milk proponents counter that ‘straight from the cow’ milk is healthier than its pasteurized, homogenized counterpart, claiming pasteurization diminishes vitamin potency, and destroys important enzymes and beneficial bacteria. According to Nina Planck, author of Real Food: What to Eat and Why, “Industrial milk is pasteurized, a form of sterilization that kills the living organisms in milk, both beneficial and pathogenic.” Raw milk contains more than 60 known digestive enzymes, growth factors, and immunoglobulins that are destroyed during pasteurization. One of these enzymes, phosphatase, helps your bones absorb calcium. Others aid in the digestion of milkviii.

Those who drink raw milk claim it has cured their allergies, asthma, IBS, and other gastrointestinal issues. Until now, such stories were anecdotal, but two recent studies show there may be truth to the claims. British researchers found that drinking raw milk lessened a child’s chances of developing asthma, eczema and hay feverix. A Swiss study states, “Our results indicate that consumption of farm milk may offer protection against asthma and allergy.”x

Raw milk proponents believe milk must come from organic, pastured, healthy, clean cows – not animals raised on corn and soy in dark, dirty, crowded factory stalls. Raw milk sales are legal in 30 states, of which 13 allow sales in retail storesxi. In New York State, raw milk cannot be sold in stores, but it is legal to sell raw milk directly from a farm, so those purchasing it know first-hand where their milk comes from and how it’s produced. They have seen how the animals are cared for, and know and trust the farmer who milks “their” cows. Organic raw milk dairies undergo stringent inspections to ensure the health of their cows and the safety of their milk by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets. Cows are regularly tested for diseases like brucellosis, tuberculosis, pathogen and water tests. The milk is checked monthly for bacterial levels of salmonella, listeria and other pathogens. Area farms selling raw milk include Sky View Farm at Donnelly’s Corners in Lake Clear, Sugar House Creamery in Upper Jay, Clover Mead Farm in Keeseville, Windy Ridge Dairy in Norwood, Prosper’s Farmstead Creamery in North Lawrence, Butterfield Farm in Burke and Sunderland Farm in Ellenburg Depot.

Three-Ingredient

Veggie Dip

Ingredients:

1 cup dairy sour cream or plain Greek yogurt

1/3 cup feta cheese

1 large bunch chives

Directions:

Chop chives coarsely. In food processor, combine sour cream, feta cheese, and half the chives. Mix with steel blade until combined. Remove to bowl; chop the remaining chives and stir in. Serve with seasonal vegetables like asparagus, Bok choy stems, radishes and salad turnips, and cucumbers sliced into wedges. Other vegetables, like carrots, celery, bell peppers or summer squash can also be used.

Yogurt-Mayo Dressing

Ingredients:

1 garlic clove minced

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup plain yogurt with live cultures

1 – 2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Directions:

Crush garlic with salt in mortar and pestle. Whisk together all ingredients. Great in egg salad, potato salad, pasta salad or over a salad of fresh greens.

Potato, Greens and Cheese Scallop

Ingredients:

3 to 4 medium potatoes

1 Tablespoon butter or oil

1 onion

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 pound fresh greens (turnip, spinach, kale, etc.)

3/4 lb. queso fresco cheese or fresh farmer cheese

1 cup sour cream

2 to 3 eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions:

Cook potatoes in their skins about 15 minutes, until not quite done. Remove from heat, drain peel (the peels come off easily under cool running water), cool and slice.

Melt butter in skillet. Peel and chop the onions; add. Sprinkle with salt. Cook on low about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until caramelized.

Steam greens until just tender. Drain, cool and chop coarsely.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 2 quart round casserole.

Layer: 1/3 of potatoes, 1/2 of cheese, 1/2 of fried onions, 1/2 of greens. Repeat layers. End with a layer of potatoes.

Beat sour cream with eggs and salt. Pour over.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Allow to rest 10 minutes before serving.

Serves four to five. We like to serve this with a salad of fresh greens.

Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Creamy Farmers’ Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com.

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