There is a lot of debate over the natural food movement regarding the value of dairy products. Often times, dairy is lumped together with meat and demonized as unhealthy foods for humans, with some vegans who claim that dairy foods cause diseases in the body. To some extent, there is some truth pertaining to dairy products, which is caused by improper rearing of dairy-producing animals, incorrect processing of milk, as well as the lack of knowledge as to how to use milk products.
The Sacred Cow in India
The cow has been regarded as the most sacred animal in India from ancient times. In part, this is because the cow produces more milk than the calf requires, which is suitable for humans to consume. In addition, the cow has a gentle and nurturing spirit which became regarded as the symbol of the Divine Mother. The ancient Vedic civilization was centered around the cow, which provided people with milk, butter, yogurt and cream. The Vedas also mention a wide variety of dairy products over any other foods, including vegetables, fruits or grains.
The Hindu and Buddhist practices in India viewed dairy products as great foods to consume, especially for those who are on a spiritual path. In fact, dairy foods were favored by yogis, as they did not find these products harmful to health. Krishna, one of the beloved gods of the Hindu pantheon, was notorious for sampling fresh butter that was left unattended. Although dairy is not recommended for all physical types, it does have an important role for not only maintaining health but also increasing longevity.
Ayurvedic Perspective of Dairy
Ayurveda recommends various dairy preparations for medicinal reasons, mostly for improving resistance to disease and to increase regeneration. These preparations include milk, medicated ghee and butters. Dairy is recommended for both the young and elderly alike, as well as for those who are debilitated and require strength.
However, there are several health issues pertaining to dairy products which must be understood. Some people's digestive systems lack the necessary enzymes required to digest dairy products. Studies have also found that certain ethnicities that do not have a history of consuming dairy products are more lactose-intolerant. These groups include East Asians, Native Americans, Latinos and African Americans. In addition, adults who were not breastfed as babies can have trouble digesting dairy. However, most of the issues arising from digesting milk does not only occur from dairy products but from its improper digestion. In the same way that whole-wheat flour is very different from white bleached flour, naturally prepared dairy products are also distinct from the over-processed dairy products that are commonly found in grocery store supermarkets.
Sadly, the dairy industry mistreats cows by confining them to small pens and getting them milked by machines. The dairy industry artificially inseminates cows and genetically redesigns them to produce much more milk than is healthy for them. These cows are also fed antibiotics, hormones and inorganic grains. These chemical residues get absorbed into their tissues and become concentrated in the milk of the cows. Ayurveda insists that people should avoid drug and chemical contaminants as these build up in our own tissues and cause disease.
According to Ayurveda, milk is sattvic or pure in nature. Pasteurization sterilizes dairy products, in view of germs present in these products which can cause diseases. While doing so allows milk to last longer before it spoils, its precooking by pasteurization decreases its vitality. In addition to all the artificial drugs, hormones, additives and much more, the natural sattvic properties of dairy is reduced.
As a rejuvenation food, milk nourishes the heart and mind. Warm milk with ghee is an excellent natural laxative, while pasteurized or homogenized milk can lead to constipation. Cow's milk should not be consumed by Kapha types, although they can sometimes handle low-fat milk without any issues. Vatas and Pittas can consume milk without any issues. If you wish to know which of these Ayurvedic body types you are, go here.
Cardamom is the most optimal spice for counteracting the mucus-forming properties of milk. You can also add cinnamon, ginger and turmeric to milk as these spicy herbs make milk more digestible and also increase medicinal properties.
This is good for Kapha, for people who have mucus, congestion and edema. Even so, it should be taken warm, along with spices. It has a warm nature and should be avoided by those suffering from febrile or infectious diseases or hyperacidity (Pitta types).
Cheese is usually hard to digest as it is heavy and sticky in nature. It should be avoided when one has stagnation, congestion or channel blockages in the body. Eating cheese can increase cholesterol and aggravate colds, flus, gout, infections and so on. The more salty and fermented the cheese, the harder it will be to digest. Rennet, an ingredient commonly used in cheese making, is derived from the intestines of cows. Therefore, most commercially-sold cheeses are not strictly vegetarian. Opt for cheese that contain no rennet, are low in salt and are not strongly fermented. Cheeses that are milder and sweet-tasting are preferable. Cheese can be eaten melted over vegetables that are light in nature, such as cauliflower or broccoli. Cottage cheese or paneer is much lighter, easy to digest, and has a high protein content.
Butter is generally made using pasteurized milk and is added with salt and coloring agents. Butter is good for those with strong digestion, particularly Pitta types. Avoid eating cold butter – instead, melt it over food. As with cheese, butter can clog the internal channels of the body. Butter is excellent for treating burns and rashes when applied externally.
Cream has a similar consistency to milk, but is heavier. For those who have weak digestion or suffer from congestion, cream should be avoided.
Yogurt, like cheese, is quite heavy; contrary to the popular misconception, yogurt is not beneficial for weight loss, unless it is being substituted for meat or other heavy foods. On the other hand, it's good for you if you want to put on weight. Even if low-fat yogurt is less heavy, it's still unsuitable for weight-loss diets. Avoid consuming cold yogurt in the morning as this an aggravate mucus in the body. Yogurt eaten with fruit also aggravates its mucus-forming and watery properties and becomes more acidic. Yogurt is best for Vata types and should be eaten sparingly by Kaphas or Pittas. Yogurt should not be eaten on an empty stomach. It goes well with cucumber as the vegetable's lightness balances yogurt.
(Spiced) Indian Buttermilk
Indian buttermilk is made by mixing equal parts of yogurt and water in a blender, and the sprinkled with roasted cumin powder, black pepper powder and black salt. Other recipes call for different spices such as ginger powder, fresh green chilies, curry leaves, coriander leaves, etc. It is excellent for weak digestion and is superb for diarrhea and malabsorption. Western buttermilk is usually pasteurized and contains large quantities of salt; however, it is still a suitable dairy product as it is much more diuretic as compared to other milk products, and forms much less mucus. This is suitable for Kapha.
Kefir is a fermented dairy drink which is especially beneficial for Vata types. Try to avoid sweetened kefir which contains a large amount of sugar. One must avoid consuming kefir with fruit.
This is one of the most acidic dairy products which can aggravate Pitta conditions such as heart burn, infections and ulcers. Sour cream is best suited for Vata types.
Ghee is clarified butter which is made from raw butter. It is excellent for almost all types. Ghee increases vitality, strength and energy and is the basis of many Ayurvedic medicated oils. It is easy for the liver to digest, although it can increase cholesterol (however, less than butter). Ghee also boost immunity and promotes longevity. It should be consumed with food or milk. Taken directly, ghee might cause nausea. Ghee should be kept in a copper vessel.
Good and bad combinations with dairy
One can eat dairy products with sweet fruits, starchy vegetables and whole grains.
Dairy should never be consumed with:
- Meat or fish
- Yeast breads
- Sour fruits
To get the best healing benefits of dairy, consume raw, unpasteurized milk from your local farmer.