Drinking milk has become almost unfashionable. The naysayers have several reasons. Vegans prefer not to drink milk as a protest against the treatment of cows. Milk and milk products may cause digestive problems, a condition diagnosed as lactose intolerance. Yet another reason for milk’s unpopularity is the number of alternatives that are available. These range from ‘fresh’ juices to plant based milk. Until a few years back, children often had a glass of milk as a snack option. Alas, this healthy practise is fast disappearing as the preference now is for fizzy aerated drinks or juices.
Given this anti-milk trend, it’s perhaps time to hit the refresh button and understand once again the enormous health benefits that a glass of warm milk can provide. In Kerala, where Ayurveda and its practices are a part of people’s daily routine, most practitioners consider milk – specifically cow’s milk – to be a wholesome, healthy food. Kerala’s ayurveda experts use it as an ingredient in preparing medicines. It is also used in massage sessions. Given the controversy, we asked Acharya a few questions in order to clear misconceptions about milk.
Why does Ayurveda consider cow’s milk to be a health elixir?
Acharya: To put it simply, milk promotes ojas. A Sanskrit word, ojas can be interpreted in two ways. It means physical vitality. It can also mean spiritual and emotional well being. According to Ayurveda, ojas is a substance that is produced at the end of a 30-day long digestive process. The presence of ojas in the body grants us immunity, longevity, vigour and radiance. The presence of milk in our digestive system helps to promote the production of ojas.
But there are people who are allergic to milk and suffer from lactose intolerance. Is there any solution to this problem?
Acharya: There is no doubt that in some cases, the digestive system is not able to cope with the ingestion of milk. Lactose intolerance is not a newly discovered phenomenon. Ayurvedic texts and practitioners had recognised the problem even in ancient times and attributed it to a compromised digestive system. However, very often what is diagnosed as lactose intolerance is an inability to digest fats. Before giving up milk completely, try switching to non-homogenized milk. Remove all the cream from the milk and start off by drinking small portions of milk. Increase the intake over days or months. If there is no adverse reaction, it would mean that the problem was not lactose intolerance, but the inability of the body to metabolize fats. Such people should switch over to non-homogenized milk that has all the cream removed. If drinking milk even with the cream removed causes a bloated or gassy feeling, then it’s a case of lactose intolerance and it would be better not to include milk in the diet
What is the best way to consume milk?
Acharya: Always use raw, unpasteurised, non-homogenized and organic milk. The first rule is to never consume cold milk. Milk should always be taken when it is still warm as heating makes it easier to digest. There are certain forbidden combinations. Milk should never be mixed or combined with sour, salty or pungent tastes. Never use milk in any fish preparations. Milk can be had with cereals or sweet accompaniments like almonds and dates. Milk is best had either as a meal by itself or a stand-alone snack.
What properties does Ayurveda attribute to milk?
Acharya: Milk from indigenous cows reared organically in their natural habitat has several positive attributes. It possesses sweet taste (madhura rasa) and is cooling (Sheetha veerya) in nature. Cow milk promotes immunity (balya). It is also a rasayana and ojovardhaka. This means that milk is rejuvenating, anti-aging and produces vitality and vigour. Milk acts as a brain tonic (medhya) and is credited with improving intelligence. Milk improves lactation in pregnant women (stanya). It is a laxative (sara). Cow milk improves the Sattva Guna and enhances the positive characteristics of a person. Drinking milk brings about a sense of satisfaction.
Is milk also used as an ingredient in medicines and massages?
Acharya: Cow milk is important as it helps to balance the doshas. It can soothe an aggravated Vata or Pitta. Being heavy, milk adds to the Kapha dosha in the body. Given its qualities, milk is often used as an ingredient in medicines and massages. Milk’s healing properties are used in cases of respiratory disorders, cough, cold, fever, bleeding and dysuria. Milk can help soothe both physical/metal fatigue and tiredness. It plays an important role in massage therapy. Oils to be used for rejuvenating massages have milk as an ingredient. With its high calcium content and soothing properties, milk is used to blend massage oils that are prescribed for patients with neuro problems, degenerative bone ailments and stressed or strained muscles.
What are popular home remedies with milk?
Acharya: Warm milk combined with turmeric is used in Indian homes to treat wounds, fever, cough, cold and many other ailments. Both milk and turmeric are antioxidants and therefore help to detoxify the body. Milk and garlic heated together is good to treat digestive problems. A cup of hot milk with a few strands of saffron is a soothing combination and helps to deal with insomnia. Add a pinch of cinnamon to milk to give a boost to the digestive system. With so many nourishing properties, milk is truly a miracle food.