Milk is baby’s first food. Unpasteurized, straight from Mom’s nipple, it contains macronutrients, vitamins, minerals and a list of immune components that are not completely known. While the complete nutritional spectrum of milk remains a mystery, it is the perfect food for a developing infant. Humans consume milk longer than other mammals, switching to milk of another mammal, usually dairy cow, after its own nursing period has ended. North Americans are raised relying on milk products for protein, calcium and fortified nutrients such as vitamin D and vitamin A. Cultured bovine dairy products such as active yogurt, kefir and cultured butter also contain probiotics, good microflora that contribute to a healthy digestion and immune system.
Though dairy cow products contain good nutrition, they are also potentially problematic. High fat dairy such as butter, soft cheese, cream cheese and some yogurts contain cholesterol and saturated fat, associated with obesity and diabetes. And the natural content of dairy is not the only concern. Conventional farming practices requiring mass medication interventions for their herds has led to contaminated dairy products containing antibiotics, hormones and remnants from poor-quality feed, diminishing the overall nutritional benefits and safety. Organic and pasture-fed cows produce milk products thought to have fewer undesirable contaminants.
Another concern for those consuming milk and dairy products is its high propensity for causing digestive intolerance. Increasingly, people may be allergic to a milk protein called casein. They may also be intolerant to milk sugars, called lactose. Lactose intolerance may begin in infancy as a causal factor for reflux conditions and digestive disturbances. Links to allergic and inflammatory conditions such as frequent ear infections, eczema and asthma have all been investigated but not proven. Other clinical symptoms of dairy intolerance may be Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS), recurrent yeast infections, chronic sinusitis and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
People who would like to experiment with dairy-free eating may consult a knowledgeable allergist, certified nutritionist or naturopathic doctor who can lead them on an elimination diet. For some quick substitutions in the meantime, consider sheep or goat’s milk and their butters, yogurts and cheeses. Goat and sheep dairy products do not contain as much lactose, nor are their proteins as problematic as casein from dairy cows. Vegan options such as unsweetened organic soymilk, almond and hemp are naturally high in calcium and sometimes fortified too. Fortunately, the allergy-free food industry has grown and so these options are becoming more widely available in grocery stores, health food stores and even convenience stores.
Vegan Coconut Banana Ice “Cream”
1 tbsp coconut oil
3 medium bananas, peeled and sliced
1 8 oz (250mL) can full-fat coconut milk
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
Place banana slices in a rimmed baking dish and spread the coconut oil evenly over top (coconut oil is solid at room temperature but will melt in the heat). Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until soft and syrupy, tossing halfway through. Transfer the cooked bananas to a blender, scraping your pan well to include drippings. Add coconut milk and blend until combined.
Chill mixture until thoroughly chilled, two hours or, preferably, more.
Using an ice cream maker, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to set the freezing canister in place and turn it in. Pour in the mixture. Churn until frozen; at approximately thirty minutes it should reach a thick, soft-serve consistency. This recipe makes roughly three cups of creamy, gluten-free and vegan ice cream. Serve in small single scoops – it is rich.