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The Practical Herbalist


Here in Wisconsin, milk has a special place. It is a part of the culture and the fabric of our lives. Milk in Chinese medicine has a very different place. It is considered a food to be used cautiously and only in small quantities if at all. There are many reasons for this. The first is that there is very little tradition of using dairy in many parts of the world, and the people of those cultures are lactose (the sugars in milk) intolerant. The parts of the world that did use a a lot of milk were mostly northern cultures that had little in the way of other sources of nutrition.

In the way of Chinese Herbal medicine, milk is seen as more of a medicine rather than a food. Herbal medicine can be thought of as extreme foods. Milk is very rich and nourishing, to the point of being overly nourishing and extreme. Remember that cows milk is a food designed by nature to turn an armful of newborn calf into a several hundred pound slow moving animal in a very short time. Milk has a lot of nutritional benefit, but there are many who are beginning to question if milk is truly appropriate for any mammal that is past weaning, including man. Limited and highly controversial research has suggested links between milk consumption and pediatric ear infections, allergies, asthma, diabetes, heart disease, as well as osteoporosis.

In the case of milk it is easy to get confused. Because it is so nourishing it becomes that answer to all medical questions. Need calcium, drink milk, (even though there are better sources of calcium). Need to lose weight, drink milk, (even though the studies that suggested this showed no particular benefit from the milk specifically). There is also misleading information coming from the medical community itself. I recently saw a poster in a Pharmacy promoting the concept that elderly people should get five servings of milk a day to get the calcium they need. Lets look at what this poster suggests;

A standard healthy diet is about 2000 calories a day (many elderly need less due to inactivity). A serving of 2% milk (lets face it most people don't like Skim milk) is 130 calories, that is a 1/2 pint carton like you got in school, and less than most people actually use as a serving. That one serving provides 45% of your daily recommended amount of saturated fat. Therefore 5 servings is 650 calories or 33% of a 2000 calorie diet and 225% of your daily allotment of saturated fat. That means that one third of your daily calorie intake is dairy, leaving 1350 calorie to be spread out among all the other food groups. It is inconceivable to think that you could build a balanced diet around these numbers. The level of saturated fat alone makes it impossible to eat many foods in the other categories without raising the level of heart clogging saturated fat even higher.

My advice to patients is to eat a variety of good foods, heavy on vegetables which provide calcium and many other nutrients in a less calorie and fat dense form. Milk should not be seen as bad food, just over marketed. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is said that there are no bad foods, just foods that are used inappropriately.

David Bock

This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"

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David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine

Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066