Many people trying to implement the paleo way are confounded about milk. It’s not paleo and could not have been, for two primary reasons:
- Try milking a wild animal.
- We were genetically programmed to lose the ability to digest lactose (milk sugar) in early childhood (weaning). What we refer to as "lactose intolerance" is actually the previous normal human state of affairs.
Here’s a good overview of the whole issue, in USA Today.
Instead, people who are lactose intolerant can’t digest the main sugar —lactose— found in milk. In normal humans, the enzyme that does so —lactase— stops being produced when the person is between two and five years old. The undigested sugars end up in the colon, where they begin to ferment, producing gas that can cause cramping, bloating, nausea, flatulence and diarrhea.
If you’re American or European it’s hard to realize this, but being able to digest milk as an adult is one weird genetic adaptation.
It’s not normal. Somewhat less than 40% of people in the world retain the ability to digest lactose after childhood. The numbers are often given as close to 0% of Native Americans, 5% of Asians, 25% of African and Caribbean peoples, 50% of Mediterranean peoples and 90% of northern Europeans. Sweden has one of the world’s highest percentages of lactase tolerant people.
Curiously, it now seems that the genetic mutation to allow lactose persistence took place independently in several populations (technically different genetic adaptations with similar end results), from 2,700 years ago in parts of Africa, to 7,500 years ago in the Balkans and Central Europe.
Now, to tie some things together and connect dots, there’s this from Mail Online: White Europeans ‘only evolved 5,500 years ago after food habits changed’. The idea is that the change from hunter-gatherer to agriculture is what drove a rapid evolution of skin color for those living at increasingly higher latitudes.
Scientists at the University of Oslo believe this change in diet may have led to our dark-skinned ancestors evolving paler skin to overcome this problem.
The link between skin colour and Vitamin D from sunlight has been suggested before.
It had previously been believed that our ancestors’ skin had gradually lightened to generate more Vitamin D the further north they moved away from the equator to places where there was less sunlight.
Now scientists believe that the change in their diet away from foods rich in Vitamin D also played a major factor in the skin lightening in colour.
And the particularly pale skins of people in Scandinavia may have evolved to maximise the amount of Vitamin D that could be produced, the research suggests.
If the theory is correct it would mean that until this period in history, the ancient inhabitants of Britain and Scandinavia – our ancestors – would have had a dark skin tone.
Johan Moan, of the university’s Institute of Physics, said in a research paper: ‘In England, from 5,500-5,200 years ago the food changed rapidly away from fish as an important food source. This led to a rapid development of … light skin.’
The research paper, written with Richard Setlow, a biophysicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York state, states : ‘Cold climates and high latitudes would speed up the need for skin lightening.
‘Agricultural food was an insufficient source of vitamin D, and solar radiation was too low to produce enough vitamin D in dark skin.’
So, could milk have played a role in why "the food changed rapidly away from fish as an important food source"?
In the end, my suspicion is that’s it’s some of both. Otherwise, how do you explain white skinned Asians, with significant fish in the diet? At any rate, interesting ponderables.
Which is what we like to do as practitioners of a paleo / primal / evolutionary / ancestral life way. We get to figure this stuff out on our own, because we have the information to do so. We don’t have to wait for "experts" and "authorities" to tell us that in order to prevent all the diseases that have cropped up over the last couple of hundred years of civilization, we need to eat way less of the foods we evolved to eat over millions of years, instead eating more of (even when not hungry) the foods and concoctions that have cropped up in…the last couple of hundred years.
So, should milk be a part of your diet? Well, obviously, if lactose intolerant, or you know you do worse on it, no. But what if you do quite well on it (you should go for whole, raw milk if you can get it, otherwise organic whole pasteurized)?
I see no problem, even from the perspective of the "paleo principle," i.e., the idea that we restrict ourselves to pre-agricultural food sources. Why, when clearly we have evolved to handle this food? Yea, I know there’s talk about hormones and such (which I know little about), but there’s simply no doubt that animal milk is loaded with excellent protein and fat nutrition.
I make raw milk, cream, butter and cheese part of my diet. In terms of milk, due the higher carb count, I tend to keep it pretty intermittent, like a half-gallon in a week or two. Raw milk keeps very well.
As a final note, I find it interesting, given the above, that when rickets showed up in kids, it was milk that they chose to fortify — which is now essentially worthless, as D is fat soluble and everyone’s drinking skim (those "experts"). Vitamin D deficiency is now epidemic. Now, the other part of it, again given the above, is that if you can’t have whole milk as part of your diet, perhaps you should be getting a lot more fish…
And, you should be supplementing with vitamin D in any case, especially the darker your skin and the farther north you live.