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A Lactose Rant: Goat’s Milk vs. Cow’s Milk

The Oprah Show was interesting today, looking at the Blue Zones — places where centenarians thrive in good health — and Dr. Mehmet Oz, Oprah’s medical guru, served as the guide for the show. Dr. Oz, with his partner, also writes a column for The Toronto Star, talking a lot about nutrition. He’s a cardiac surgeon; still, for a surgeon most of his expert opinions aren’t too off the mark. But the one he spouted today was the same old BS that I’ve heard on talk shows, read in newspapers, and heard people pontificate on too many times. And I’m getting mighty sick of it. He said the lactose intolerant should drink goat’s milk. Just hearing it makes me want to run screaming for the Buscopan.*

What a load of crap, I yelled at the TV. And why do I hear it over and over?

My father Dr. Khursheed Jeejeebhoy is a top nutritional researcher and was one of the first to recognize lactose-intolerance back in the 1960s and to evaluate methods for measuring intestinal lactase (one day I’ll tell the story behind that study!). So when I developed stomach pains after we moved to Canada, he knew immediately it was lactose intolerance even though no one here had ever heard of it here. And when I became intimately acquainted with my English Aunt’s bathroom, he knew the culprit: goat’s milk.

My Aunt started breeding goats to help rid her daughter of asthma, and so every time we visited her, goat’s milk and goat meat were regularly on the menu. I remember the first time we visited her after she started breeding goats, she poured glasses of fresh milk all around for us kids; I hesitated to drink the milk because I’d come to associate milk from Western animals as dangerous to my peace of mind. But she encouraged me. Well, it wasn’t too long before I broke the speed barrier to get to the bathroom. Too bad for everyone that there was only one in the house. Cow’s milk was bad enough; goat’s milk was lethal! Thereafter, I inspected my Aunt’s cooking closer and closer for hidden signs of goat’s milk — she’d toss it in anything, even my favourite baked treats, and then forget that she had — because even when I was sure it wasn’t there, my stomach would quickly let me know otherwise. So when all these experts talk about how goat’s milk is more digestible for the lactose intolerant, I think what a crock of shit.

Here are the lactose figures:

Cow’s milk ranges from a low of 4.66 to 5.15, depending on breed, with the common Holstein having 4.93 on average. Goats, on the other hand, again depending on breed, range from 4.54 to 6.4, with Saanens about on par with Holsteins, although some Holsteins have tested for much lower levels at 3.51. Goats, as you can see, can easily have more lactose than cows, or at best the same amount.

So next time some dingbat, even disguised as an expert, tells you oh yeah, goat’s milk is fine, don’t believe them for a second.

As for Dr. Oz’s contention that the fat in goat’s milk may be more digestible because of its smaller globule size, dairy research scientists at an international symposium on goat’s milk back in 1980 debunked that myth and posited the much more logical suggestion that

“Nearly 20% of fatty acids in goat milk fat are in the category of short and medium chain length (4 to 12 carbons). Cow milk fat contains only 10 to 20% of fatty acids of this category. This difference may contribute to more rapid digestion of goat milk fat since lipases [enzymes that break up fat] attack ester linkages of such fatty acids more readily than they do those of longer chains.”

It’s interesting to note that Dr. Jeejeebhoy made major nutritional breakthroughs in Total Parenteral Nutrition (TPN) for Judy Taylor because he included animal science literature in his regular reading. That’s why he didn’t fall into the big goat milk myth.

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*Buscopan was a tiny little miracle pill my parents would give me to ease stomach cramps from lactose intolerance, as I couldn’t always avoid milk, being as no one else believed in lactose intolerance and asserted that I needed to drink my milk.