Updated: Aug 18, 2022
Cow's milk has a very special place in Ayurveda. It's "gunas" or qualities are moist, cooling, heavy and sweet and when consumed in the right way, it deeply nourishes the body, calms the mind, improves sleep and facilitates daily elimination. It also becomes part of "Ojas" - which is our immunity and vitality faster than most other food and hence is great for conditions of debility or during convalescence.
The reputation of dairy however has been quite tarnished in the past several years. Many people have adopted a vegan lifestyle due to the inhumane way in which animals are handled in commercial environments and several others have trouble digesting milk products.
But is milk really the bad guy here?
Ayurveda's approach of dealing with food intolerances is quite unique. It does not simply place the blame on the food item but considers several factors to get to the root of the problem, the most important being
- the quality and characteristics of the food
- how it is consumed
- the cellular environment and digestive capacity of the consumer
- the mental and emotional state of the consumer
So let's see how these factors play out when it comes to milk:
1) Milk has several health benefits but Ayurveda also teaches us that it is heavy and difficult to digest. It is, therefore, best consumed separate from all other foods, which is rarely the case nowadays.
2) According to Ayurveda, cold food and drinks weaken Agni - the digestive fire. It is therefore, recommended to consume warm cooked food and warm drinks. This is especially important when it comes to milk which is naturally difficult to digest. Consuming cold milk out of a refrigerator will cause problems even in people with a strong constitution.
3) More is not better
Cow's milk has wonderful healing properties and is truly a gift to mankind. As with all foods however, it is important to consume it in the right quantity - guzzling large quantities of milk at a time is just you asking for trouble.
4) The processed nature of foods
The milk available in most supermarkets and stores today is highly processed and genetically modified. When we consume such items, our body cannot recognise it as "food" since is it so far away from it's natural form. It is then unable to digest the food well resulting in the formation of "Ama" or metabolic toxins and wastes. Consuming processed foods over time can also result in allergies and auto-immune disorders because the immune system gets activated when the body is unable to recognise what you eat as food and sees it as a potential threat.
5) State of Agni - the digestive fire
Our food and lifestyle habits and the constant stress we are subjected to have a profound impact on our digestive health which means that Agni - the digestive fire is already compromised in many people, making digestion of heavy food items like milk difficult.
So if you do want to consume milk, it is essential to
a) buy whole, organic and raw or non-homogenised milk
b) consume it warm with spices and ghee to aid digestion
c) consume it separate from all other foods
d) take care of Agni - your digestive fire
As far as the ethical question goes, you can buy milk from local dairy farms or smaller organic companies that treat animals well - the holistic approach of Ayurveda recognises the importance of this as well.
Try this simple ayurvedic recipe which follows the above guidelines and see how your body and mind feel when you consume milk in this way. As you wind down at the end of the day, give yourself the opportunity to connect with your being, away from electronics and other distractions and enjoy this nourishing, soothing drink before bed (at least 2-3 hours after dinner). If Agni - the digestive fire is weak or compromised, wait till it has recovered and feels strong enough.
1/2 cup whole, raw or non-homogenised cow's milk
1/2 - 1 tsp ghee
1/8 tsp cinnamon powder
1/8 tsp cardamom powder
Pinch nutmeg powder
1/2 tsp honey/jaggery (warming) or maple syrup (cooling)
Heat the ghee on a medium/low flame in a small pan and add the spices.
Simmer till the aroma comes up.
Now add the milk and warm gently.
Pour into a cup and add the sweetener (if using honey, wait till the milk has cooled down to a moderate temperate or else it will turn toxic).
You can choose from a wide range of spices like fennel, black pepper, clove or ginger. You can also add some rose petals or lavender to the milk. Experiment and see what works best for you.
If you are using turmeric, make sure to add no more than a small pinch. Turmeric has amazing healing properties but it is drying and heating and using it in large quantities (which is unfortunately the case with most recipes out there) will aggravate both Vata and Pitta doshas leading to a host of unpleasant symptoms.
Use a date as a sweetener if you are underweight or need some extra nourishment.