Quick Nutrition: Goat Over Cow
It’s 2 a.m. and the piercing scream hits my ears like a gunshot. My eyes, heavy with sleep, snap open and I stumble down the hallway, groping in the dark for the switch that will guide me to the source of the unfolding drama. I am not alarmed, at least not in the heart-in-your-throat way that follows an unknown scream in the night. No, this scream is very familiar to me because I am a dad and I have a five-month-old daughter, Liesl.
Any parent reading this is probably all too familiar with the sleepless nights, the constant diaper changes and the many instances of self-sacrifice that accompany parenthood. We expect to be woken up; we expect to be needed. But this was no ordinary scream due to a wet diaper or a bad dream; this was the scream of an infant suffering from the agony of a cow’s milk allergy.
When my wonderful wife Elizabeth and I found out we were having our fourth child, we were naturally overjoyed but also knew that, due to the new life growing inside Elizabeth, the days of nursing Liesl were numbered. After extensive conversation with our helpful pediatrician, we were prepared to put Liesl on a standard brand of cow milk based infant formula as soon as the time came.
The one aspect that we did not take into account was the fact that I was extremely allergic to cow milk, myself, as an infant and young boy. In fact, a carelessly licked ice cream spoon was all it took to send me over the edge and into an intense allergic reaction. While it was safe to call my allergy severe, I can’t claim that it was unusual. Cow-milk allergy is the number one allergy in kids and symptoms include irritability, vomiting, wheezing, swelling, hives, and even anaphylactic shock.
Now, I want to interject here that I have over six years of university-level study of digestion, metabolism, and human nutrition with both a bachelors and masters of science degree in food science and clinical human nutrition. So what happened next is something I should have easily seen coming due to my extensive training on the subject, but perhaps I was too close to the problem to see the obvious.
Genetics make all the difference. While it may seem obvious now that Liesl would be allergic to the formula, at the time, Elizabeth and I were both shocked at the severity of her allergy to the product. Right away we noticed hives on her cheeks, legs, and arms. She then developed an awful diaper rash, diarrhea, as well as problems sleeping at night due to gastric distress. Needless to say we took her off of that formula immediately and started her on the perfect alternative: goat milk.
Benefits of Goat Milk
About 65 percent of the world consumes goat milk. While cow milk is the milk of choice here in the US, worldwide goats and goat milk are far more common. Imagine yourself as a poor farmer in Kenya: which would be easier to buy, take care of, maintain, and milk: a 1500-pound cow or a 150-pound, hearty goat? By thinking in these terms, it is easy to see why the majority of the world turns to goat milk. However, below the surface, on a nutritional level, goat milk offers many benefits over cow milk.
1. Goat Milk is Less Allergenic
As stated earlier, cow milk is the number one allergy in kids. But why is this, what does cow milk have that causes it to be so allergenic? The answer lies in the protein of cow milk where an extremely allergenic molecule called alpha s1 casein hides. The levels of alpha s1 casein in goat’s milk are about 89 percent less than cow’s milk, providing a far less allergenic food. A recent study of infants allergic to cow’s milk found that nearly 93 percent could drink goat milk with virtually no side effects.
2. Goat Milk is Easier to Digest
When we eat food, it is vital that our bodies can digest it in the most efficient and complete manner. The protein and fat in goat milk is far easier to digest than that of cow milk. The fat globules in goat milk are about half the size of cow milk and contain higher levels of medium-chain fatty acids. Not only are these medium-chain fatty acids better for you, they are easier for your body to digest because they have a larger surface-to-volume ratio. Likewise, when the protein in goat milk begins the digestion process, it forms a soft bolus in the stomach, unlike cow milk which takes on the form of a large hard-to-digest ball.
3. Goat Milk is Naturally Homogenized
I imagine the vast populace would be less than comfortable with cow milk that had not been homogenized. The top of the jug of milk would be a thick cream while the bottom of the jug would have the fat free or “skimmed” milk. While this used to be commonplace, this is now rarely seen because we homogenize virtually every gallon of cow milk in the US.
Homogenization, the act of forcing the milk at high pressure through a hole the size of the head of pin, destroys the cellular wall of the milk fat which then releases a dangerous free-radical from inside the fat cellular wall known as xanthine oxidase. Goat milk comes naturally homogenized and therefore has no need to undergo this extremely harsh processing technique. Since the fat cell wall is never destroyed, the xanthine oxidase stays intact, does not convert to a free radical, and is metabolized safely.
4. Goat Milk Rarely Causes Lactose Intolerance
Lactose is simply one molecule of glucose and one molecule of galactose. It is more commonly referred to as milk sugar, and while goat milk does contain lactose (although less than cow), the prevalence with which goat milk causes lactose intolerance is far lower. This is thought to be due to the superiority of goat milk in terms of digestibility. Since goat milk is easily digested, the lactose is also metabolized quickly and does not stay in the intestines, causing osmotic imbalances and gastric distress.
5. Goat Milk (Formula) is a Near Perfect Match to Mothers Milk
The evidence convinced me that a goat-milk formula was just what Liesl needed. But there weren’t any formulas I was crazy about. I decided to put my six-and-a-half years of education to use and come up with my own. While goat milk is the perfect alternative to cow milk in an infant formula, an infant’s needs are slightly different than those of an adult or even a young child.
First, if goat milk is the sole food being provided to an infant, then protein content needs to be taken into account. The milk would need to be diluted to lower the protein content. This will ensure that the formula doesn’t contain protein levels that would be stressful to the newly formed kidneys of the infant. However, once you lower the protein levels by diluting the milk, you now have to increase the calories, carbohydrates, and fat accordingly to make up for the dilution level.
While goat milk is one of the closest milks to mother’s milk, there are still a few nutritional gaps that need to be equalized. Therefore, by following high-quality formula recipes the nutrition information of your goat milk infant formula will match exactly that of mother’s milk.
Some closing thoughts.
As soon as I put my daughter on this formula, the transformation was nothing short of miraculous. Her skin healed, she slept soundly through the night, and her immune system seemed unshakeable. Goat milk for use in infant formula, just like hers, is a growing field and more and more manufacturers are understanding the benefits of using it over cow milk or soy milk.
In fact, protein shakes aimed at kids and teens are also a growing market that also utilize goat milk as the main nutritional component. While goat milk won’t change parenthood into an easy walk in the park, it will help to eliminate most issues surrounding the dreaded cow milk allergy that plagues millions of children each year. My advice, give the humble goat a chance, and you just might get a few more hours of sleep.
Joe Stout, MS, President of Mt. Capra, received his Bachelors of Science degree in Human Nutrition and Food Science from Washington State University and a Masters of Science degree in Clinical Human Nutrition from the University of Bridgeport. He has written for various magazines and is the editor of The High Road to Health newsletter. A nutrition teacher and speaker, he lives with his wife and three children in Washington State.