Milk is not for everyone. I’m not going to try to tell you that you should or should not drink milk.
And I’m also not going to tell you that we as a society neeeeeed to drink milk. We don’t. Lots of healthy civilizations across many different time periods have gotten along just fine with out it.
Additionally, there are significant number of people who just simply cannot digest milk.
That’s not to say that milk doesn’t have some fantastic health benefits. And I for one, am delighted that is the case, because like so many Americans, I love everything dairy. AND I’m one of the lucky ones who can digest it.
I first started drinking raw milk 5 years ago. Windsor Dairy was a farm about an hour north of me in Windsor, Colorado. I would drive there every 2 weeks just to pick up my share of raw milk, yogurt, cream and cheese. It was always a fun outing that I looked forward to. Now, they have a pick up site nearby which is far more convenient, but I have fond memories of those jaunts.
If you do drink milk or eat dairy, there are some things you should know.
Raw vs. Pasteurized
First, there’s the issue of pasteurization, the process of heating cow’s milk to a specific temperature for a specific period of time to sterilize the milk of any harmful bacteria or pathogens. If you are going to drink milk from sick or dirty cows, I would definitely recommend pasteurization (I think it’s understood that I don’t really recommend either!). That’s really how pasteurization of cow’s milk got started. Back in the 18th century, cows were being kept in atrocious and unsanitary conditions and weren’t allowed access to their natural diet of grass. Is it any surprise that people who drank the milk from these sick cows became sick or died?
In 1910, an initiative to solve the tainted milk problem suggested a certification process by which to ensure that cows were properly cared for and fed thereby safeguarding the health of the American public. Opponents felt as though the certification process would be too expensive, so it was instead decided to pasteurize the dirty milk rather than clean up the farms. Makes sense.
Pasteurization of dairy products continues to this day. The problem with pasteurization is that just like antibacterial soap and pesticides, you can’t just kill off the bad stuff that you don’t want hanging around and not kill off some of the good stuff, too. Pasteurization also destroys beneficial bacteria, vitamins and minerals, reducing the nutritional quality of milk.
Not only has pasteurization been found to decrease levels of copper, manganese and iron as well as Vitamins C, B6 and B12, but it also destroys certain proteins and enzymes that are critical in the digestion and absorption of milk.
Lactose, or milk sugar is the primary carbohydrate in milk. People who are lactose intolerant have difficulty breaking down lactose. In raw milk, the Lactobacilli bacteria that digests lactose is still in tact which is why many people with lactose intolerance find that they are able to tolerate raw, unpasteurized milk. If you are dissatisfied with being lactose intolerant, you might have more success with raw dairy.
There is significant evidence that suggests that consumption of raw milk actually protects against immune related diseases such as asthma and allergies.
It is true that the FDA and CDC will have you believe that raw milk is a grave risk to your life. I’m not here to discredit these organizations…. that’s another blog post. It is however, interesting that there have been several deaths as a result of pasteurized dairy products in the last decade alone while there has not been a single death due to raw milk in well over a century. Things that make you go hmmmm.
When you look at the incidence of food-bourne illness from eating a number of different foods, you’re much more likely to get sick from eating seafood or poultry or even produce than drinking raw milk.
The local farm where I get my raw milk tests every batch for bacteria and pathogens. They’ve never had a negative test result. I’ve toured the farm and have seen the cows for myself grazing in their pasture and I’ve witnessed them being milked. They look pretty happy to me!
Raw milk is a completely balanced food, containing everything the body needs. Here are just some of those things:
- Raw milk contains all 8 essential amino acids, used as building blocks for protein
- Lactoferrin aids in the assimilation and absorption of iron and has anticancer and antimicrobial properties.
- Great source of healthy saturated fat
- Great source of Vitamins A, B6, B12, C and D
- Appropriate balance of minerals such as calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and copper.
- Raw milk contains enzymes that aid in it’s digestion
- Contains beneficial bacteria that protect against pathogens
So essentially, raw milk in it’s natural form is a nutritional powerhouse that delivers nutrients and macronutrients to the human body in exactly the way we can utilize them. Pasteurized milk has been modified. Enzymes have been killed, proteins denatured, vitamins and minerals destroyed. Our bodies no longer recognize it as a nutritionally complete food. We have to work harder to digest it and we receive less nutrition from it.
Whole Milk Dairy or Low Fat/Skim?
At this point, hopefully you are starting to catch on. We talked about how saturated fat is beneficial in my blog on fats. We’ve talked above about how the nutrition that milk delivers comes in a synergistic package that can only function the way it’s supposed to when it remains intact. So why would we want to remove that saturated fat? When the fat is removed from whole milk, you’re pretty much left with a nutrition-less glass of sugar water. The only thing left is a bunch of lactose that is going to spike your blood sugar without any fat to help moderate it. In my humble opinion, skim pasteurized milk is one of the worst beverages you can drink.
- Palmitoleic acid occurs naturally in full-fat dairy (and meat) which has been shown to lower body fat, protect against diabetes and insulin resistance and improve cholesterol levels.
- Conjugated linoleic acid, which occurs naturally in full-fat dairy was found to lower cancer risk.
- Eating milk fat causes our stomachs to secrete a hormone that increases the production of digestive hormones and let’s us know when we’re full. Our bodies aren’t triggered to make that hormone when we eat non-fat dairy, contributing to overeating.
You hear that folks? Milk fat can indeed help you with your weight loss goals!!
Why is Grass-Fed So Important?
Cows are designed to eat grass. Cows, much unlike humans, don’t have just the one stomach. Cows also have a rumen, a 45 gallon fermentation tank where bacteria converts all the plant fiber into proteins and fats. You see, the feed lot farmers don’t want to wait 4-5 years for their cows to mature for slaughter. That’s how long it takes when they eat their natural diet of grass. To fatten them up in 14 – 16 months, the farmers give them massive amounts of corn (GMO), protein supplements and growth hormones. Now, it’s not surprising that feeding the cows this unnatural diet makes them very sick. Their bodies are not equipped for all that grain. The whole plan would never work if it weren’t for all the drugs and antibiotics then given to the cows. And all of that sickness, hormones, and antibiotics go right into your milk and meat.
Some of the nutritional advantages grass-fed meat and dairy has over feed lot varieties:
- Higher in healthy omega-3s
- Four times higher in Vitamin E
- Higher in conjugated linoelic acid
Another thing to keep in mind is you want to look for labels that say “100% grass-fed”. Some farmers will allow their young cows and calves to graze on grass, but to speed things up they’ll switch over to grain in the last part of their lives to fatten them up quickly for slaughter. This is called “grain finishing”.
I think it goes without saying that it is best to buy organic animal products of any kind. However, be careful. Just because the label says organic doesn’t necessarily mean that the cow was grass-fed. It does mean that it was not fed any pesticides, hormones or antibiotics, which is nothing to snuff at. But if you’re looking for grass-fed, make sure it says “100% grass-fed”.
- If you do drink milk or other dairy products, the best form of dairy is raw, unpasteurized, organic, whole milk from 100% grass-fed cows. It’s not only safe, it’s a complete nutritious food chock full of nourishment.
- That being said, there are some that are just not comfortable with raw milk and others who may not have access to it. In that case, my advice to you is to look for an organic whole milk from grass-fed cows that has had minimal pasteurization. That typically means that they pasteurize the milk at around 165 degrees F (which is low enough to avoid complete sterilization and maintains more of the nutritional value) for a short period of time. If the farm uses a method like this one, they should describe it on the label. If nothing is mentioned, you can assume traditional fermentation was employed.
- Look for labels that say “organic”, “no hormones or antibiotics” and/or “grass-fed”.
- And finally, I strongly advise against consuming any low-fat or skim milk product. They really do more harm than good.
It can be challenging to find full-fat dairy products, given that the food industry is still operating under the assumption that saturated fat is bad. For instance, it is near impossible to find yogurt that is full-fat. Furthermore, most yogurts have loads of added sugar, preservatives, thickeners and artificial sweeteners that turn a healthy food into an unhealthy one. For that reason, I make my own yogurt and kefir from raw organic milk. However, if that isn’t an option for you, your best bet is to buy a tub of plain full-fat yogurt (there are a few organic varieties available) and add your own flavorings – fruit, jam, spices, honey, etc.
If you’re thinking about buying or trying to find raw milk in your area, here’s a great guide to help you find the right farmer.
To find farmers near you raising pastured animals and selling raw milk, put your zip code into the map tool on the Local Harvest website and type “raw milk” into the keywords box.
Do you drink milk? What kind? Don’t forget to leave a comment below the article and share your thoughts about milk and dairy.
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This post is linked to Fat Tuesday at Real Food Forager.