This is the third of a five-part series:
Part 1: In defense of REAL foods with bad raps
Part 2: In defense of REAL eggs (yolks and all)
Part 4: In defense of REAL meat (pasture-raised, that is) coming soon
Part 5: In defense of REAL butter (1 ingredient only) coming soon
As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, I used to be a vegetarian bordering on vegan. I had decided to opt out of the factory farm system by opting out of meat and dairy (almost) entirely. More than anything else, I never in a million years would have expected to say this: I drink a glass of milk everyday.
My problem with milk was two-fold: 1) I knew that the factory-farming system was incredibly inhumane and 2) that it produced milk that was laced with nasties (antibiotics, hormones, and pus).
But now, the milk by which I was so repulsed and avoiding was not REAL milk. Real milk is milk produced by happy, healthy, pasture-raised cows. Because of the superior health of these cows, because they are grass-fed and not injected with hormones or antibiotics, the milk is highly nutritious. Furthermore, real milk is raw. That is, it is not pasteurized or homogenized, two processes that are extremely detrimental to the nutritional qualities of milk.
Like the other real foods defended in this series, you have been told that real milk is dangerous (unpasteurized? gasp) and unhealthy (full-fat? never). But I am here to defend real milk, and show that when produced ethically and naturally, it is not only safe but extremely nutritious.
The health benefits of real milk
Raw milk from pastured cows is a completely balanced food. It contains 20 of the standard amino acids, 60 functional enzymes, essential fatty acids, and protective antibodies. It is also chock-full of healthy protein, carbohydrates, and saturated fats.
It has an abundant biodiversity of cultures/bacteria/probiotics. 80% of the human immune system is made up of good bacteria in the gut. But as a result of lifestyle, medications, and foods, the majority of individuals in the developed world lack these cultures and suffer from a weakened immune system as result. Raw milk puts these cultures back in our gut, and significantly boosts the immune system.
Raw milk is particularly rich in the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and K2, which constitute the cornerstone of traditional diets. More specifically, these vitamins were abundant in the “sacred foods” of the traditional diets that Dr. Weston A. Price identified. While the benefits of vitamin A and D are fairly common knowledge, vitamin K2 is the silent knight of the group. Vitamin D and vitamin K2 are partners-in-crime of sorts: vitamin D creates vitamin K2-dependent proteins; until the K2 is available to activate these proteins, the benefits of vitamin D are not actualized. These two vitamins work together to improve our heart health and strengthen our bones.
Vitamin K2 also works hand-in-hand with calcium. When vitamin K2 levels are low, calcium collects in the blood, which results may result in calcification of the arteries. The Rotterdam Study followed almost 5,000 individuals over a 10-year span and found that individuals who consumed the most dietary vitamin K2 experienced 50% less arterial calcification and cardiovascular death. This is because vitamin K2 prevents calcium build-up in the arteries and activates the K2-dependent proteins that mineralize bones. This helps combat both heart disease and osteoporosis.
Raw milk obviously contains all of its natural butterfat. It is this butterfat that allows the body to absorb and utilize the vitamins and minerals in the milk. Without the butterfat, the vitamins and minerals are rendered moot as they cannot be effectively absorbed.
It is extremely important to note that while many people experience digestive and other problems from consuming pasteurized milk, few have similar troubles with raw milk. An informal survey of over 700 families found that over 80% of those diagnosed with lactose intolerance no longer experienced symptoms after switching to raw milk. Stanford University is currently conducting a clinical study to determine whether raw milk actually reduces the incidence of lactose intolerance.
And if you’re scratching your head wondering about cholesterol, please see Part 1: In defense of REAL foods with bad raps.
The factory-farm system
The vast majority of milk found in your local grocery store was produced in a factory farm. In 1970, the average cow produced 9,700 pounds of milk in her lifetime. Today’s cow produces double, over 19,000 pounds. What accounts for this massive increase? The answer is simple: growth hormones. These growth hormones end up in the milk, and eventually in consumers where they wreak havoc on our systems.
Cows administered rGBH experience statistically higher rates of mastitis, a painful udder infection that causes cows’ udders to swell and become full of pus. For this reason, national averages show at least 322 million cell-counts of pus per glass of milk. This is well-above the human limit for intake, and has been assumed to lead to a variety of health ailments from eczema to Chrone’s disease.
To help battle mastitis and other illness and diseases (most of these cows are essentially living in their own manure and in extremely close conditions), the cows are given antibiotics. 80% of all antibiotics in the US go into livestock production. These antibiotics, as with the growth hormones, end up in the final product. This results in increased antibiotic resistance in consumers, a major health problem.
The problem with pasteurization
Pasteurization is the process of heating milk in order to kill illness-causing bacteria potentially contained in the milk and extend the shelf-life of the milk. This process was invented in a time when millions of people became sick and died of diseases like tuberculosis, scarlet fever, typhoid fever, and other infections that were transmitted through raw milk. The reason: milk-production was beginning to be industrialized, and the factory-farm system is extremely unsanitary. Pasteurization comes at a cost. According to Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions:
“Heat alters milk’s amino acids lysine and tyrosine, making the whole complex of proteins less available; it promotes rancidity of unsaturated fatty acids and destruction of vitamins. Vitamin C loss in pasteurization usually exceeds 50%; loss of other water-soluble vitamins can run as high as 80%; the Wulzen or anti-stiffness factor is totally destroyed as is vitamin B12, needed for healthy blood and a properly functioning nervous system. Pasteurization reduces the availability of milks mineral components, such as calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and sulfur, as well as many trace minerals. There is some evidence that pasteurization alters lactose, making it more readily absorbable. This, and the fact that pasteurized milk puts an unnecessary strain on the pancreas to produce digestive enzymes, may explain why milk consumption in civilized societies has been linked with diabetes.
Last but not least, pasteurization destroys all the enzymes in milk — in fact, the test for successful pasteurization is absence of enzymes. These enzymes help the body assimilate all bodybuilding factors, including calcium That is why those who drink pasteurized milk may suffer from osteoporosis. Lipase in raw milk helps the body digest and utilize butterfat.
After pasteurization, chemicals may be added to suppress odor and restore taste. Synthetic vitamin D2 or D3 is added — the former is toxic and his been linked to heart disease while the latter is difficult to absorb…
Modern pasteurized milk, devoid of its enzyme content, puts an enormous strain on the body’s digestive mechanism. In the elderly, and those with milk intolerance or inherited weaknesses of digestion, this milk passes through not fully digested and can build up around the tiny villi of the small intestine, preventing the absorption of vital nutrients and promoting the uptake of toxic substances. The result is allergies, chronic fatigue and a host of degenerative diseases.”
The problem with homogenization
Once upon a time, milk consumers were all about the butterfat – the more the better! (Check out my impressive cream line below!) And if a dairy was known to sell milk with more butterfat, they were likely getting the most business. To cut down on competition, dairies started homogenizing milk.
The first step of the homogenization process is the removal of the cream. It is then replaced in even concentrations to create the common milkfat “grades”: ½%, 1%, 2% and whole. The milk is then homogenized, essentially a process of forcing milk through tiny holes at an extremely high pressure. This decreases the fat globules to such a small size that they are unable to clump back together. As a result, the cream line completely disappears as the fat is evenly dispersed in throughout the milk.
Homogenization subjects butterfat to rancidity. There is also an issue with a protein enzyme called xanthine oxidase which is in cow’s milk. Normally, after digested, proteins are broken down. However, when milk is homogenized, small fat globules surround the xanthine oxidase and it is absorbed into your blood stream. Research has shown a connection between this absorbed enzyme and increased risks of heart disease.
Low-fat milk: the ultimate enemy
Low-fat and non-fat milk is sold as a health food, but butterfat is in milk for a reason. As previously mentioned, without the butterfat, the body cannot absorb and utilize the vitamins and minerals in the water fraction of the milk.
Furthermore, synthetic vitamin D is added to replace the natural vitamin D found in butterfat. Synthetic vitamin D is known to be toxic to the liver.
Non-fat dried milk is added to 1% and 2% milk. Unlike the cholesterol in raw milk, the cholesterol in dried milk is oxidized. Oxidized cholesterol promotes heart disease. Furthermore, non-fat dried milk has a high nitrite content.
How to quality find raw milk in your area
The following websites can help you find raw milk in your area:
It is important to realize that each state sets their own standards. In California, raw milk dairy farmers must meet or exceed pasteurized milk standards, without pasteurizing (wow!).
So how do you go finding quality producers of raw milk in your area? There are a few general conditions to look for:
- Low pathogenic bacteria count (does the farmer test the milk regularly for pathogens?)
- The milk is quickly chilled after milking
- The milk comes from cows raised naturally, in accordance with the seasons
- The cows are mainly grass-fed
- The cows are not given antibiotics and growth hormones to increase milk production
- The cows are well cared for
If you are thinking about purchasing milk from a local dairy farmer, definitely visit the farm in person. Look around and ask questions, such as:
- Does the farmer and his/her family drink the milk themselves?
- How long has the farmer been producing raw milk?
- Are the cows clean?
- What conditions are the cows raised in?
- Are there any obvious sanitation questions?
You may also ask to see the bacteria counts for that week (most states require dairies to run weekly tests on the milk and manure).
If a cow is covered in filth, smells, is wet and cold, and does not look particularly comfortable, that could be a warning sign that her milk is less than ideal for raw consumption.
Sources and further reading:
As always, be sure to do your homework before making a major change in your diet. Be sure that you are fully informed and confident in your diet choices. The below resources will get you started:
- Dr. Mercola, Don’t Drink Your Milk!
- Huffington Post, Why You Shouldn’t Drink Pasteurized Milk
- Dr. Mercola, Choosing Between Raw Milk and a Dead, White Liquid
- Dr. Mercola, Demonized Since the 1950s – Yet Still One of Healthiest Foods Available
- Sally Fallon, Dirty Secrets of the Food Processing Industry
- Chris Kresser L.Ac, Raw Milk Reality: Benefits of Raw Milk
- Dr. Mercola, What You Need to Know About Vitamin K2, D and Calcium
- Natural News, Calcium controversy explained – Vitamin K2 keeps calcium in your bones and out of your arteries