Raw milk is a wonder food. There are so many health benefits of raw milk that it is well worth the sometimes difficult search to find a good source. However, there is a lot of misunderstanding and fear around drinking raw milk.
Disclaimer: The raw milk we are referring to in this blog post relates to raw milk that is carefully and intentionally produced for direct human consumption. Raw milk intended for pasteurization is not safe to drink.
To start, let’s define raw milk. The major difference between conventional milk (what you find at the grocery store) and raw milk is that raw milk is not pasteurized or homogenized. It goes straight from teat to bottle. Because it is not processed, raw milk retains all of its beneficial enzymes, proteins, vitamins, and minerals. These nutrients are destroyed or reduced when the milk is pasteurized. In raw milk, these nutrients are more bioavailable meaning our bodies can absorb and use these nutrients more completely and with fewer side effects.
Raw milk has so many benefits. It has been shown to reduce allergies and asthma, improve skin health, maintain a healthy weight, balance hormones, and prevent nutrient deficiencies.
Let’s break down these benefits a bit more!
Health Benefits of Raw Milk
1. Strengthened Gut Microbiome
The main characteristic of raw milk is that it is not pasteurized. This means that your body gets the full array of beneficial bacteria and enzymes present in raw milk. Possibly the most important health benefit of raw milk is that it is a probiotic (it introduces beneficial bacteria) and a prebiotic (it feeds existing beneficial bacteria).
Raw milk nourishes your gut, creating an ideal environment for proper digestion. It can be an excellent aid in antibiotic use recovery and in maintaining a diverse and healthy microbiome. Because the gut microbiome is the foundation for our immune systems, our digestion, and even our mental health, raw milk’s probiotic benefits influence many other areas of our overall health.
The living bacteria have been shown to help facilitate the production of lactase enzymes in the intestine, which helps lactose-intolerant people digest lactose.
2. Bioavailable Vitamins and Minerals
Raw milk is a highly nutrient dense food. It contains all the twenty-two essential minerals and most of the necessary fat soluble vitamins. When milk is pasteurized, the nutritional quality declines substantially. Without the live bacteria and enzymes in the milk, our bodies cannot absorb and use the nutrients as well.
The minerals in raw milk are bound to proteins such as calcium and iodine making them easier for our bodies to take up. Beneficial bacteria like lactobacilli also support mineral absorption. Many people are deficient in minerals due to a lack of mineral-rich foods, so the easily accessible minerals are a key health benefit of raw milk.
The vitamins present in raw milk help support many parts of the body including brain function, the nervous system, and bone density. While many of the vitamins present in raw milk are found in other foods, they are super easy to absorb and use in raw milk.
3. Improved Fertility
Unfortunately, infertility is a rising issue for many people in the US. And it makes sense when you look at the huge amount of pressure from environmental toxins, stress, and the confusing mixed messages about nutrition we are all receiving from all sorts of different sources. Another health benefit of raw milk is that it improves fertility by reducing inflammation and providing a wide range of necessary nutrients.
Fertility issues can arise from all sorts of things, but inflammation and malnutrition are key antagonists to fertility in both men and women. Raw milk addresses both of these issues.
By supporting gut health and overall immune function raw milk reduces inflammation. Raw milk also contains all the necessary vitamins and minerals our bodies need in a bioavailable form. That means that we can actually absorb and use those nutrients. Many people are deficient in minerals and certain vitamins because of low quality food or not enough of certain nutrients like fats. Fats (like those found in raw dairy) are necessary for our bodies to absorb fat soluble vitamins and for the normal functioning of nearly all our bodies systems. One study found that eating low-fat dairy instead of full-fat dairy increased women’s risks of infertility.
Some women experience painful menstrual cycles or other effects from conventional milk. However, milk alternatives can mess with women’s hormones as well. Soy milk is estrogenic and can make a woman’s cycle longer or affect it in other ways. Raw milk, on the other hand, is easily digestible because of the active enzymes and bacteria and provides excellent nutrition for menstruating women.
4. Reduced Allergies
Another health benefit of raw milk is reduced allergies. A summary of over 40 separate studies by the British Columbia Herdshare Association concluded that drinking raw milk protects against milk allergies. The same study found that “childhood consumption of raw farm milk correlates with higher pulmonary function and a lower incidence of allergic diseases in adults.”
Raw milk possesses immune-enhancing components. These include immunoglobulins (immune-fighting proteins), lactoferrin (high in colostrum, a natural antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant), and lysozyme (an enzyme that kills bacteria, an antibiotic). We have been fortunate enough to witness raw milk’s natural antibiotic effects firsthand with our little ones. These immune-enhancing nutrients are destroyed during pasteurization.
5. Balanced Hormones
Raw milk provides essential nutrients for hormone production. The cholesterol found in dairy and other animal fats provides building blocks for our hormones. Sally Fallon describes the importance of animal fats to women’s hormonal health on the Fertility Friday podcast. Animal fats are the only way to get the essential vitamin A, and raw dairy products (milk, butter, cheese, yogurt, etc.) are excellent sources of these fats.
While conventional dairy does provide vitamin A and cholesterol, it can impede health hormone production. Conventional milk has synthetic hormones, antibiotics, A1 inflammatory proteins, and more that can interrupt our bodies’ natural production and use of hormones.
6. Great Flavor
Raw milk has a much richer and creamier taste than conventional milk. The process of homogenization changes the fats in milk. Instead of big molecules that naturally separate out and float to the top as cream in raw milk, conventional milk’s fats and proteins have been broken up into smaller molecules that stay suspended and don’t separate. The homogenization that breaks up the fats and proteins changes the nature of those nutrients too. In 2%, 1%, and skim milk, the fats have been removed which is where most of the nutrients are.
Because raw milk is not cooked by pasteurization, it tastes very fresh and sweeter than conventional milk. The taste depends on the cows that produce it too, since environment and feed play a big role in flavor.
We suggest finding grass fed raw milk since grass is the natural and best diet for cows. Grass fed raw milk will have a bit of an earthy, grassy taste, and it is even naturally sweet-tasting. The grassy taste comes from the diet of the cows, which shifts as the seasons go by. Raw milk will reflect the cow’s diet and environment, whereas pasteurized milk will not. Pasteurized milk’s flavor is flattened by the processing it undergoes.
Enjoying your food is a part of nutrition and health, so I think that great flavor is yet another health benefit of raw milk.
7. Living Food
What would you say if I told you that raw milk doesn’t spoil?
Sounds crazy, I know! But because raw milk is a living food, it ferments into a new food product instead of rotting into something that will make you sick.
There is a point in raw milk’s life when it becomes undrinkable. But that doesn’t mean it’s inedible. The texture and taste will shift to a different kind of product called clabbered milk or buttermilk. You will know when your raw milk is past its drinking stage once the sweet smell starts to turn sour. At this point, the milk becomes closer to a runny yogurt. It becomes sour and thick and is a great replacement for yogurt or sour cream in any recipe.
Pasteurized milk doesn’t contain the necessary bacteria for fermentation. Fermentation requires the presence of the right beneficial bacteria for the fermented product you want. Pasteurized milk is sterilized–all the bacterial life is wiped out. This means that it is an open slate for both good and bad bacteria! If you’ve ever accidentally taken a gulp of spoiled milk, you know just how gross the bad bacteria are. Raw milk is also necessary for certain kinds of cheese making because pasteurization and homogenization changes the proteins, bacteria, and enzymes present.
The health benefits of raw milk extend beyond what we shared here. It is truly an amazing food. Will you be trying raw milk in your family’s diet?
We realize that many states do not allow raw milk to be sold in stores or at all. We encourage you to find the best-quality milk that you can access and afford. If you can’t source raw milk right now, do the best you can! Organic A2 milk is the next best option.
Feeding our families nutrient-dense foods is a lifelong journey, and we are always learning and adapting to our circumstances. It’s important to source raw milk from a trusted farmer. Farmers producing raw milk directly for consumers generally follow very high sanitation standards to prevent contamination. We encourage you to understand your own comfort level with risk, do your own research, find a reputable source for raw milk in your area, and make an informed decision for yourself.