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Hello, Raw Milk
High quality raw milk is a wonder. Did you know raw milk can enhance your immune system, reduce allergies and asthma, and even improve skin conditions? Some people even use raw milk as medicine–to treat pink eye, improve digestive issues, and more. The live enzymes and probiotic bacteria in raw milk are what gives it these impressive benefits. Pasteurization (which all milk you’ll find in the grocery store undergoes) kills all the life in milk and makes it more difficult for our bodies to digest.
But there’s more to it than just pasteurization. What are the cows eating? What are their living situations like? All these factors impact the quality of our milk and the benefits that we get from it.
It’s important to source raw milk from a trusted farmer. Farmers producing raw milk direct to consumers generally follow very high sanitation standards to prevent contamination, but there is always a risk in consuming raw foods. Raw milk intended for pasteurization is NOT safe to drink. 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.
What are the types of milk that we can buy?
Milk is a broad category, especially today when almonds, oats, and cashews are being turned into milk-like products too. Milk can come from any mammal, of course, but generally we are discussing cow milk. We’ll make a mention of goats, sheep, and camels and touch on plant-based milks as well, but unless otherwise noted, we’re referring to milk from cows. So, let’s break down some different types of milk and find out the properties of each.
Most milk found at your local grocery store is what we call conventional milk. Conventional milk is pasteurized, homogenized, and fortified and comes from cows fed non-organic grains and raised in crowded and often dirty environments. A core principle that we at My Superhero Foods stress: It’s not just about what animal we eat; it is also about what the animal eats. In the case of conventional milk, the animal is not eating well.
The goal of conventional dairy operations is to produce as much milk as quickly and cheaply as possible, and this usually is achieved at the expense of the health of the cows and the quality of the milk. The industry is even known to intentionally waste milk to manipulate the price. Dairy cows are kept in confined animal feeding lots (CAFOs) where they are often treated harshly, restrained into smaller spaces, and not given opportunities to graze. As a result, these cows are likely to get sick and need antibiotics that will eventually find their way into our bodies. There can be blood, pus, and fecal matter present in conventional milk that is not readily recognized due to the extreme processing. While the bacteria from those pollutants are killed in pasteurization and so not dangerous, it is largely avoidable with good sanitation practices and less crowded conditions for herds.
Conventional milk is processed by two primary methods, pasteurization and homogenization. Pasteurization uses heat (72°C or 161°F for about 15 seconds and then a rapid cool) to kill all bacteria and extend shelf life. In other words, it keeps milk “fresh” for long periods of time. Unfortunately, many nutrients are lost due to pasteurization such as minerals, beneficial enzymes and even vitamins (especially heat sensitive vitamins like vitamin C and B vitamins).
Homogenization is a mechanical process (using high pressure) that allows the milk to be consistent and uniform in texture. It breaks down the fat into smaller particles so it can spread out evenly throughout the liquid. If there were no homogenization, the cream (our favorite) would float to the top. The “official” claim is that no significant nutrients are lost during homogenization. We believe this is an understatement due to the significant mechanical pressures. For a fascinating read that supports our viewpoint, see Devil in the Milk. At best, we can say that these fats have been altered. You can probably assume that all milk in the grocery store is homogenized unless it explicitly says on the label that it’s not.
Conventional milk is fortified with vitamins. However, these vitamins are not as bioavailable when compared to raw milk. That means that our bodies don’t use these vitamins as effectively when compared to the vitamins found in raw milk.
Conventional milk consumption may impact your hormonal balance. Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBHG) used to increase milk production has been linked to different cancers such as breast and colon cancer.
Conventional milk may increase our levels of IGF-1 (Insulin growth factor 1) which has been linked to increased risk for many cancers such prostate, breast and colorectal.
Many people (up to 75%) can’t tolerate conventional milk. They experience severe digestion problems such as bloating, cramping, loose stools and even diarrhea. They are unable to digest the lactose. Lactase, an enzyme found in raw milk, is necessary to adequately digest lactose. The Weston Price Foundation found that 80% of people (over 700 families) who are lactose intolerant can safely drink raw milk without all the side effects.
What about lactose free milk?
Lactose free milk is conventional milk that has had lactase added back in. Might as well just not remove the enzyme with pasteurizing in the first place!
A quick history of pasteurized milk
To understand why we pasteurize milk and why raw milk is so feared, it helps to take a quick look at the recent history of milk in the United States. Raw milk was the only kind of milk around until the 1890s. Because raw milk is a highly perishable food, most people got milk either from their own cow or from a farmer nearby. However, in the 19th century people were moving into cities as the Industrial Revolution picked up speed. As people moved into cities, they moved away from their reliable milk suppliers.
Some dairy operations decided to work in tandem with the large distilleries popping up in the cities, feeding cattle “swill,” the spent grain leftover after making alcohol. While this was a cheap way to feed cows, swill was terribly deficient in nutrients, leading to sick cows and poor, deficient milk which sellers doctored up with additives to make palatable. This deficient milk along with poor sanitation practices led to large outbreaks of illnesses such as typhoid and diptheria as well as nutritional deficiencies from the lacking nutrients in the milk.
In response to the surges in milk-borne illness, pasteurization was introduced. Pasteurization (process of heating a beverage to kill the microbial life) was a new phenomenon which Louis Pasteur made famous in the late 1800s and named after himself. In 1917, most major cities began to require dairy farmers to pasteurize the milk because of outbreaks of illness in the cities. This line of thought, “Dirty milk? Kill the germs,” was not the only response. Another approach was to improve sanitation practices and prevent dirty milk. Both of these approaches found their way into the dairy industry, but the practice of pasteurization and killing the germs in milk reigned, which is why the sale of raw milk is illegal in many states today.
What’s the difference between Low Temperature Pasteurization, High Temperature Pasteurization, & Ultra Pasteurization?
Pasteurization is the process of heating milk to kill bacteria, and there are a few different types.
Low temperature pasteurization
Low temperature pasteurization (also called vat pasteurization) heats milk to 145°F for 30 minutes and then rapidly cools the milk. This is the lowest temperature milk can be pasteurized. It leave most of the flavor and nutrients in the milk intact and some of the enzymes. If you don’t have access to raw milk or don’t feel good about raw milk, grass-fed, low-temp pasteurized milk is the next best.
High temperature pasteurization
High temperature pasteurization heats the milk to 161°F for 15 seconds and then rapidly cools it. This is the most common type of pasteurization that is used for the majority of milk sold in US stores. At that temperature, most of the vitamins, minerals, and enzymes in milk are reduced, denatured, or destroyed.
Ultra pasteurization (or ultra high temperature) heats the milk to a scalding 280°F for 2 seconds and then rapidly cools it. This process essentially sterilizes milk, which extends the shelf life significantly, and destroys all enzymes, so the milk is no longer usable for making cheese or yogurt. It also impacts the protein and fat structures the most out of the types of pasteurization. It is the highest level of processing which means the highest impact on the nutrients in the milk. Unfortunately, most organic milk in the grocery store is ultra pasteurized since it usually travels longer distances and needs a longer shelf-life to sell.
It’s hard to say if it’s better to have ultra pasteurized organic milk or low-temp pasteurized conventional milk. We’re continuing to research this and ask experts for their feedback.
Organic milk may be healthier than conventional milk and often makes consumers think that cows are treated better. However, organic doesn’t always mean that the cows are treated better. At the lowest standard, organic milk just implies that cows are fed organic feed that is free of conventional pesticides, antibiotics, and synthetic growth hormones. There is a good chance that organic milk still comes from CAFO farms if it is a large brand.
Some brands of organic milk do follow better organic guidelines which include: cows are given access to pasture; feed and pasture are organic (free of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, hormones, and antibiotics); and cows’ living conditions allow for natural movement and access to sunlight, fresh air, and pasture year round. But it’s important to do some research on the brand and find out how they actually raise their cows. The Cornucopia Institute has a scorecard that rates dairy operations on their practices.
Organic milk is more expensive than conventional milk, but we believe it is superior to conventional milk because it does not have residues of pesticides from non-organic feed.
While organic milk is better than conventional, it is still highly processed and mostly contains A1 proteins which can be more difficult to digest (more on that below). It also means cows are still eating grains, which is not as good as grass (which is a cow’s natural diet!). Organic milk is still pasteurized and homogenized which means important enzymes (namely, lactase) and other nutrients are lost during processing. If you don’t tolerate conventional milk, you will most likely not tolerate organic milk.
Grass-fed milk comes from cows with a natural diet of grass and forage. Ideally, grass-fed cows are eating grass and forage all year around, but sometimes, cows are also given supplemental feed. In contrast, conventional cows eat a grain-based diet which is not natural for their bodies. This drive inflammation in conventional cows which then gets passed to us when we consume their milk.
Grass-fed milk is superior to organic milk and WAY superior to conventional milk. The best is grass-fed organic milk since it means that the cows are grass-fed but any supplemental feed is required to be organic as well.
Sometimes pasture-raised and grass-fed are used interchangeably. Both imply that the animals ate a diet of natural grass and forage. Depending on the source “pasture-raised” and/or “grass-fed” also means that the animals are raised in a pasture where they are able to roam freely and eat grasses and other foods that are natural for their bodies. But remember, while The Department of Agriculture requires documentation for producers to use these terms, both “pasture raised” and “grass-fed” have no federal standard in the US, so farmers may use them in different ways. That’s why it’s best to ask farmers what they’re feeding their cows, and the best way to do that is to source milk locally if you can.
We recommend grass-fed milk as this is the natural diet for cows and results in the best quality milk. The same is true for grass-fed beef.
The major difference between conventional milk 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 has intact enzymes and nutrients. People that can’t tolerate conventional milk or organic milk can often tolerate raw milk.
Raw milk retains many 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 beneficial bacteria and probiotics that may be highly beneficial for our gut health and digestion. Raw milk is a living food. The beneficial bacteria present mean that when left at room temperature, raw milk will ferment into a pleasant buttermilk or sour cream product instead of going rancid, molding, and becoming inedible like pasteurized milk. Because of the active microbial life of raw milk, harmful bacteria and mold don’t have space to gain a foothold like they do in pasteurized milk which is basically an empty microbial wasteland.
Raw milk possesses immune enhancing components. These include immunoglobulins (immune fighting proteins), lactoferrin (high in colostrum, natural antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant), and lysozyme (enzyme that kills bacteria, antibiotic). We have been fortunate enough to witness raw milk natural antibiotic effects first hand with our littles. These immune enhancing nutrients are destroyed during pasteurization.
Raw milk has many other benefits too. It has been shown to reduce allergies and asthma, improve skin health, maintain healthy weight, balance hormones, and prevent nutrient deficiencies.
Raw milk fans love the taste. Raw milk is creamier than conventional, homogenized milk. Pasteurized milk is cooked and tastes much different than the distinct freshness of raw milk.
Farms that produce raw milk tend to practice high quality animal welfare and use regenerative farming which is good for the environment. To find raw milk, you generally have to connect with a farmer personally which encourages positive relationships between us and the sources and producers of our food.
Is raw milk safe?
We believe raw milk is not only safe but optimal. However, certain populations (people with immune deficiency, pregnant women, etc.) may be at increased risk, so be sure to make an informed decision about whether raw milk is for you and where to source it from. While we love raw milk for our family, and I would feel safe drinking raw milk while pregnant, you know your health and your relationship to risk as it relates to food best. If you have concerns about the safety of raw milk for your particular situation, we encourage you to seek other opinions and do your own research. Also, we encourage you to become familiar with your local regulations.
We disagree with the popular stance that raw milk from a trusted source is dangerous. Sarah Smith at Raw Milk Institute says wisely “there is no such thing as a perfectly safe food.” As long as you obtain the milk from reputable farms, raw milk is a superfood.
The essential distinction between “carefully produced legitimate food-quality fresh milk intended for direct human consumption and processor-quality raw milk, which is produced knowing that pasteurization will follow” is often left out of the raw milk discussion. Raw milk intended for pasteurization is NOT safe to drink. Raw milk intended for fresh, direct consumption IS safe.
Locate a dairy farm and go for a visit. Meet the farmer and the cows and take the kids! See for yourself how the farm is set up and how the milk is handled. You’ll likely leave with more appreciation for farmers and for your food.
We believe that individuals should have the right to choose the foods they consume, including raw milk. It is a choice of personal freedom and informed decision-making.
Where can I find raw milk?
Raw milk is definitely harder to find than the conventional milk stocking the grocery fridges. Accessibility depends on what state you live in since each state has different laws around raw milk. You can start here to find out what your state laws are. In some states, including California, Maine, and South Carolina, you can find raw milk in retail stores. In others, you have to buy directly from a farm or buy into a herd share. And in other states, it’s fully illegal to sell raw milk for human consumption, but producers can sell with a label “Not for Human Consumption.”
If you live in California, you can look for Raw Farm or other raw milk brands in retail stores. In other states, most raw milk sellers are small and very local.
Milk is an excellent source of protein. Beta-Casein is the most common protein, making up 80% of the proteins in milk. There are several types of casein, but the two most common types are A1 beta-casein (aka A1) and A2 beta-casein (aka A2). The amount of A1 vs A2 depends on the breed of the cow. If cows were bred in Northern Europe, they are a mixture of both A1 and A2 (50/50). If cows were bred in Channel Islands and Southern France, they are predominately A2. Milk from goats, sheep and camels are mostly A2.
Emerging research suggests that A2 milk may be a healthier option, particularly for folks who lack a certain enzyme. A breakdown product known as BCM-7 from A1 milk is inflammatory and has been linked to heart disease, diabetes type 1, autoimmune disease, autism and brain development, digestive problems, obesity, asthma, allergies, respiratory infections, acne and more. It can also worsen anxiety, promote mood disorders and inattentiveness in our children. It is even linked with sugar craving. But the response to A1 milk and BCM-7 differ from person to person.
Some people are not as affected by A1 milk because they don’t have the enzyme that makes BCM7. Unfortunately, we don’t have available tests that tell us that we carry the enzyme. The best way to know is to avoid any product with A1 protein is to experiment with removing it from your diet and adding it back in to assess how you feel.
A2 milk from goats, sheep and Jersey cows are thought to be healthy and non-inflammatory. For some people, A2 milk causes fewer digestive problems such as gas, bloating, and abdominal pain. A2 cow milk is not lactose free! It simply doesn’t have the troublesome A1 protein.
Many raw milk producers have gone the extra step to choose A2 breeds of cows. Grass-fed, A2, raw milk is the best option in our opinion.
We try to get A2 protein from any dairy product when we can– from goat milk, sheep milk, or A2 breeds of cows. But do some observations and experiments of your own to see what works for you body and your family.
Plant-based milk (soy, almond, oat, coconut, and more)
Plant-based milk is not really milk. It can be made from nuts (almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, etc), soybeans, coconut, and even oats. Plant-based milk has become very popular in recent years as more people experience and notice discomfort when drinking conventional milk. But plant-based milks have some drawbacks.
First off, most plant-based milks contain ingredients that we try to avoid like seed oils and natural flavors which can harm our health. Plant-based milk requires extensive processing such as the utilization of additives, stabilizers, and sweeteners to mimic the taste and texture of dairy milk. Why all the additives when we can drink high quality dairy milk?
Plant-based milk is deficient in many nutrients (compared to dairy) such as protein, calcium, and vitamin B12. Because of this, plant-based milk is fortified with these nutrients and additional ones. Nutrients naturally found in food are more readily absorbable (bioavailable) in our bodies. Also, the dose of these nutrients are ideal when consumed naturally. Foods that are fortified with vitamins and minerals are often added to excess.
Some advocate that plant-based milk is better for the environment. However, we disagree! There has been increased demand requiring large scale commercialization and ultra processing. As a result, we see significant deforestation, monocultures, pesticide usage (glyphosate), and water scarcity in certain regions. It’s also important to note that when we compare plant milk to dairy milk, we are comparing to grass fed, regenerative dairy operations, not CAFOs. CAFOs have a huge environmental impact, and most plant milks probably do have less impact than them. But the issue is not the cows, it’s the farming structure.
Do you recommend any specific type of plant-based milk?
Why do functional medicine doctors not recommend dairy?
Most functional medicine doctors believe that dairy is bad for our digestive health, promotes food sensitivities, promotes inflammation/chronic disease, and leads to hormonal imbalances.
We certainly agree with this perspective as it relates to pasteurized conventional milk. Conventional milk clearly has additional hormones, antibiotics, A1 inflammatory proteins, and more. Organic milk is better but still problematic.
However, they usually don’t address raw milk nor do they address A2 type milk (Jersey cows, goat, sheep, milk, camel). As we discussed above, raw milk resolves most of the issues that people experience with conventional or organic milk. We believe raw milk is a superfood.
Most functional medicine doctors recommend plant-based milk as an alternative, but we don’t think this is a good alternative except in a very few select cases because plant-based milks often have harmful additives, seed oils, and are much less nutrient-dense.
First, of course, we recommend finding a local dairy farmer near you! The best way to access raw milk and low temp pasteurized milk is to find a small farmer in your area and connect with them directly. If that’s not an option, here are some brands that we recommend:
Kalona – grass-fed, organic, low temp pasteurized, not homogenized
Raw Farm – raw, only available in California
Alexandre Farm – grass-fed, organic, not homogenized, but ultra pasteurized
A note on access
We encourage you to find the best quality milk that you can access and afford. Not everyone can afford to buy into a herd share, and not everyone has a raw milk producer nearby. If you can’t source raw milk right now, do the best you can! Organic, A2 milk is the next best option. Raw cheese is much easier to find, so if you want to get raw dairy into your diet, you can start with raw cheeses. Maybe you just get raw milk once a month instead of every week. Feeding our families nutrient dense foods is a lifelong journey, and we are always learning and adapting to our circumstances, so start where you are! You got this.
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