The Truth about Real Milk...
The elixir of life...liquid gold...it does a body good...??? Milk is good for you, right? Well, not exactly...It all depends on how you define milk.
What is real milk? Simply defined, it is the unadulterated milk obtained from a lactating mammal that is eating its natural diet and living a natural lifestyle. Historically, human cultures consumed or used milk from cows, goats, sheep, camels, water buffaloes, and likely others. As far as compatibility to the human system (comparable nutrient profile and protein density), resulting in the most efficient digestibility, I think the evidence points to goat (or sheep) milk. But our society's milk of choice is that of the cow, so we will focus on cows' milk here.
Before diving in, I should share a caveat...I am not of the opinion that milk is an absolutely crucial part of everyone's diet. I believe that humans and mammals have been designed to provide the perfect, appropriate food to their babies (ie mama's milk). I believe as we mature from childhood to adulthood, we lose our need for milk...that we should progress from "milk to meat" and other types of dairy foods, if desired. I believe a variety of plant and animal food sources provide the essential nutrients we need that are often attributed solely to milk.
Having said that, I believe that anyone who desires to consume milk has the right to Real Milk and should pursue it above any other form of "milk." Personally, I LOVE butter and real whipped cream; I enjoy many cheeses (especially chevre) and do not want to eat my oatmeal "dry." In our household, raw milk is a vehicle for homemade kefir and yogurt, which are indispensable fermented foods. I see milk as a means to creating other delicious and nutritious foods; but I do not believe that a milk deficit would be damaging. OK, let us return to defining Real Milk.
Real cows' milk comes from grass-fed (as in pastured), free-ranging (as in outside in the sunshine), drug-free cows. The milk is not corrupted through pasteurization and homogenization, both of which destroy its nutrients and make the milk nearly undigestible to the human body...and it is not chemically treated to deoderize and introduce synthetic vitamins. It is important to understand the anatomy and physiology of our food animals when we seek to understand what they should eat. When man, out of a desire for convenience or profit, changes the natural diet and lifestyle of an animal, he creates health problems for that animal and less nutritious (and potentially dangerous) food for the consumer. Cows need exercise, sunshine and their natural diet to be healthy, which ensures healthy milk and meat.
A cow is not designed to eat anything other than grass. Period. Feeding a cow grains, particularly corn, causes physiological distress to the animal and the proliferation of potentially harmful pathogens (one of which is e coli 0157...read more about e coli and corn-fed cows). The health benefits of grass-fed raw milk (and beef) are numerous, including gut-healthy beneficial bacteria; higher levels of vitamins D, A, K and Activator X; higher levels of omega fatty acids and cancer-fighting conjugated linoleic acid; and a proliferation of good fats.
Additionally, because of its beneficial bacteria, raw milk sours with time rather than turning rancid; sour milk is a usable and healthy food. Information abounds on the health benefits of grass-fed milk, eggs and meat, so I will not generate a long list here. Check out these links: benefits of grass fed milk, meat, eggs and grass fed facts as well as a tale of two milks.
And here is one of the areas where I part ways with Sally Fallon (I'm sure it is anathema to disagree with Sally, but I will brave potential disapproval). Don't get me wrong...I really like Nourishing Traditions. I greatly appreciate the work of Weston Price and the foundation. I routinely share NT with others; I find it to be an important asset to the growing body of knowledge about real food and how to prepare it. But no one is perfect and we all make mistakes. I was once a vegan who ate copious amounts of processed soy. I shudder to remember the long-lasting health problems I gave myself with that diet. But I digress...
One of Fallon's flaws, which I suspect stems from her seemingly ardent affinity for milk, is her recommendation to consume pasteurized whole milk in the absence of being able to find raw milk. With all due respect, this is bad advice. Pasteurized milk is far more than merely inferior to raw milk. Commercial "whole milk" is not a pure substance. It is milk that has had its parts put back together after they were initially separated by processing protocols. It is subject to the industrial process of deoderization, synthetic vitamin addition, fat globule manipulation, and heating that destroys all the natural beneficial bacteria, digestive enzymes, and many of the vitamins. Milk that has been tampered with cannot nourish.
- It is the most allergenic "food" on the planet, creating intolerances and allergic sensitivities; it causes and contributes to inflammation, mucus production, digestive upsets, constipation, eczema, colic, ear infections, acne, arthritis, autism-spectrum disorders, diabetes, leukemia and more.
- Pasteurization kills natural milk enzymes that help break down lactose (the "problematic" milk sugar) and assist with calcium assimilation.
- Pasteurization kills most of milk's vitamins, such as A, C and B12; it damages essential nutritional elements, such as iodine.
- Pasteurization makes much of the milk's calcium insoluble and indigestible; the "you need milk for calcium" campaign perpetually heralded by the dairy industry is incredibly misleading...that usable calcium even exists in industrial milk is a myth.
- Pasteurization decreases milk's amino acids, changing its protein structure; it turns milk's fatty acids rancid.
- Homogenization (the process of breaking apart milk's fat molecules) damages milk's good butter-fats and its fat soluble vitamins like A and D; destroying the butter-fat makes any vitamins and minerals left in the milk harder for the body to use.
I will stop here and encourage you to continue your research on the dangers of industrial milk. The following links contain a plethora of information, links and summaries of studies:
- Modern cows are "freaks of nature" bred and drugged to produce up to 12 gallons of milk daily; real cows naturally produce only three to four gallons daily.
- Factory farm dairy cows have over-active pituitary glands, producing larger than normal amounts of growth hormone; in addition, the cows are given synthetic growth hormone, which passes through the milk...this hormone has been shown to increase insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I) in humans.
- Nearly 90% of American cattle are infected with leukemia; in Dec. 2003, researchers from UC Berkely published findings that 74% of people in the community (study population of 257 people) were infected with bovine leukemia viruses (read about the study here).
- As a result of their forced unnatural diet, dairy cows suffer chronic mastitis, diarrhea, liver problems and early death (the average lifespan of a modern dairy cow is five to six years, half the normal lifespan); the milk from these cows is often filled with pus from infections...to combat such infections, routine mega-doses of antibiotics are administered.
- The cows are confined in a factory farm setting (CAFO = Concentrated Animal Feed Operation), receiving little sunshine and fresh air, and spend much of their time standing or lying in their own feces.
- After pasteurization, the milk is "replenished" with synthetic vitamin D2 and D3 (D2 can be toxic and has been linked to heart disease).
- Chemicals to restore taste and reduce odor are added to the pasteurized milk.
Industrial milk (and beef) producers are raising animals in a completely unnatural environment, feeding them substances their bodies were never designed to process, which destroys the health of the cows and leads to dangerous illnesses and pathogens in the milk (and meat). And to compensate for this absolutely ridiculous and dangerous practice, to cover their foul deeds (and to "protect" consumers on the other end), the producers want to boil the milk to death (or irradiate the meat). It defies reason. If the animals were fed a natural, nourishing diet of food they can actually digest and were allowed to roam freely in clean pastures rather than standing ankle deep in their own feces, industrial dairy farmers would not have a resultant slew of nastiness in the milk of sick cows that needed to be eradicated. Utter madness.
Despite the dairy industry's persistent lobbying, marketing, misdirecting, and truth suppressing, the raw milk revolution continues to gain ground and more people are becoming aware of the truth about real milk. This is a good thing. Many people however, either because they cannot find a raw milk source or they feel they cannot afford to buy it, are purchasing Organic industrial milk. This is not a good thing...
Many producers of Organic milk have been industrial dairies desiring to profit by jumping on the Organic bandwagon. Few of their industrial practices have been abandoned. To be certified Organic, the milk producer must merely "allow access" to the outdoors (that tricky, slippery regulation again...check out my "Truth in Labeling" post on Radically Natural Living), use organic, non-GMO feed, and refrain from administering growth hormones and routine antibiotics. In theory, Organic milk should be a boon for health-conscious consumers...fewer toxins, higher nutrient profile. Right? Not exactly. The truth about Organic milk is not what most consumers suspect (read more about Horizon Organic milk, the truth about Organic milk and the Wal-Mart effect and industrial Organic cheating).
So, some Organic milk cows are still grain-fed, living in CAFOs, producing an unnatural amount of milk, suffering from the same illnesses as the "non-Organic" cows, and the milk is still being pasteurized and homogenized. In fact, much of the Organic milk is ultra-pasteurized (ultra-dead); shall we wonder why? General claims are to extend shelf life, but I suspect the extra precaution might be taken because of pus and pathogens present in certain dairies' milk as a result of the cows' lifestyles and diets.
But let's assume that you don't buy your Organic milk from Walmart (WM degrades organics) and that you know the Organic milk you purchase is produced by grass-fed, non-CAFO cows. New USDA Organic legislation says that Organic dairy cows must graze outside for 120 days/year. That would certainly be a healthier and more humane option. But the milk is still pasteurized and homogenized. Ah, there's the rub.
So, buying Organic milk is not saving you from all the nutritional deficits and negative health effects of industrial milk. Organic milk is a waste of money. Don't bother...save yourself the headache (and the GI distress) and save your money; if you cannot purchase raw grass-fed milk, buy organic kale and Blue Ice Cod Liver Oil. And don't worry...you won't develop a calcium deficiency by missing milk. Do some research on calcium and mineral-rich foods (seaweeds are fabulous, as are homemade bone broths).
A word on cultured and fermented dairy products... Homemade, raw kefir, yogurt and soured milk products are a nourishing and helpful component of the "real food pantry." Much has been written about these foods, so I will not elaborate here. I would like to emphasize how important it is that you culture your own dairy products and that you use raw milk. In the debate over whether you can/should use adulterated milk (pasteurized, Organic or conventional), I certainly side with those who say you cannot create a living food from one that is dead (especially ultra-dead Organic ultra-pasteurized milk). Inputs determine outputs...it's a simple truth. The myriad lost nutrients in dead milk cannot be resurrected by kefir or yogurt starters.
As for store-bought dairy products, like sour cream, cream cheese, yogurt, etc, the same holds true. If the milk used to make such items was pasteurized, don't bother consuming them. These foods are completely different animals from those created using traditional processes. For example, commercially produced sour cream is created using acids to artificially sour the cream, while traditional sour cream is made with a bacterial culture and natural fermentation process. The industrial and the home-cultured products are altogether different. Commercial dairy foods will do you more harm than good; adulterated dairy contributes more heavily than any other food to allergies, sensitivities, intestinal maladies and the brain malfunctions that result from the gut-brain connection. You are not doing yourself any favors by consuming such foods. The only way to achieve nourishment and avoid deleterious health effects from dairy foods is to start with raw, grass-fed milk and culture/create all your own products.
In closing, I would like to touch on a point of personal significance. Many allergic/dairy intolerant people have found that switching to raw milk alleviates their sensitivities and numerous maladies. This is a reasonable expectation, considering the facts. Yet some sensitive adults and children still struggle with even raw, grass-fed milk. A few theories exist as to this dilemma, and I have my own cogitations on the subject, which I would like to share in future.
I hope I have been able to compel readers not already in the grass-fed-raw-milk-only camp to abandon the other illegitimate options. And perhaps those of you already in camp now have more ammunition to share with people who need to know the truth about real milk.
For further reading (Disclaimer: I have signed up to be an Amazon affiliate; if you buy a book from one of these links, I will receive a small commission. Just wanted to be honest about that):