Rethink Dairy

Dairy gets a bad rap these days, but not all milk products are created equal! Understanding the difference between them can have a huge impact on your diet.

One of the biggest divisions within the realm of milk is around the question of pasteurization. In popular culture, pasteurization is touted as a necessary process to ensure the safety of milk. For a number of reasons, this does not turn out to be true. For one, whole, raw milk is an incredibly nourishing food that’s benefits are destroyed by pasteurization. And while organic, whole dairy is better than conventionally produced milk, it’s still not ideal and should not be consumed regularly.

As Super Nutrition for Babies says, “Raw milk should just be called ‘milk’ and pasteurized milk should be called ‘processed milk'” (pg. 28). The process of pasteurization began around the 1800s and was essentially created to clean up “dirty” milk and increase the product’s shelf life. But this heating process destroys vitamins and omega-3s, damages proteins and destroys the enzyme lactase that is needed to properly digest lactose and also kills phosphatase, which is an enzyme necessary for proper calcium absorption. Raw milk, on the other hand, is a superfood! It contains natural probiotics and enzymes that make it more easily digestible. Additionally, raw milk is a great source of  CLA (which boosts muscle and metabolism and lowers insulin resistance), omega-3 fatty acids, and good cholesterol. Raw milk also contains lacto peroxidase and lysozyme, which kill bad bacteria and immunoglobulins, and has antibodies that help boost the immune system and may help against asthma. And the best part? It’s very tasty and incredibly satisfying.

Dairy gets a bad rap these days, but not all milk products are created equal!

Incidentally, studies showing the negative effects of casein, a protein found in milk, focused on casein in its isolated form, which just isn’t how nature works. It is flawed to believe that we can isolate amino acids or vitamins and then draw scientific conclusions about their impact on our bodies, when we do not encounter them in nature in their isolated form. This is not to suggest that milk—raw or otherwise—is right for everyone. For example, those who suffer from autoimmune conditions or other health issues, should consider avoiding milk for a period of time. In any case, one should always consult a nutritional practitioner about the do’s and don’ts for any particular situation (see resources). But for those with a healthy gut, raw, whole milk is an incredible superfood.

I want to address concern over the safety issues surrounding raw milk. I absolutely believe in the safety of raw milk, so long as it is purchased from a trusted source! Chris Kresser provides a helpful guide to navigating those safety concerns. You can also check out a post I did about my own experience with the safety of raw milk and why I planned to drink it while pregnant—which I did and experienced no negative side effects! Of course, this is not to suggest that any food is entirely free of risk. But by the same token, no food category or product should be written off carte blanche. From 1999-2011, 5 people died from contaminated spinach, 29 people died from contaminated cantaloupe and 3 people died after drinking pasteurized milk, while zero people died from drinking raw milk. As I write this in December 2016, Trader Joe’s recently recalled their hummus due to possible listeria and I don’t hear people claiming we shouldn’t be eating hummus now.  We should bear this in mind before we too quickly condemn certain types of food. Why is everyone picking on raw milk?

Another great thing about raw milk is that the beneficial enzymes mean that it doesn’t go bad the way pasteurized milk does. Pasteurized milk may have a long shelf life, but once it exceeds that, it goes bad—really, really bad. Raw milk on the other hand becomes clabbered milk, and while it might not taste good to drink by the glass, it is still safe to drink. Personally, I use it in smoothies. This post by The Healthy Home Economist says, “When raw milk starts to sour, it simply means that beneficial bacteria called probiotics have started to use up the lactose (milk sugar) which causes the milk to no longer taste as sweet. Raw milk that tastes sour is still very much safe to drink and is even more beneficial to health as the higher level of probiotics have initiated the fermentation or clabbering of the milk.”  In that same post, you can find instructions on how to clabber milk at home (i.e. if you don’t want to just wait for it to naturally begin this process in your fridge) and more ideas on how to use it. The woman I talked to from Organic Pastures said that she drinks a quart of milk a day and first leaves it out on her desk for a couple hours so that the beneficial bacteria can start doing their thing!

“The more butter and cream I eat, the easier it is to maintain my weight.”

Just as raw milk has important benefits, whole milk is significantly better than reduced fat because the fat is needed to absorb the calcium and helps keep you feeling full for hours. Remember: fat doesn’t make you fat. On the contrary, people are more likely to turn to sugar and grains to fill themselves up when they aren’t getting enough fat in their diets. As The Healthy Home Economist says “the more butter and cream I eat, the easier it is to maintain my weight.” I couldn’t agree more! Whole milk is not homogenized, an unnecessary process where “the fat particles of cream are strained through tiny pores under great pressure. The resulting fat particles are so small that they stay in suspension rather than rise to the top of the milk. This makes the fat and cholesterol more susceptible to rancidity and oxidation” (Nourishing Traditions, pg. 15). Just like high heat and pressure processing damages delicate vegetable oils, so too does it damage and denature the protein and fats in milk, meaning homogenized, pasteurized dairy should be avoided.

In his book, Eat Dirt, Dr. Axe cautions us to only drink cows’ milk from Jersey or Guernsey cows because they contain only A2 beta-casein protein, rather than the controversial A1 beta-casein of most dairy cows, which acts like an opiate and is linked to a number of health conditions (however, note that not even all Jersey cows are A2). This blog post by The Healthy Home Economist raises questions about the concern over A1 vs. A2 breeds. It’s a complicated issue, but essentially all cows had A2 genetics at one time but roughly 8000 years ago there was a genetic mutation in the string of amino acids in Holstein cattle that created what we now call A1 beta-casein. So while people have been drinking milk for millennia, this A1 genetic makeup is relatively new. In his book The Devil in the Milk, Keith Woodford says this genetic difference “…results in the milk having quite a different chemical – and perhaps physiological – effect. This is because the proline forms a strong bond with the amino acids in positions 66 and 68. In A1 milk, the histidine linkage with its neighbours is more “easily broken by digestive enzymes… The breakdown of these links through digestion creates a protein fragment known as BCM7 (beta-casomorphin-7) which acts as an opiate.” There is also some correlation between A1 consumption and diabetes and heart disease and therefore if you want to play it safe, seek out raw A2 cow’s milk or choose goats’ milk or sheep’s milk as this genetic issue doesn’t apply to them.

When I talked with Organic Pastures about the A1 vs A2 issue they told me that in the last year they had begun moving towards an all A2 herd but because they didn’t want to kill cows based on their genetics, at this point (December, 2016) there herd is 50% A1 and 50% A2 genetics but will be 100% A2 in six to eight years. Click here to learn more about Organic Pastures’ safety program and where to find raw milk in your area.

Cheese has even more calcium than raw milk, so it’s an excellent snack. Look for truly raw cheese. As Organic Pastures Dairy explains on their website, “we never warm our raw milk above 102 degree F. Many so-called ‘raw cheeses’ are actually heated to temperatures just under legal pasteurized temperatures of 161 F, denaturing proteins, enzymes, and killing beneficial bacteria.” If you are going to spend the extra money on raw cheese, make sure it’s worth it. Sadly, Organic Valley, an easy-to-find grocery store brand, seems to fall under the loophole that Organic Pastures describes above. When I chatted with a representative at Organic Valley he said, “We use non-homogenized organic milk to produce our raw cheeses. The milk is heat-treated to a lower temperature of 158 degrees for 15 seconds compared to the temperature required for full pasteurization (minimum of 161 degrees for 15 seconds).”

Action Steps

  • Drink only raw, full-fat, organic milk and avoid pasteurized dairy. This isn’t a healthy food so why bother?
  • If you choose to avoid dairy, make your own nut milk, as store bought brands have a lot of fillers and preservatives. Check out this recipe
  • Find a farmer at www.realmilk.com or www.organicpasturesdairy.com to find stores or set up home delivery
  • Can’t find raw milk? Skip it all together or water down organic cream.
  • Try fermenting your dairy, making kefir and yogurt
  • Avoid low-fat dairy; remember, fat doesn’t make you fat!
  • Eat organic, raw, full-fat cheese and cottage cheese
  • Use clabbered milk for smoothies

Tips from my kitchen (and the kitchens of those I admire):

  • The fat in cream is less susceptible to being damaged by pasteurization and isn’t homogenized, so if you can’t get your hands on raw milk, you can dilute organic cream with filtered water
  • Using raw cream is best, but using organic pasteurized cream is okay for things like coffee. Avoid ultra-pasteurized and half and half. The Weston A. Price Foundation says “The only thing ruined in the fats will be the Wulzen Factor, which protects against arthritis. If only pasteurized cream is available, you can get the Wulzen Factor by taking high-vitamin butter oil.”
  • Straus is my favorite pasteurized cream brand and on their website they say, “The quality of life of our cows is very important to us. We treat them as best as we can, respect them, and also have great affection for them. A Straus cow’s life isn’t all that complicated. When the weather allows it, they spend the day out on pasture, overlooking Tomales Bay. At night and in wet or winter weather, our cows sleep in an open barn in open stalls that are fitted with cushioned cow mats and natural bedding. Our cows are in a closed herd, to avoid the risk of infections from outside, and they are never treated with hormones or antibiotics. Their balanced, vegetarian diet consists mostly of fresh pasture grasses, silage and hay, as well as feeds that are 100% certified organic and Verified Non-GMO. Cows are milked twice a day and then walk to an open barn to eat.” Clover brand is American Humane Certified but their cream comes from up to 30 different farms so I’m not as confident about the quality.
  • Gouda and brie have the highest amounts of the vitamin K2 which helps balance vitamin A and D and tells minerals to go to bones and teeth rather than arteries etc.
  • As for melting cheese, here is what the Weston A. Price Foundation website says, “Gentle heating is probably okay, such as putting cheese in an omelet, warming milk (but not more than you can touch it without burning). But high heat does change the dairy products. If you have a high tolerance to dairy, heated cheese is probably okay in small amounts.”
  • Organic Pastures sells a five-pound block of cheese that is good for 120 days before it “starts to turn.” It doesn’t go “bad,” it just doesn’t taste as good and may become more crumbly. But the beautiful thing about raw milk and its products is that they don’t go bad the way pasteurized products do. The cheese can also be frozen for up to six months.
  • In addition to drinking raw milk, incorporate kefir and yogurt as well. You can also clabber milk or even just leave it out for an hour to warm to room temperature to increase the beneficial bacteria. These will “…partially breaks down lactose and predigests casein” (Nourishing Traditions, pg. 33).
  • If you still don’t want to give milk a try, butter and cream don’t contain much casein or lactose, and even these can be cultured to make them more digestible.
  • Diversify your dairy by using goats’ and sheep’s milk; try making these into kefir or yogurt.
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