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On your journey to a real food diet, something as controversial as dairy is bound to come up sooner or later. This week on our real food series, we are going to talk about just the milk side of dairy. There’s a lot to cover, and this is a topic that I am incredibly passionate about, so sit back and I hope you learn a thing or two!
Milk is delicious, it can be nutritious, the problem is it is one of the most adulterated products on grocery shelves today. It’s heated up to the point that all of the nutritious, natural enzymes and nutrients are cooked out, it’s put under large amounts of pressure to modify the fat globules to make them all the same size, and it is bottled into plastic bottles (which leach chemicals into your milk) and has synthetic vitamins put back into it, that are pretty much useless, because they cooked them all out!
Why Raw Milk is Better
What is Pasteurization
Pasteurization is a process of heating milk up to high temperatures to kill all of the harmful bacteria in milk products. The United States began pasteurizing milk in the early 1900s due to unsanitary living conditions for the cows and unsanitary handling practices by the dairies themselves. Essentially in those times I firmly believe it really was necessary to pasteurize milk.
Today, we’ve gone beyond even what they did back then. Early pasteurization is what is called “batch pasteurization” a large vat of milk is heated to 145°F for 30 minutes and quickly cooled to 39°F. The next is called high temperature, short time. In this milk is continuously forced through pipes, heated to 161°F and kept there for a minimum of 16 seconds. It is then cooled back to 39°F. Most of the milk on grocery store shelves today is ultra-pasteurized, though. This milk is heated to 280°F for at least two seconds and then cooled. Almost all organic milk is ultra-pasteurized. This milk, and milk treated with high temperature, short time methods are basically white water. Contrary to popular belief, all of the nutritional benefits the milk had were long gone when it was heated to such high temperatures.
Fact: Ultra-pasteurized milk is shelf stable and has a burnt taste to it due to the high temperatures. Consumers were leery of milk on the shelf, so they put it back in the refrigerated section and have done things to try to alter the taste.
What is Homogenization
Pasteurizing milk gets a lot of press. People talk about it on a regular basis, the people in charge talk about how it is absolutely necessary in order for milk to be safe for human consumption. No one talks about homogenization, though. Homogenization, by definition, is the process of converting two immiscible liquids into an emulsion. If you are as lost as I am with that definition, here’s what it means. They change the size of the fat globules in milk (the cream portion) into smaller molecules in order to mix it in with the water portion. Instead of having to shake our milk up (which you used to have to do all the time) we can just drink it straight from the bottle.
The milk is pushed through tubes and placed under high amounts of pressure in order to make the fat globules smaller. Smaller fat globules mix in with the skimmed portion of the milk to make a consistent liquid that does not have to be shook up. Sounds pretty gross to me, I don’t really understand why we can’t just shake up our milk. Numerous studies have been done that show homogenized milk results in an increased ability for milk to cause allergic reactions as well (source).
Fact: Homogenization results in a whiter, less flavorful, less stable, and increased sensitivity to light for the milk.
What is rBGH
In 1950 US dairy cows produced an average of 5,300 gallons of milk per year. Now? They produce over 4 times that much at over 20,000 gallons per year (source). The hormone rBGH increases milk production in cows. This synthetic hormone is injected into cows and the byproduct is the milk they produce. Tons of countries have banned the use of rBGH, but it is still allowed in the United States! It is deemed safe, despite increased scrutiny in what it really causes.
This hormone causes deformed calves, increased incidence of mastitis in dairy cows, and an increased risk of developing cancer. That’s just in cows! In humans it has been known to cause premature breast development, has been linked to prostate, colon, and ovarian cancers, increases the risk of infertility, and causes increased growth rate in infants.
Fact: While it is not required to label products produced with rBGH, it is required to put on any label that states it was not produced with rBGH that there is no difference between the two products.
Deciding what milk is best for your family
Now that you know the three major factors that affect the milk you and your family drink, how do you decide what’s best for you? If you are adamant about drinking cows (or goats) milk, that’s perfectly fine! That’s what we choose to drink. Some people choose milk alternatives, which is also fine, just do not choose soy milk (more on why not later). For now, I will stick to the different options as far as cows (or even goats) milk goes. Note: always choose whole milk regardless of the source. It contains healthy fats like the ones discussed here.
Typical Store-bought milk
This is the worst option. It is usually produced using ultra-pasteurization or at the very least high temperature short time methods, killing virtually every healthy product it once contained. It is also always homogenized, breaking up those fat globules is not a good thing. Another problem, it may very well be milk that was produced by cows injected with rBGH.
Honestly, this is just as bad as typical store-bought milk. The only benefit you have is it is produced using organic practices. The worst part is it is ultra-pasteurized, which is basically white water when they’re through with it. It’s usually homogenized as well. There is a product called grass milk made by organic valley that is not ultra-pasteurized or homogenized and is produced by 100% grass-fed cows. It appears it isn’t readily available in most markets, though. It is an option to consider if your options are limited!
Gently pasteurized, non-homogenized
Like the organic valley milk I mentioned above, there are other milks available in smaller market areas. This is what my family and I currently choose to drink. It’s not as good as raw, but it’s the best we can get right now. We purchase a locally produced, gently pasteurized, non-homogenized whole milk bottled in glass. Gentle pasteurization is the batch pasteurization method I explained above. This method maintains a little bit of milks natural enzymes, vitamins, and minerals found in raw milk. Make sure that the cows are grass fed, at least most of the time, to ensure the healthiest milk possible. If you can, purchase it in glass or regular cartons, anything but plastic, which can leach chemicals into your milk.
This is the best option available, truly. There is nothing more wholesome and nutritious than milk straight from a cow or goat! This has all of those natural enzymes and nutrients milk was meant to have! No heat treatment, and as long as your source produces milk in a sanitary fashion from grass-fed cows, you have virtually nothing to worry about. You are actually more likely to contract food-borne illness from anything else you eat than you are from raw milk. There is a limited list of raw milk providers here at Real Milk.
There you have it. The best option is real, raw milk, second best would be locally produced, gently pasteurized, non-homogenized milk. Otherwise, I would honestly steer clear of traditional milk products and either go to a milk substitute (other than soy) or just do without it altogether. So many of the beneficial nutrients are cooked out of most milk, that you may as well drink water anyway. I hope this helps educate you in your decision and your next step on your real food journey!