In our last post we talked about the importance of quality when it comes to meat and dairy products. This post will focus more on dairy, because there is so much to say!
I recently ran into a few experts who were recommending raw milk as a healthy food and a source of natural probiotics. Let’s take a closer look.
What is raw milk?
Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurized or homogenized. It is milk in it’s original form, taken from the cow and bottled. Most dairy products that you find in the grocery store are pasteurized. This means that they are heated at a high temperature for an extended period of time. This “kills harmful organisms responsible for such diseases as listeriosis, typhoid fever, tuberculosis, diphtheria, and brucellosis.”1 The milk is also homogenized, meaning that it is stirred rigorously so that the cream no longer separates from the milk.
Many grocery-store dairy products have also been processed to reduce the fat content in the milk. Dee McCaffrey points out that the processing required to lower the fat content of milk “makes the milk less nutritious and less digestible. It changes the color of the milk, requiring companies to color the milk and/or add dried milk powder to bulk them up.2
What is the big deal about raw milk?
Many nutritionists are now recommending consuming raw milk as a healthier alternative to pasteurized milk.2,3 McCaffrey argues that the fats, enzymes and naturally-occurring probiotics in raw, whole milk work together in a package-deal to encourage absorption and maximize health benefits. Pasteurization and homogenization damage the milk by killing beneficial bacteria and enzymes and breaking-up fat globules.1
Raw milk is a hot-button issue surrounded by political controversy. The Food and Drug administration and Center for Disease Control in the United States recommend not drinking raw milk, because they see it as a safety issue. In fact, the FDA warning for raw milk uses very passionate language to warn us about the dangers of raw milk.3 I found it hyperbolic and downright hilarious. It’s the tone of the warning that puts its credibility into question. They mention all of the harmful bacteria that exist in the milk without mentioning that beneficial bacteria also exist. As it stands, I had to do a further research.
After some digging, I found a wonderful article that seemed as non-biased as possible. Chris Kresser, who is a raw milk drinker, calculates and explains the risks of drinking raw milk based on the CDC numbers.4 He also puts it into perspective with other foods that cause foodborne illness. I highly recommend reading his series of articles if you are interested in trying raw milk. Some of his conclusions include:
- Drinking raw milk is more dangerous than drinking pasteurized milk, especially for those with a compromised immune system like infants and the elderly. 5
- “you have a greater chance of dying from eating raw oysters than you do of getting sick from drinking unpasteurized milk.”5
- Raw milk IS more nutritious than pasteurized milk. “Research has shown a decrease in manganese, copper, and iron after heat treatment.” Naturally-occurring enzymes and probiotics make it healthier and easier to digest. These are both destroyed in the pasteurization process.6
- Although there is a lot of anecdotal evidence touting the benefits of raw milk, very little of it has been validated through scientific studies. 6
- Be careful when choosing your source of raw milk, if you do choose to drink it. Make sure it is a small-scale farm where animals have plenty of pasture to graze in and that the farm does regular sanitation checks. 7
- Milk is not essential to your health. If you choose not to drink it, that’s OK too, especially if you don’t tolerate it well.7
I’ll also add a note from Katz, a fermentation enthusiast and researcher:
“If the existing US milk supply were to suddenly cease to be pasteurized, it would be a terrible disaster. The milk industry as we know it excels at mass production of cheap milk. In order to accomplish this, land per animal is minimized and extraordinary means are employed–such as giving cows artificial growth hormones–to boost milk production; unfortunately, these methods compromise the milk’s quality and safety.”8
Anti-Raw milk drinkers…
- Point to the risks of bacterial infection associated with raw milk
- Believe that there is no real benefit to drinking raw milk, or the benefit is not worth the risk.
- Are supported by research that shows there is a slightly higher risk in drinking raw milk.
- Are right in that our current system will not work if pasteurization were to suddenly stop, because mass-production of milk produces unsafe milk
Raw milk drinking advocates…
- Point to scientific evidence showing that raw milk contains higher concentration of nutrients, beneficial bacteria and enzymes
- Share their own positive experiences and anecdotal evidence about the benefits of raw milk including: improved digestion, ability to tolerate milk despite lactose intolerance, smoother skin, etc.
- Rave about the taste of raw milk
- Recognize that the source of the milk is important- small, grass-fed farms that run frequent safety tests.
- Consider the risk minimal, especially when compared to other food-related illnesses.
Again, I recommend doing your own research if you are interested in consuming raw milk. I read a lot about it and decided to try it. I am interested in the probiotic properties of the milk, and I believe the risk is minimal. That being said, I choose to ferment the milk before consuming it for an added safety measure.
My Experience with Raw Milk:
About 2 weeks ago, I bought some raw milk. I fermented most of it into yogurt and clabber (which we’ll talk about in a future post), and have been impressed with the benefits. I have never been able to tolerate milk products well, but the yogurt has only given me a little bit of gas, which I anticipate going away after the 2-week adjustment period. I have already noticed it diminishing. I’ve also noticed that my skin feels smoother.
I am interested in the probiotic properties of the milk. I am very sensitive to carbohydrates and sugars. I get a foggy brain when I over-indulge, especially in the wintertime. The cloudiness goes away when I take my probiotics, which are quite expensive. Since switching to the raw milk, I’ve noticed the same benefits as my store-bought probiotics; and I can share these benefits with my family at a lower price. I’m still not a milk-drinker, but I’m a yogurt eater and I believe we will continue the practice.
- “The Dangers of Raw Milk: Unpasteurized Milk Can Pose a Serious Health Risk.” FDA. http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm079516.htm
- Dee McCaffrey, CDC. The Science of Skinny: Start Understanding your Body’s Chemistry–and Stop Dieting Forever. Da Capo Press; 2012: 158-60.
- Jonny Bowden, PhD., CNS. The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth: The Surprising, Unbiased Truth about What You Should Eat and Why. Fair Winds Press; 2007: 180-1, 242-243.
- Chris Kresser, “Raw Milk Reality: Is Raw Milk Dangerous?” May 9, 2012. http://chriskresser.com/raw-milk-reality-is-raw-milk-dangerous/
- Chris Kresser, “Raw Milk Reality: Benefits of Raw Milk” May 18, 2012. http://chriskresser.com/raw-milk-reality-benefits-of-raw-milk/
- Chris Kresser, “Raw Milk Reality: Buying Raw Milk Safely” June 1, 2012. http://chriskresser.com/raw-milk-reality-buying-raw-milk-safely/
- Chris Kresser, “Raw Milk Reality: Is Raw Milk Worth the Risk?” May 25, 2012. http://chriskresser.com/raw-milk-reality-is-raw-milk-worth-the-risk/
- Sandor Ellix Katz. The Art of Fermentation: An in-dept exploration of the essential concepts and processes from around the world. Chelsea Green Publishing, Vermont. 2012: 184.