Organic milk. Raw milk. Milk from grass-fed cows. Homogonized. Non-homogonized. Hormone-free milk. Whole milk. Skim milk. Goat’s milk. Cows milk. The choices regarding milk boggle the mind.
If you drink milk, it’s important to buy the best, most nourishing milk your family can afford. Why? Because sadly, milk is one of the most adulterated so-called “whole” foods on the market today.
It’s also one of the most misunderstood.
Strikes Against Milk
Surely you know a handful of people who are dairy intolerant. As with any dietary intolerance, the symptoms range from digestive problems to mood swings. And like gluten-intolerance, the wave of people now claiming a dairy intolerance is on the rise. People aren’t just on gluten-free diets. They’re on casein-free diets. (Casein being the primary protien found in milk.)
It doesn’t surprise me. Modern milk is notoriously hard to digest. On so many levels, it hardly resembles traditional milk at all.
What’s wrong with modern milk?
- Most modern milk comes from more recent breeds of cattle producing milk abnormally high in A1 beta casein. A1 beta casein is a slightly different milk protein than the ancestral one common to more traditional breeds of cattle, sheep, goats, and even humans, known as A2 beta casein. Mountains of scientific research have been done on the subject of A1 beta casein, the way our bodies digest it, and the slew of mental and physical disorders it can cause. (For a more complete look at the research, I highly recommend you read Devil in the Milk).
- Most modern milk comes from cows fed a disproportionate amount of grains. The most nourishing milk comes from cows being fed their natural diet of grass — the greener, the better.
- Most modern milk is pasteurized. For the run-down on why pasteurization isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, check out this article on Real Milk.
- Most modern milk is homogenized. Homogenization is a process whereby all the fat molecules are mechanically forced to be the same size. (With homogenized milk, the cream doesn’t separate to the top and is dispersed throughout.) Unlike with pasteurization, there is no debate underway as to any purported health benefits of homogenization. But there are many sound reasons to distrust homogenization, such as the huge increase in surface area on the fat globules. The original fat globule membrane is lost and a new one is formed that incorporates a much greater portion of casein and whey proteins, potentially leading to milk related allergies.
- Most modern milk is adulterated. After pasteurization, they add back in fat soluble vitamins (like Vitamin D) in a synthetic and arguably indigestible form. Without the usable and REAL Vitamin D, you can’t make any use of the Calcium in milk. If the milk has had fat removed (as in skim, 1%, and 2% varieties), it’s not only going to be absent all the fat-soluble vitamins that your body needs to properly digest the calcium and other goodies in the milk, it will also usually have non-fat dry milk or other milk solids added in to create a more desirable consistency. These forms of dry milk are high in free glutamic acids (AKA “MSG”) and oxidized cholesterol (a dangerous inflammatory form of cholesterol which can cause all kinds of heart disorders).
- Most modern milk contains pus. Because modern dairy cows produce up to four times as much milk as a traditional cow did a mere century ago, they are far more prone to mastitis — infected udders. If the mastitis gets out of control, the cow is temporarily removed from the herd and treated with antibiotics. When it finishes its course of treatment, the cow is allowed back into the herd. Some farmers cut corners, re-instating sickly cows back into the herd before all the antibiotics have passed through the cow’s system. Translation? Antibiotics in your milk. Although that is initially a scary thought, it is actually quite rare.(source) I’m personally far more concerned about the low-grade mastitis that goes untreated in industrially-raised dairy cows. Farmers can get away with this because the FDA allows a whopping 750,000 somatic cells (more commonly known as “pus”) per liter!
- Much modern milk contains synthetic growth hormones. Many dairy farmers give their cows rBGH or rBST, genetically-engineered growth hormones designed to increase the cow’s milk production. These hormones come out in the cow’s milk, you drink them, and then they play games with your own hormones potentially leading to a number of problems, including cancer.
Healthy Milk: What to Buy
So, in the face of all these choices, what kinds of milk should you buy? The key is to stick to traditional milks — the kind your ancestors have been drinking for thousands of years.
BEST CHOICE: Raw, non-homogenized whole milk from grass-fed cows producing milk high in A2 beta casein and relatively low in A1 beta casein — that means milk from Jerseys, Guernseys, and other traditional cattle breeds rather than newer Holsteins. Raw, non-homogenized goat’s milk, sheep’s milk, and yak’s milk only contains A2 beta casein, so you could make a great argument for giving raw goat’s milk preference over raw cow’s milk if you can find it.
SECOND: Raw, non-homogenized whole milk from other grass-fed cows.
THIRD: Lightly-pastuerized, non-homogenized whole milk from grass-fed cows.
FOURTH: Lightly-pastuerized, homogenized whole milk from grass-fed cows.
Notice What I Didn’t Say
I didn’t say to buy organic milk. Most major-label organic milks (like those coming from Horizon or Aurora dairies) are not only NOT grass-fed, but they’re also ultra-pastuerized. The health risks associated with milk that’s been ultra-pastuerized and from cows fed grain outweighs any benefit you might get from the milk being organic.
That said, organic standards do count for something. At least the milk is guaranteed to be antibiotic and hormone free from healthy cows. So, if your only choice is between standard cheap supermarket milk and organic milk (and you’re unwilling to do without milk or use milk alternatives), then by all means get the organic milk.
Where To Buy Real Milk
The best way to find real milk is to seek out local sources. Since raw cow’s milk sales are restricted dramatically in most places, you’ll have to “go underground” to find it. In many states and countries, you can co-own a cow through a herdshare arrangement. You pay for a portion of the cow’s upkeep, and in return you get a portion of the cow’s raw milk. Technically, you’re not buying milk. You’re buying a cow.
Finding these arrangements can be tricky, but it’s doable. Just start asking around and visiting your local farmer’s markets. You’ll very likely find a local farmer selling lightly-pasteurized, non-homogenized milk from grass-fed cows right at the market. And, if you ask them for information, you may be able to find out how to get your hands on raw milk via a herdshare or driveshare arrangement.
If those avenues come up dry, a limited listing of raw milk dairies can be found online at www.realmilk.com.
Want to read more like this? Here’s the ever growing list of Healthy Foods: What to Buy:
- Healthy Eggs: What To Buy
- Healthy Cheese: What To Buy
- Healthy Meats: What To Buy
- Healthy Seafood: What To Buy
- Where to Buy Butter from Grass-fed Cows