Get Real: Pouring out the facts on milk
**This post is part of the Get Real series. Please remember that this is meant as a learning community. We know that many of you are passionate about what you do and we want you to express that, just please do so in a way that will be an encouragement and aid to others making a transition. We want this to be a “safe space” for participants to learn. For that reason, we reserve the right to delete any comments that are not handled in this manner.
Milk is another debated topic as to whether or not you should buy organic or not. Today we have a few facts to help you make the decision when at the store. And I have help from Wardeh Harmon of GNOWFLINS our blog partner this month helping to provide you with the raw facts of raw milk as well.
Like most of you, milk is a staple in our household. Two gallons a week are consumed at my house and I don’t even want to know what will happen when my boys are teenagers. I better start saving now! Being such a staple to the diets in my house it’s something I have taken a great deal at looking into and making sure we get the best possible. We have even done raw milk for the first year my first son was off of breastmilk, but because of pick up issues financial reasons we have stopped for now.
“You are what you eat eats too”
In his research Michael Pollan stated that “you are what you eat eats too” meaning whatever the animal consumes you consume as well. Same with plants too which is what we talked about back in April. Cows are natural grazers and are meant to eat in pasture. Their stomachs are not designed to digest grains if you remember from Food Inc. Therefore when the dairy cows are fed a grain and soy heavy diet they are more prone to infections and needing antibiotics because their immune systems are compromised. Cows that are pasture and grass fed only tend to have fewer health issues because their systems are not working overtime. As Vanessa talked about last month, cows can spend 2/3 of their life in the pasture and the other 1/3 in the field and still be labeled grass fed. So it is very important to ask the questions and research the source where the milk is coming from.
The USDA Organic label on dairy products ensures that the cows are not treated with antibiotics or growth hormones to boost their milk supply. However it is a FDA requirement that ALL milk, organic or not, be tested for antibiotics prior to entering the dairy supply. If there is even a trace, it will not be allowed into the supply. All cows have bST which is a natural hormone protein that is created to help boost their milk supply. However some dairy farmer choose to give their cows more bST to boost their production to meet the high milking demands. Organic milk with the label “rbst free” simply means they were not given any supplements to ensure plentiful supply.
Does organic milk last longer than conventional milk? You may see labels on national organic milk brands like “ultra-pasteurized” this does not mean that it’s more healthy or more organic. It is in fact the opposite. It is a high heat process that helps the milk to travel longer distances so they can sell in more markets. The process itself damages the milk’s nutritional quality.
Raw Milk Basics
There’s a growing trend among real foodies to drink raw milk — you might call it “real milk” — milk that hasn’t been pasteurized or homogenized on its way from farm to table. Because it isn’t pasteurized by heat, it still contains beneficial bacteria, vitamins, and enzymes. Because it isn’t homogenized, cream rises to the top. And, it is delicious!
However, it is important to be careful when choosing a raw milk source, so let’s cover all the issues.
What are the benefits of raw milk?
Clean, raw milk is a complete and balanced food, containing protein, carbohydrate, and fat. It contains all the vitamins, especially vitamins A, D, E, and K2. It contains many minerals, including calcium and phosphorous and trace minerals. We know of 60-plus food enzymes in raw milk that help with digestion, taking the burden off our bodies. One of the most important is lactase, the enzyme that helps digest milk sugar lactose. Often, people that are lactose-intolerant can drink raw milk without discomfort — because of the presence of this enzyme which is otherwise destroyed through pasteurization. (And as we’ll talk about later in our dairy month, culturing dairy increases the amount of lactase!) And finally, good raw milk contains beneficial bacteria, which protect the milk against spoilage and are essential for our gut health.
What’s wrong with pasteurization and homogenization?
Pasteurization destroys bacteria, delicate proteins, enzymes, immune factors, hormones, vitamins, and mineral availability. For good, clean, raw milk, these are negative impacts. (However, in many unnatural factory-farm settings, pathogenic and disease-causing microbes have more opportunities of infecting animals and milk, so pasteurization is essential.)
Homogenization is the process of breaking up, through intense force, the larger cream globules, so they don’t separate from the rest of the milk. Researchers find that homogenized milk increases allergic reactions, lowers milk’s heat stability, and decreases milk flavor.
The risks of raw milk
Contamination with unfriendly microbes is a risk with all foods, including spinach, strawberries, pasteurized milk, and raw milk. Some even argue that pasteurized milk is more likely to be contaminated because it doesn’t contain protective beneficial organisms.
But we’re talking about raw milk here, so let me help you understand the root issue. A dairy animal eating its natural diet — mainly high-quality pasture — tends to be protected from pathogens such as E. coli. On the other hand, animals fed grain or soy heavy diets are not protected from infection. This all has to do with the rumen (where the animal digests and ferments its feed). On a high-quality pasture-based diet, the rumen works as it should, naturally protected against infection.
Side issues arise when the milk leaves the animal’s body: a clean milking and processing environment reduces risk of contamination from the outside.
Where to find raw milk
Search for raw milk sources at realmilk.com. In addition, check with friends or your local Weston A. Price Foundation chapter leader. Laws vary by state and country as to what’s available direct from the farm or in stores. Some places offer herdshares, where you own a “share” of the milking animal. Or perhaps you have a friend with a family cow who is willing to share.
What to ask your farmer?
You will want to make an informed decision about potential raw milk sources. I encourage visiting farms whenever possible. Still, a good telephone conversation can yield a great deal of information! Here are some questions to ask the farmers.
- What type of dairy animals are raised? Heritage breeds of cows (such as Jersey or Guernsey) produce less milk but with more nutrition ounce-for-ounce than high-producing Holsteins. The heritage milk also tends to be creamier. Goats’ milk will always be naturally homogenized (the cream won’t rise to the surface, at least not very much) and some breeds of goats produce more cream than others. Personal preference rules the day here.
- What feed is used? Although there is nothing wrong with animals eating a small amount of grain (preferably non-GMO, and not corn or soy), a large amount increases risk of pathogenic contamination in the animal’s rumen. You should find out what is fed during the off-season, when pastures are not growing; preferably it is high-quality hay for the majority of the diet. Do the animals receive a mineral supplement?
- What medications are used? Find out how the farmer handles mastitis or other conditions calling for intervention. Make sure you’re comfortable with what you find out.
- How is the milk produced, handled, and stored? Check out the milking parlor for cleanliness. Do they milk by machine or hand? (Either are acceptable, but you want to find out how cleanly each process is followed.) Where does the milk go after milking? Is it pasteurized or homogenized? How quickly is it chilled? Are the jars clean? How are they cleaned? How fresh is the milk when you receive it? (Farmers that stick to an impeccably clean process can provide milk that stays fresh and sweet for up to two weeks.) There are many possible answers to these questions, and just opening up this discussion with potential farms will give you a great education and allow you to make an informed decision.
Raw milk is delicious and nutritious, and with careful shopping, safe. Let us know your thoughts or questions in the comments.
- Do some research and see what it would take for you to get raw milk in your area. Stop by a farm and try some raw milk while asking the farmer questions as we’ve outlined above.
- If raw milk doesn’t interest you, try to find pasture fed milk in your stores.
June Get Real:
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