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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.

Happy cows in pasture

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.

June Week Two Action Item:

Each week we will try to give you some simple action steps to put this journey into practice. It is important that you start this journey by understanding yourself, your goals and perhaps your obstacles.
  1. 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.
  2. If raw milk doesn’t interest you, try to find pasture fed milk in your stores.

June Get Real:

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Sponsor:  Once A Month Mom


14 Responses to “Get Real: Pouring out the facts on milk”

  1. lisa says:

    Great article! Being avid milk drinker all my life, I have, in the last few years, have had some concerns and made some changes for our family. I have debated the fact that we as humans even have to have a need to drink milk from a cow. I understand the nutrition benefits that it provides, but I find it interesting that most of world does not drink cow’s milk and that the same majority are lactose intolerant. I find that very interesting.

    It started few years ago when I had the opportunity to visit with a woman in her home in Wales. She worked in the cafeteria of a Secondary school. As we talked about food differences in our cultures, she asked me what American children drink at lunch at school. I told her milk. She looked at me funny, she could not comprehend what I was saying. I just assumed all kids drank milk, so I taken aback that she was stunned at what our kids drank. She had to clarify with me “you mean the stuff you would put in coffee?!”. Well, sort of, but yes. I will never forget her face- she was dumbfounded. She had never heard of drinking cow’s milk by itself, a whole glass of it even. I then asked her what the kids at her school drank. She responded with tea and coffee. Huh. Interesting.

    I guess you might say that started my own little research on why we, as American’s, drink cow’s milk as a staple in our homes. Why is there a National Dairy Council that tells us that we need to have three glasses of milk a day? Why are kids offered only milk at school as the beverage? Couldn’t they get their calcium from other dairy products or other natural resources? Not saying that tea and coffee are the way to go at all for our school children, but aren’t we suppose to be drinking more water anyway?

    Interesting facts, interesting questions about milk….

    • Kelly says:

      Thank you for your insight and sharing your research with us. I will say I personally read The China Study last year and it was certainly very eye opening about our dairy intake and the affects.

  2. Ruth Ann C. says:

    My husband and I have been drinking raw milk for over 15 years. We’ve gotten it from a variety of sources (private individual, co-op dairy, professional dairy) and never once had a problem. Except with the cost. Right now we are paying $14 per gallon. My husband has Crohn’s Disease and raw milk is one of the natural tools he uses to stay healthy (as he won’t take pharmaceuticals for it). I never liked the taste of milk until we switched to raw. We recommend it all the time.

  3. Ann says:

    Cows that are pasture fed are not protected entirely from e. coli. I have a masters degree in animal science, and I strongly believe we need to raise our animals more naturally. But this is not one of the benefits! ;)

  4. Lanna says:

    I finally got to make the switch to raw milk last month, yeehaw. Took some convincing on my part to get my husband on board, and a friend had to introduce/vet me to her farmer, but still. Bonus, our milk hookup also raises grass-fed beef, so it’s a two-fer deal for me, and one less farmer/stop I need to worry about. :D

  5. Kathy says:

    Interesting article and thanks for publishing it. I am not a milk drinker, but do use it in my coffee and in cooking. Although I have been purchasing organic milk from a national producer, this has made me rethink that decision, and to go with a local producer. Their milk is flash pasteurized, non-homogenized, non-GMO project verified, comes in a glass bottle and has a cream top! It costs more, but since I use it in cooking, and my son has 1 glass a day, it is an expense I can handle and feel it is worth it! Thanks for bringing such informative articles!

  6. Erin says:

    FDA website states that non-pasteurized milk is not safe. Here is the link. http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/consumers/ucm079516.htm

    I love this website but feel that the information presented in these articles is very one-sided. Please show sources of data.


    • Kelly says:

      (This is Wardeh) I’m sorry for not responding sooner. I’ve been out of town and am just now catching up with things. You’re right the FDA does state that non-pasteurized milk is unsafe. However, they are very one-sided. ;) As I stated above, I feel that pasteurized milk IS the safest if the milk comes from a conventional dairy. On the non-commercial side of things, though, people have been drinking raw milk for centuries — since the beginning of the world — and without the modern infections and illnesses we get from pushing animal milk production and the inherent obstacles of commercial dairying.

      Here’s a very good video about raw milk and whether it is safe or not. It is actually a debate, and you’ll hear both sides of the issue: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iLRdihFi6gw

      It is up to each person to decide where they fall on the issue. I would rather trust the experience of history and God’s design for animal husbandry rather than a relatively new organization that supports unnatural dairying methods and has vested interests in seeing raw milk go down.

  7. Anastacia says:


    Thank you for posting this information on raw milk. What if raw milk is out of the question because of budget, location, and other factors…are there any store bought brands of milk that are still healthy? Any recommendations or tips are welcome. Thanks!

    • Kelly says:

      Anastacia do you have any other local dairy producers in your area? I would just check eatwild.com or localharvest.org just to see. However I do understand the budget situation as that is where we stand as well. Some better national brands to look for would be: Organic Valley, Whole Foods Markets (365 Organic), Stonyfield Organic, This Land is Your Land, and Amish Country Farms. What state are you in? There are smaller producers that serve different states too that I could help you to look for.

  8. Michelle says:

    I would look at the feature documentary ‘Got the facts on Milk?’ – This feature documentary gets into the real deal of milk and how it effects our body.
    This film really changed my life. If you Google ‘Milk Documentary’ you should find it. I will never look at milk again

  9. Sara says:

    My father is a dairy farmer. He and his brothers own a large dairy farm, milking over a thousand cattle a day. I really think your article would gain some balance by looking into large scale dairy operations. Each state is different, but I know of very few factory dairy farms in Michigan. Most dairies in our area are family operations. You should be more concerned about cheese than the milk you drink. It’s a lot less regulated.

  10. [...] to do more work on the weekends? It is simple to customize this mix too. You can use buttermilk, whole milk, almond or coconut milk. You can add fruit, chocolate chips, or other flavors as desired [...]

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