Perhaps no other food group has been more confusing than dairy, more specifically, milk. A simple google search of the benefits or dangers of milk consumption turn up over a million hits for each. So how is one supposed to make a decision on whether or not to include it in their diet? The problem my be in where that milk is coming from, whether it is pasteurized or raw, or even what species of cow produced the milk. There are a myriad of confounding variables that may affect whether a person would do well on milk or should probably stay away from it.
Grass-Fed versus Grain-Fed
Unless you have been living under a rock there is a growing movement of people looking for not only grass-fed cows as it pertains to healthy beef but to get their milk from as well. Local farms are popping up all over the country (many have been here for a while unbeknownst to us) selling grass-fed beef, milk, butter, cheese, etc. Their argument is that cows, as ruminants, evolved to graze on grasses. Their gut microbiota and digestive system is designed by nature to be pastured, essentially to roam around eating all day long. Because cows raised this way are healthy it is usually deemed safe to consume their raw milk.
Somewhere around the twentieth century farmers and food manufacturers discovered that cows fed grain, IE. corn and wheat, caused the cows to mature faster and with more meat. Subsequently, a lot of big manufacturers switched solely to this feed as a way to maximize profits. Unfortunately this was done without knowledge of the acute or long-term effects it would have on the species. Corn and wheat (and more recently soy) are not a cow’s natural diet and the health consequences are not only seen in the cow but the consumers of their meat and milk products. The unnatural feed has led to an increase in antibiotic and medicinal use to keep the cows healthy, the need for harsh chemicals used in decontaminating the animal (when used for beef, due to CAFO’s) and increased methane production. The producer has to find a way to remove the cows increased waste production as well as clear out large swathes of land to make room for the millions of cattle.
So what does this do to their milk? Well, for one everything the cow takes in, the increased antibiotic/medicine use and corn/wheat feed mixture, gets transferred to the milk. It is passing through the cow’s digestive system and into yours! Not only is this “sick milk” affecting the cow but it also being passed on to the unknowing consumer. Due to this danger (one of the danger’s the dairy industry actually takes notice of) it is safe to say that this milk NEEDS to be pasteurized. Sick cows produce sick raw milk which causes sick humans. Period. Pasteurization of the milk from this population gets rid of contaminants, bacteria, viruses, etc. that are present in the milk that would otherwise cause unruly harm to our digestive tract. While it is safe to consume their milk after pasteurization the health benefits of this milk are almost all destroyed in the process. What you are basically drinking after the process is the base macro-nutrients of the product void of the beneficial vitamins and minerals and unnaturally separated (to produce skim, 1%, etc.).
Benefits of Raw Milk
While it is plain to see that pasteurized milk has no place in a healthy diet, let alone ancestral/paleo diet, where does raw milk fit in? Numerous health and paleolithic diet experts claim that milk (of any kind) has no place whatsoever in a healthy diet, humans were not made nor are adapted to drink milk after weaning, saps nutrients out of our body (which happens with pasteurized milk), etc. But they also do not take into account the vast amount of people that have adapted to and even thrive on milk consumption. Are they not healthy? In fact, the Maasai tribe of southeast Africa consist on a diet of almost exclusively raw meat, raw dairy and raw blood. So what are the benefits of raw milk consumption?
- Contains all eight (8) essential amino acids in varying amounts, 80% casein/20% whey
- Contains the beneficial bacteria Lactobacilli (destroyed with pasteurization) that helps break down the milk sugar, lactose, and may allow those that are traditionally lactose-intolerant to consume dairy
- Lactose digestion itself produces lactic acid which boosts the absorption of calcium, phosphorus and iron
- Two-thirds of the fats in raw milk are from saturated fats which are important for hormone production, energy, organ protection, fat-soluble vitamins and cell membranes. These fats also tell our body that we are full.
- CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) is abundant in raw milk and many benefits including: raising your metabolism, decreasing fat and increasing muscle, insulin sensitivity, and immune support
- Raw milk is full of vitamins and minerals (many of which require fat to be absorbed) that are otherwise destroyed in the process of pasteurization. It also provides the right balance, as nature intended, of these vitamins and minerals so that they are properly utilized by our body.
- There are 60+ enzymes in raw milk that are otherwise destroyed in the pasteurization process. These enzymes help lower the stress of digestion, break down starches, sugars, and fats. They also protect against unwanted bacterial contamination.
- The cholesterol found in milk is essential to repairing and protecting our cells and organs. Unfortunately it has been wrongly blamed for much of the heart clogging woes of the general public. This mishap is most likely caused by being “at the wrong place at the wrong time”. There are numerous cholesterol myths that have since been debunked.
- Raw dairy is a good source of probiotics or beneficial bacteria. Subsequently, these bacteria can go on to ferment the milk making it even more digestible. Sadly, when focusing on killing the bad bacteria, the pasteurization process also kills the good bacteria.
As you can see there are a number of health benefits to consuming raw dairy from grass-fed cows. Additionally more recent research is revealing that the species of the cow (Bos indicus versus Bos taurus) may be a determining factor in the health of the milk. Special alpha-1 versus alpha-2 beta-casein proteins in the milk that may affect the actual benefits coming from the raw milk. More information will come on this in the future as it is more closely studied.
While everyone may not be adapted to consuming milk, those that are will see more benefits in drinking raw milk as opposed to pasteurized store bought kinds. Those choosing to drink milk should first check to see if they are intolerant. This can easily be done by adhering to your ancestral origins and testing for the symptoms of lactose-intolerance. As always, feel free to contact us with question or concerns. Check back in the future for updates and additional articles.