Why I Choose Raw Dairy

Why I Choose Raw Dairy

I drive a few blocks out of my way every Saturday morning to an unassuming parking lot in Glassell Park where I can buy raw dairy products direct from the family-owned Organic Pastures.  It’s the absolute best local source of raw, organic, grassfed dairy that I’ve found here in LA.  While I can get their products at a few farmers’ markets and specialty grocers in my area, this “hub” on Saturdays is the only place where I can buy direct to get the lowest prices and freshest products possible.

When I mention this ritual to friends or patients many question me, “why raw milk?” and that really is a great question.  Often raw milk is associated with food-borne illnesses, so many people believe it is truly dangerous to drink milk before it is pasteurized.  More over, most people don’t understand that properly handled raw dairy is not only safe, but a nutritional powerhouse.  Raw dairy products (including milk, cream, butter, as well products made from them like cheese, kefir and yogurt) are amazing sources of beneficial fats, vitamins, minerals, protein and probiotics.

Still, with all its benefits, I understand raw dairy can be a hot topic for some people.  I mean, it’s still illegal in 10 states!  As with any dietary choice it has to be a personal one, but I believe it should be an informed one as well.

Why I Choose Raw Dairy

Obviously taste is a huge factor in why so many people gravitate towards raw dairy in the first place, it tastes amazing!  It’s not before long that they notice health differences and learn about all the benefits of raw dairy, then they’re hooked, that’s what happened to me.

I grew up drinking milk but went vegan in my early 20s, which put me off dairy for years after that.  As a vegan, I learned all the health problems often associated with dairy consumption, such as difficulty digesting it, immune responses, or its link to heart disease.  I would list these off proudly when questioned about my dietary choices.  The problem was I never stopped to realize that these complaints were related to how dairy is processed, not the nature of the milk itself.

Most all of the dairy found in a standard grocery store has been pasteurized and homogenized, both of which are processes that breakdown nutrients in the milk and make it more difficult to digest.

Why I Choose Raw Dairy

We’ll tackle pasteurization first.  Pasteurization is a process where milk is heated to temperatures high enough to kill most of the bacteria (including beneficial probiotics) and therefore extend it’s shelf life.  The higher the temperature the longer the shelf life is extended, sometimes up to 2-3 months.

Unfortunately, this heating process also damages many of the important nutrients in the milk.

Lactase, for example, which is the enzyme used to digest lactose (the sugar most concentrated in milk) is naturally occurring in raw milk but breaks down in the pasteurization process.  This makes pasteurized milk much harder to digest because our bodies must produce all the lactase needed to break down the sugars, and not everyone’s body is capable of producing enough.  In fact, in a study of lactose-intolerant people who drank raw milk, 82% reported no symptoms.

Probiotics are also killed off with heating.  These are the good bacteria found in our gut, they help breakdown food during digestion and play a huge role in immunity.  They are plentiful in raw milk, which actually contains more probiotics than pasteurized yogurt.

Important vitamins take a huge hit during pasteurization, usually reducing vitamin C by more than 50% and other water-soluble vitamins as much as 80%.  Unfortunately vitamin B12 is pretty much completely destroyed in the process.

Proteins are also altered at high temperatures, particularly affected are the amino acids lysine and tyrosine.  The proteins in milk exist as complex structures that warp at high temperatures and become less easily absorbed during digestion.

Why I Choose Raw Dairy

Now onto homogenization, which seems to be utilized for aesthetics more than health purposes.  This process is used to break down fat into smaller pockets so it evenly disperses and doesn’t accumulate on the top of the milk, seemingly innocuous but the effect homogenization has on the nutrients in milk is significant.  The milk is processed with very high pressure to break the fat down, these smaller accumulations of fat go rancid more quickly especially since pasteurized milk sits on the shelves for much longer.

Another huge problem with these smaller fat pockets is they are absorbed into the blood stream more quickly, transporting a compound called xanthine oxidase (XO) directly into blood vessels.  XO is a harmful compound that damages the arterial wall and causes plaques to form.  The normal-sized fat molecules in non-homogenized milk absorb more slowly and do not cause XO to cross into the bloodstream.  According to Sally Fallon in Nourishing Traditions, “some research indicates that homogenized fats may contribute to heart disease.”

Why I Choose Raw Dairy

In addition to the preparation of dairy products, the diets and lifestyles of the animals the milk comes from is incredibly important to the quality of the final product.  Most all factory farmed animals are kept indoors and grain-fed, generally GMO products like corn, soy and/or wheat.  Even “organic” products can come from animals fed grains.

Now this is very problematic for cows which evolved to digest grass.  A grain-only diets fattens animals quickly, to the point where the cows are technically obese.  It also acidifies their systems which makes them sick, this is why antibiotics are then often used on factory farmed animals.  Growth hormones are also often utilized to speed up the process and they are passed on in meat and dairy products.   These food industry systems are designed for quick turnover, keeping prices down and profits high – but it’s at the expense of quality and nutrition.

Dairies like Organic Pastures that prize the quality of the milk understand the importance of the traditional style of raising cattle.  All of their cows are grassfed, which results in milk with 2-4x the levels of omega-3 fatty acids, over 4x the amount of vitamins A and E and more CLA which has been proven to fight cancer.  Their cows always have access to the outdoors, which allows them to produce much more vitamin D from sunlight than animals confined indoors.  Vitamin D is an important nutrient in milk because it aids in calcium absorption.  Grassfed milk does not need to be supplemented with vitamin D as most milk from grain-fed cows is.

Why I Choose Raw Dairy

And if you are still concerned about the safety of raw milk, keep in mind that pasteurization was invented in a time when sanitation standards were much lower.  With modern dairy technology it is rare that raw milk is exposed to toxins.  To once again quote Fallon:

“We have been taught that pasteurization is beneficial, a method of protecting ourselves against infectious disease, but closer examination reveals that its merits have been highly exaggerated.  The modern milking machine and stainless steel tank, along with efficient packaging and distribution, make pasteurization totally unnecessary for the purposes of sanitation.  And pasteurization is no guarantee of cleanliness.  All outbreaks of salmonella from contaminated milk in recent decades–and there have been many–have occurred in pasteurized milk.”

This is because raw milk actually has mechanisms for battling infectious pathogens.  The beneficial probiotics can compete with harmful bacteria, where as pasteurized milk actually creates the perfect medium for bacterial growth.  When raw milk ages it becomes sour, which lowers the pH enough to prevent the growth of infectious bacteria.  Sour milk is actually a probiotic tonic and easier to on our system because the protein is been pre-digested.  Pasteurized milk, however, does not sour because those probiotics have been killed off.  Instead, old pasteurized milk will putrefy because it is completely rancid.

It’s up to you whether you decide to include raw dairy in your diet.  If you don’t have access to quality raw milk products then I suggest seriously limiting the amount of pasteurized and homogenized dairy you consume.

If you would like more information on raw dairy I suggest reading Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, Real food by Nina Planck, and also visiting RealMilk.com.

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