Is Raw Milk Healthy?

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Some people’s decisions are easy to question. Some human decisions defy all logic, going against any thread of reason or legitimacy. But there are some things in life that you simply cannot question, and that is because the decision was made confidently by Mother Nature. 

She’s incredibly wise, thoroughly calculated, and she always knows exactly what she’s doing.

And despite our best efforts to manipulate Nature, she always seems to know best.

the raw deal

Raw milk is a relatively new term, as it was known to your great grandparents simply as “milk”. In France, and elsewhere around the world, unpasteurized milk- and especially the cheese that is made from it- is still considered the standard in high quality. Today, in our ultra-pasteurized American society, the idea of raw milk is often met with strong hesitation, distrust, and incredibly polarized opinions. So, is raw milk healthy?

When was milk given this superfluous classification, and what does it mean when even our whole foods must first undergo processing in order for them to be suitable for us to consume?

For thousands of years, human populations have incorporated milk and dairy products into their varied diets. Until recently, this milk came from animals who were free to exercise, breath fresh air, and graze wholeheartedly on green grass. From udder to first sip it was a one stop process, and a typical cow would be capable of producing 2-3 gallons of milk per day. The need for additional processing arose at the same time as the living conditions for cows sharply declined. Crowded feed lots full of stressed animals bred to produce unnaturally large quantities of milk provide ample reason for sanitation concerns.

boil away the bad guys?

Pasteurization, or the process of heating milk to high temperatures and then cooling it down, was designed to eliminate bacteria that might be lurking in milk, as well as to increase its shelf life.  This method is successful at eradicating bacteria, both the good and the bad. 

Even in our over-sanitized society, we have started to accept the beneficial aspects of good bacteria and the importance they play in our digestive and immune health.  For whatever reason (a consumerist nature, a persistent phobia of all bacteria, or a combination of both) Americans prefer that their probiotics come neatly packaged in a pill bottle that we can tuck away in our medicine cabinet.  But the original probiotics that we’re chasing after so vehemently are gifted to us by Nature’s intelligent design.  Originating on the udders of a cow, they make their way into her milk, then into our glass- or they would, if they hadn’t been wiped out during pasteurization.

cream pour

But not just the beneficial bacteria are lost when milk is heated to high temperatures.  The active enzymes whose role is to aid in the digestion of milk are also lost.  Raw milk was engineered with an intricate “micro-architecture” that is crucial to the way it is digested in our bodies.  From the natural bacteria, the live enzymes, and the design of the fat droplets, milk has been intelligently organized.  When this organization is disrupted by high heat and homogenization, the code that Nature has so ingeniously written is essentially blurred away.  No longer communicated in the language that our bodies are able to speak. (1)

The absence of live enzymes in pasteurized milk leads to lots of folks not being able to digest dairy effectively.  The heat also alters the amino acids, decreases vitamin levels, and reduces the availability if mineral components such as calcium.  Altered proteins can be recognized by the body as invaders, and an immune response (allergy) is then issued. (2)

While the CDC acknowledges that pasteurization inactivates certain enzymes and reduces certain vitamins such as Vitamin C, it argues that “milk is not a major source of Vitamin C” in the U.S. diet.  But is it wrong to assume that the original recipe would be better received by our bodies than our updated version? (source)

In the US, the sale of raw milk is legal in 28 states, with tight restrictions placed on suppliers due to concerns over safety.  Those who argue against the consumption of raw milk generally do so with the reasoning that it is unsanitary and dangerous for human consumption.  The reality is that foodborne illness is a concern for many types of food; the more living the food, the greater the risk.  But there has not been a single death attributed to the drinking of raw milk since the data started being collected in 1973 (source).  On the contrary, studies have shown a reduced incidence of asthma and allergies from children who consumed milk in the raw. (source)

You can say that we take food risks every day.  Prefer your meat rare? Your sushi raw? Your eggs runny?

Just with all of these examples, source matters.  Healthy food comes from healthy, well looked after animals. 

milk pour

Our food system is safe, but that is because we rely on the use of antibiotics and pasteurization to make otherwise unhealthy animal products acceptable for consumption.  But what if we didn’t have to use a bandaid to fix our broken processes.  Fresh milk must come from healthy cows that are free of infection and have been tested for diseases like TB and undulant fever.  Healthy cows aren’t found in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.  They aren’t fed an unnatural diet of corn and soy, and they aren’t given hormones to increase milk production levels.

They do live on small farms in your community.  They are given access to fresh air, sunshine, and the green grass that is their everything.

The choice to seek out and drink raw milk or not is yours, but the investigation into the source is a crucial component in that decision making process.  We make decisions every day, some better than others.  But in regards to the decisions made by Nature, why mess with a good thing?

 *The milk pictured is not raw milk, because North Carolina regulations prohibit the sale of raw milk. 

other sources:

1) Catherine Shanahan, MD. Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food

2) Sally Fallon. Nourishing Traditions

Additional reading

Chris Kresser Raw Milk Reality




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