A very complicated and controversial topic these days is the consumption of cow’s milk and dairy products.
For years, we have been advised to consume dairy products to maintain bone health.
Nowadays, more and more health advocates are claiming the opposite, saying that milk is an allergen and can cause many symptoms associated with food intolerances.
Where does the truth lie?
Well, there are two sides to every story, and in the case of dairy, there’s even a third and fourth dimension, which need to be mentioned as well.
A bit of history to start…
One of the problems with conventional and organic milk found in the supermarkets is the fact that the law requires milk to be pasteurized.
Yes, organic milk is also pasteurized.
In the early 1800’s, commercial milk production began in many US cities, however their lack of sanitation procedures combined with poorly fed cows and unfit living conditions lead to very unhealthy milk, which resulted in the death of thousands of people.
The solution? Pasteurization.
By heating the milk to high temperatures, they were able to kill off pathogens (i.e. bacteria & organisms that cause diseases like Salmonella and E.Coli).
While that may sound like a great solution, it created other problems.
First, this meant that milk manufacturers did not have to concern themselves about hygiene, safety, and liability issues since all milk, whether it came from good sources or not, was made “safe” through pasteurization.
And these practices are still carried on today.
If you’ve never before seen images or video footage of a factory dairy farm, you’ll be shocked to see the filthy conditions that thousands of poor cows are made to live in.
All this to say that you can only imagine what can possibly end up in your milk with fenced-in cows roaming around in manure-covered concrete floors or sludge.
Second, nutritionally speaking, pasteurization not only kills off the bad bacteria, but it also kills the beneficial bacteria, better known as probiotics, nutrients, and enzymes needed to assimilate the milk.
This is the primary reason why so many people are intolerant to milk.
It is due to the fact that lactase, the enzyme needed to digest lactose (i.e. a milk sugar), is destroyed during pasteurization.
And so is phosphatase – the enzyme needed to properly absorb calcium!
This is the reason for fortification as many of the nutrients are lost as well.
When you see “fortified with…” on the packaging, now you understand the reason for it.
Furthermore, when milk gets pasteurized, the bacteria cells rupture, releasing their contents into the milk, which can cause histamine or allergic reactions to many milk drinkers.
Interestingly, it has been noted very often that those who are lactose intolerant or allergic to pasteurized milk can easily digest raw milk that hasn’t been heated and denatured.
Unfortunately, raw milk has been vilified for years… but times are changing.
Conventional vs. Certified Organic vs. Raw Milk
There are so many factors to consider when analyzing milk such as ethics, safety, nutrition, standards and production processes, and so on.
Here’s a very concise table that I found that clearly explains the differences between the three different types of milk.
|CONVENTIONAL||USDA CERTIFIED ORGANIC||
RAW USA CERTIFIED
|HTST pasteurized||HTST pasteurized and UHT 282 degrees pasteurized||Never pasteurized or heated above 102 degrees.|
|Homogenized||Homogenized (few exceptions)||Never homogenized|
|Additives and preservatives||Additives for butter fat, protein and vitamins||Nothing added|
|Hormones||None permitted||None permitted or needed|
|Antibiotics||None permitted||None permitted or needed|
|Zero pasture||May have zero pasture under USDA rules||Always have access to pasture|
|Piles of manure||Piles of manure||None created due to pasture access|
|Concrete and steel environments||Concrete and steel environments||Little if any artificial environment|
|Short life span for cows||Longer life span but may be retired to factory farm||Live four times longer or more|
|Artificial breeding||Artificial breeding||Bull bred naturally|
|Factory farmed||May be factory farmed||Smaller family or sustainable farm operations|
|GMO feeds||No GMOs||No GMOS|
|Artificial food byproducts/plastics||Anything as long as it’s organic (i.e. organic donuts ok)||Only natural feeds that the cow would choose in nature|
|Unnatural feeds like soy and cotton seed||Unnatural feeds as long as certified organic, including soy, etc.||Only natural feeds; never soy or cotton seed|
|Heavy use of pesticides||Only organic pesticides utilized||No pesticides used|
RAW USA CERTIFIED
|Processing causes lactose intolerance||Processing causes lactose intolerance||Lactose intolerance not a factor|
|Missing enzymes cause many other digestion challenges||Missing enzymes cause many other digestion challenges||All enzymes active|
|Missing beneficial bacteria weaken the immune system||Missing beneficial bacteria weaken the immune system||Bio-diverse living bacteria|
|Antibiotics create pathogen development||No antibiotics permitted||No antibiotics permitted|
|Antibiotics can cause allergies in sensitive consumers||No antibiotics permitted||No antibiotics permitted|
|Hormones may increase cancer risk||No hormones permitted||No hormones permitted|
|Poor fatty acid rations omega 3-6||Depending on pasture access may have good ratios but may be damaged by processing||Beneficial fatty acid ratios maximized by pasture grazing|
|Zero CLA values||Depending on pasture access may have good ratios but may be damaged by processing||High CLA values|
RAW USA CERTIFIED
|Human pathogens present in raw milk 31% of the time||Pathogens generally not associated with organic raw milk||Pathogens have never been found in RAW USA samples|
|Pasteurization destroys safety systems||Pasteurization destroys safety systems in raw organic milk||Natural safety systems in raw milk destroy pathogens|
|Large scale creamery contaminations could cause massive food borne outbreaks||Large scale creamery contaminations could cause massive foodborne outbreaks||Outbreak, if it occurred, would be contained because of smaller operations|
|Emerging pathogens created by over use of antibiotics||No emerging pathogens created by antibiotics but may be created by heat-resistant bacteria in factories, and improper use of sanitizers||No emerging pathogens created|
RAW USA CERTIFIED
|System has been designed for economy, compromising natural purity and wholesome qualities of milk||Well-intentioned concept has been taken over by factory farms resulting in highly processed mass-market product||Uses natural science as the basis for purity and safety. Product remains whole and safe, as nature intended.|
|Unsafe factory farm practices of the past are now exacerbated due to antibiotics and hormones, high grain, and no pasture||After factory farm interests took over the USDA organic program, pasture access is no longer required||Not influenced by factory farming practices. Historic natural methods successfully combined with leading edge testing. Year-round pasture access crucial to operations.|
|Accountable to FDA inspectors during limited times||Accountable to FDA and USDA Organic inspectors during limited times||Accountable to government, community, and end consumer. Anyone may review the lab tests at any time, tour and photograph the farm, and complete and publicize RAWUSA.org checklists.|
Clearly, raw milk supersedes conventional and certified organic milk according to this table and it becomes understandable why so many health advocates are ruling against conventional milk.
Raw milk has numerous health benefits and I encourage you to read more about them in a collection of articles written by Dr. Joseph Mercola.
Many non-milk drinkers claim that we shouldn’t be drinking milk from a different species. I personally disagree.
Centuries ago, before the age of “nutritionism”, before pasteurization, and before the commercial production of milk began, families and societies thrived from the milk and resulting dairy products that their cows provided them with.
I believe it is very much a part of nature and part of being an omnivore.
I do agree however that the processed milk today is definitely not the same as it was back then, and this is why conventional milk has become questionable to say the least.
Raw milk of course does have its disadvantages…
Is Raw Milk Safe?
If you’re looking to switch from conventional to raw milk, there are a few drawbacks to be aware of.
According to the owners of Organic Pastures, since raw milk is intact, even the good bacteria can cause some illness in people with a very weak immune system, such as newborns and infants, the elderly, pregnant women, those taking corticosteroids, antibiotics and antacids, and those having chronic illness or other conditions that weaken their immune system.
This is a result of the bacteria taking over in the gut and causing a change in the internal ecosystem balance.
The change however, normally results in a stronger immune system over time.
If you do fall into one of these categories, then simply introduce small quantities of raw milk into your diet slowly over time or consider starting with kefir, which is pre-digested fermented milk that is usually very well tolerated.
You can follow my journey as I experiment with kefir and learn how to make your own at home.
The first question most people ask when considering raw milk is its safety.
Statistically speaking, the incidence of drinking contaminated milk is rare.
Even the FDA excludes raw milk from their top 10 riskiest foods.
Believe it or not, leafy greens are the number one riskiest foods!
The problem with raw milk is that if you do happen to drink contaminated milk, the consequences are very serious.
This is why it’s always best to know the farmer directly to come to understand their standards and dairy practices first hand.
Another obvious disadvantage is that raw milk is often difficult to come by.
In the US, it is illegal to sell raw milk across the state lines, so you can check www.realmilk.com/where.html to find a local US dairy farmer near you.
If you do live in the US, I recommend Jordan Rubin’s dairy products at the Beyond Organic farm.
His mission and accomplishments are admirable to say the least.
For those of you living in the UAE, raw milk is hard to come by, however I do know local families that produce milk for their own personal consumption so my recommendation is to just ask around.
A1 Beta Casein… A New Wrench into the Mix
Just when you think you’re starting to formulate an opinion about the milk debate, a new piece of information comes around and throws it all out of the window.
Have you heard about A1, A2 cows or the A1 beta casein before?
To cut a very long story short, the A1 beta casein is a protein that comes from a mutated beta casein gene that occurred nearly 2,000 years ago and it is found in the majority of modern cows today, regardless if the milk is raw, certified organic or conventional.
The problem with A1 beta casein is that it has been implicated as a direct or indirect cause of serious diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and autism.
In light of the emerging research, it seems best to err on the side of caution and choose dairy products from A2 cows that do not produce the A1 beta casein.
For more information about A1 and A2 cows, I encourage you to read the book Devil in the Milk by Dr. Keith Woodford.
You can also watch his interview in the following video to understand the debate:
The Bottom Line
As you can see, the milk discussion is a hugely debated subject on many different levels and unfortunately, there is no simple black or white answer.
I hope however, that I was able to give you a broad enough scope of information to allow you to further educate yourself on this topic and make the best decision for you, your family and your circumstances.
Playing the devil’s advocate here, I’d like to leave you with a few questions and thoughts to consider…
In fairness however, do all factory dairy farms run their businesses this way?
Are all dairy cows grain-fed instead of being allowed to graze the pasture? What about smaller scale operations? What about our local brands of milk like Marmum, Almarai or Al Ain? What type of cows do they have – A1 or A2?
I encourage you to ask, to question, and to make informed decisions.
An ethical company that prides themselves on quality should be forthcoming and transparent.
Milk, yogurt, yogurt spreads, cream, butter and hard cheeses are a big part of the Mediterranean food culture.
Because of my Lebanese background, I for one grew up with labneh and yogurt-based dishes and have never had a problem digesting pasteurized dairy or milk.
Could it be that some societies are better adapted at digesting dairy than others due to their ethnic backgrounds and DNA-makeup?
I haven’t looked into the research yet, but it’s definitely something to think about…
**Update September, 16 2016:
Read my latest investigative article “Which Milk Brand is the Best in the UAE” for more info.
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Photographer credit: Copyright: rmorijn / 123RF Stock Photo