Raw milk from clean, small dairies is once again gaining favor in the diets of health-conscious people across the globe. Milk has been consumed raw for thousands of years since the domestication of livestock. Early in the 1900's during the Industrial Revolution outbreaks of tuberculosis were blamed on the consumption of raw milk, and laws were passed to heat-treat milk (pasteurization). At that time, where TB was rampant, raw milk was coming from unhealthy cows in filthy, crowded dairies in the big cities. Since then the sale of raw milk has been banned in most states. Because of the huge, complicated food distribution system in the U.S., it is not feasible or safe to mass-produce raw milk on factory farms. So unless one is fortunate enough to live close to a small farm offering milk from healthy cows, raw milk is still unattainable to the majority of people in the U.S.
Although no food contains all the nutrients needed for growth, maintenance & health, raw milk comes as close as any to the perfect food. Infants can subsist solely on human breast milk for their first year of life.
Most mammals lose the enzymes necessary to digest lactose (milk sugar) as they mature towards solid foods. When humans domesticated animals and began drinking their nourishing milk, over time, these herding cultures retained the necessary enzymes to thoroughly digest this nutritious food throughout life. The ancestry of most lactose-intolerant individuals came from areas of the world that remained hunter-gatherers.
Whole, natural food is packaged with all the necessary nutrients & enzymes needed for the digestion, absorption & assimilation of that food within the body. Heat often destroys these valuable nutrients & interferes with the digestion process. This is what happens when milk is pasteurized. Most people who are allergic to pasteurized dairy products have no problem with raw milk and dairy.
During pasteurization, milk is heated to a temperature of 161 F and held for 15 seconds to insure that pathogenic organisms, which have entered the milk through cross-contamination, are destroyed. (Ultra-pasteurized milk is heated to 280 F for 2 seconds). Unfortunately this high heat also destroys the beneficial microorganisms that are in the milk for the purpose of protecting you from these pathogenic organisms. The resulting sterile medium becomes a ripe culture for deleterious microorganisms to survive & propagate without the beneficial organisms to hold them in check. While raw milk will sour, it will never go "bad" or become harmful to drink. Pasteurized milk, on the other hand, will soon "rot" or putrify if held at room temperature or too long in the refrigerator. In numerous tests, raw milk has been purposefully injected with pathogenic bacteria (e-coli, salmonella, etc). Within 24 hours there is no trace of the pathogenic organism due to the protective qualities of the beneficial bacteria in the milk (www.realmilk.com). Although it is not impossible to become sick from raw milk, the occurrence is extremely rare. Unfortunately these examples are what grab the headlines, & you never hear about the many thousands of people who have gotten sick from pasteurized milk.
NUTRITIONAL CONTENT OF RAW MILK
Protein in Raw Milk
Raw milk contains numerous high quality proteins.
In addition to high pasteurization temperatures destroying the beneficial organisms in milk, the high heat also destroys the enzymes in milk & denatures the protein. Denatured proteins are responsible for many health implications & contribute to chronic disease.
Proteins are composed of amino acid chains made of combinations of 22 different amino acids, 8 of which are essential in our diets. These amino acid chains are fragile & very sensitive to heat, which will break them apart. Raw milk contains all of the essential amino acids necessary for growth, maintenance, & repair of body tissues. Since protein requires fat for its absorption & utilization in the body, all quality protein foods naturally come neatly packaged with fat (eggs, whole milk, fatty meats...). It is therefore important to eat the fat with the protein source: whole eggs rather than egg whites, whole milk rather than skim milk, etc.
Vitamin & Mineral Content of Whole Raw Milk
One of the most important nutritional qualities of raw whole milk is the presence of the fat-soluble vitamins A & D. It has been said that the diets of traditional cultures had 10 times more of these important nutrients than the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.). These fat-soluble vitamins work together synergistically and have numerous functions in our bodies. They are particularly important for protecting against the chronic diseases prevalent in our culture today (cancer, coronary artery diseases, diabetes, arthritis...). The fat-soluble vitamins are also necessary for the proper absorption & assimilation of calcium & other minerals in our bodies. Both vitamins A & D are greatly diminished during the processing of commercial milk so synthetic forms of these vitamins are added back in. Unfortunately synthetic forms of all vitamins are poorly absorbed & not properly utilized in our bodies. Cows fed on lush green growing grass produce copious amounts of these protective vitamins in their milk. These fat-soluble vitamins are found naturally in the butterfat content of the milk. Thus, whole raw milk, butter & high fat cheeses from cows eating green grass are excellent sources of these vitamins. Raw milk also contains the water-soluble B vitamins, many of which are destroyed by pasteurization.
Milk & dairy products are also an excellent source of trace minerals & calcium. Since calcium also depends on fat & vitamin D for absorption, commercial skim milk is not a good source to meet your calcium needs (in spite of what mainstream doctors recommend).
Butterfat Content of Whole Raw Milk
Although fats in our diets have been denigrated in recent decades, their value to our health & well-being is now fully recognized by most health professionals. The low fat diet craze of the last 50 years has been one of the most detrimental causes of our poor health (in addition to the increased consumption of refined carbohydrates & highly processed foods). As high quality fats were taken out of our diets & replaced with simple carbohydrates & unhealthy fats (refined vegetable oils & trans-fats), the obesity & chronic disease rates in this country have skyrocketed. Good quality fats are extremely important in our diets as they have numerous important functions in our bodies. Fats are the main components of our cell membranes regulating nutrient transfer into & out of the cells; are precursors of all our endocrine hormones; provide energy & heat; are carriers of the fat-soluble vitamins; are needed for digestion & absorption of certain nutrients; are necessary for the conversion of carotene to vitamin A; slow absorption of our foods so we feel satisfied longer; & numerous other functions. Whole raw milk from cows grazing on lush green pastures has the excellent quality fats necessary for our good health, including the important essential omega 3 fatty-acids and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)--a potent anti-cancer agent. The short and medium chain fatty acids in butterfat also stimulate the immune system and protect against disease.
Shelf Life of Raw Milk
Since raw milk in not homogenized (a high pressure process to break up the fat molecules -- implicated in heart disease), the cream will rise to the top forming a distinct layer. This cream is a protective film keeping the milk fresh for a minimum of 2 weeks if left undisturbed at the proper temperature. When ready to use, some of this cream may be skimmed off to use for coffee, tea & sauces, or cultured to make butter or sour cream. The rest should be shaken into the milk to provide the milk with the necessary butterfat & fat-soluble vitamins for proper absorption & utilization of the milk. If the milk sours before it is used, it is still safe to drink or use in pancakes, biscuits, breads, etc., or to make cottage cheese. For the longest shelf life, raw milk should be stored in your refrigerator between 35 & 40 degrees.
One of the most important benefits of raw milk is the presence of beneficial bacteria that help to repopulate our guts with good bacteria. Current research has shown the importance of a healthy digestive system populated with billions of beneficial microorganisms to the health of our whole bodies. These good bacteria are greatly enhanced when the milk is fermented to make yogurt and kefir.
Commercial yogurts and kefir are made from pasteurized milk with just a couple live bacteria added back in. They are also loaded with sugars, flavorings and additives that turn a nutritious, high-quality food into a junk food. High quality yogurt & kefir is easy to make from raw milk with the purchase of the appropriate cultures.
For further information on the heath benefits of raw milk visit the Weston A. Price Foundation website at www.westonaprice.org
Rebecca Routson is owner & operator of Lost Cabin Ranch. She holds a Bachelor's and Master's degree in Nutritional Science.