What’s the Big Deal with Raw Milk? The Truth Behind the Phenomenon

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There are a lot of milk choices out there today.

For the sake of clarification, I am talking about milk that comes from an animal. Alternative milks are a discussion for another day.

With so many choices there is a lot of confusion amongst consciousness moms and consumers like myself who want to provide their family with the best nutrition.

Today you can find:

  • Conventional pasteurized homogenized milk.
  • Organic pasteurized milk, non-homogenized (this is very hard to source).
  • Organic pasteurized homogenized milk.
  • Organic ultra-pasteurized homogenized milk.

And then there’s raw milk

We are raw milk drinkers.It’s been a long progression from low-fat conventional milk to organic ultra-pasteurized whole milk to finally local farm fresh whole raw milk.

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What is Raw Milk?

To put it simply, raw milk comes straight from the cow. You know, what the baby calves drink. It has not been heated to kill pathogens (simply those little organisms that can possibly cause disease).  It’s not homogenized. Homogenization is:

a more recently invented process and it has been called “the worst thing that dairymen did to milk.” When milk is homogenized, it is pushed through a fine filter at pressures of 4,000 pounds per square inch. In this process, the fat globules are made smaller by a factor of ten times or more. Source

Raw milk is what generations before my grandparents drank. Milk in its pure unaltered state.

Alternatives to Raw Milk:

Most milk today is either pasteurized or ultra pasteurized.

Pasteurization: Pasteurization was invented by a man named Louis Pasteur in 1864. During this time, the Industrial Revolution, people began to move away from farms and country life embracing city life. Instead of milking cows from family farms people started relying more on milk from distributors and stores. As the need increased, profit flowed. Milk was driven by profit. Cows were taken off pastured grass, and were fed grains and cramped into pens. Traditional dairy breeds produced 3-4 gallons of milk a day, now were producing up to 4 times as much thanks to a “modern freak of nature” the Holstein cow. A cow that is selectively bred to produce abnormally active pituitary glands. This resulted in many problems.

Cramped conditions, overactive pituitary glands, and an abnormal diet brought about dirty milk filled with pus, sick cows needing frequent antibiotics due to sickness, and other health issues.  Milk distributors also started to take short cuts in order to boost milk sales. It was during the 1800 reports began circulating of children dying due to dangerously-produced raw milk.

Instead of looking at the root of the problem and the fact that generations had consumed raw milk safely, in the 1930’s raw milk finally stopped being sold thanks to the big dairy producers pushing pasteurized milk. Instead of putting cows back on pasture in clean free roaming environments big business took the profit route. Cheap corn and grain, growth hormones to promote excessive milk production resulting in dirty milk, and cramped cow conditions all which produce harmful milk in need of pasteurization.

Pasteurization strips milk of helpful organisms, the good and the bad, leaving it unable to protect against undesired bacteria which can containment milk. Pasteurization also destroys the vitamins and minerals which make milk such a powerhouse of nutrients.  Vitamins A and D are synthetically added back into pasteurized milk. The ultimate goal is the absence of enzymes which also destroys calcium and puts a large strain on the digestive system leaving many with problems digesting pasteurized milk. Check out this study to find out more on the digestive issues of pasteurized milk. 

Ultra-pasteurization: This process takes milk and heats it to an extremely hot temperature (280º), killing literally everything.  The results:  dead milk! This milk literally retains nothing living and can not be cultured and processed into yogurt.

You may be buying what appears to be organic milk, however, you are getting nothing more than white liquid an expensive white nutritionally-void, dead substance.  In fact, chemicals can even be added into pasteurized (and ultra pasteurized) milk to help it retain the odor and taste of real fresh milk which is lost in the extreme heating. Yuck!

Why would companies, particularly, organic companies process the milk to such a dead state?

Simply because this process extends the shelf life of milk. When ultra pasteurization first came out, stores sold the boxed milk on the shelf as no refrigeration was needed for such a lifeless product. Consumers were hesitant of such milk,  so today you will find most ultra pasteurized milk sold in the refrigerated section. This gives the appearance of fresh milk, however, it is much more of a marketing gimmick than necessity.
A giveaway milk is ultra pasteurized,  is an expiration date lasting months from the purchase date. Since when did fresh milk last 6 months?

The Safety of Raw Milk:

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First, for thousands of years people have been dependent on milk from cattle, sheep, goats, horses, water buffalo, or camels for protein and fat. Ask any great-great grandparent living today, and many will fondly share stories of drinking raw milk straight from the cow. Rawmilk.com shares a few of the safety features which are naturally built into raw milk.

Raw milk contains numerous components that assist in:

  • Killing pathogens in the milk (lactoperoxidase, lactoferrin, leukocytes, macrophages, neutrophils, antibodies, medium chain fatty acids, lysozyme, B12 binding protein, bifidus factor, beneficial bacteria);
  • Preventing pathogen absorption across the intestinal wall (polysaccharides, oligosaccharides, mucins, fibronectin, glycomacropeptides, bifidus factor, beneficial bacteria);
  • Strengthening the Immune System (lymphocytes, immunoglobulins, antibodies, hormones and growth factors) (Scientific American, December 1995; British J of Nutrition, 2000:84(Suppl. 1):S3-S10, S75-S80, S81-S89).

Raw milk contains lactic-acid producing bacteria that protect against pathogens. Pasteurization destroys these helpful organisms… Raw milk turns pleasantly sour, while pasteurized milk, lacking any beneficial bacteria, will putrefy. Nourishing Traditions

Farms today utilize many modern techniques such as: refrigeration, herd disease testing, cleaning systems, and routine milk testing which result in even safer raw milk and eliminates the need for pasteurization.
Raw milk is also safest consumed in its whole form, whole milk,  as it retains all the fats which fit against pathogens.

Health Benefits of Raw Milk:

First let me say, raw milk should always come from a clean source from a trusted local farm. Cows should be grazing on pasture and milked in clean conditions with clean sanitized equipment.

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When produced on clean farms raw milk is very beneficial:

  • a rich supply of perfectly balanced vitamins and minerals, in their whole unaltered state, such as vitamins A and D and calcium.
  • cancer fighting CLAs
  • many who are lactose intolerant can consume raw milk
  • healthy, important saturated fat.

This article from Joy Hartley wonderfully describes in detail all the amazing health benefits of fresh raw grass fed milk.

 

Our family enjoys the many health benefits of fresh raw milk from pastured cows. The way God intended milk to be, from happy, clean cows grazing on grass, milked by farmers we trust and personally know.

Is your family ready to take the journey to raw milk? Find out more about where to find raw milk here.

I highly recommend viewing the documentary Farmageddon and/or reading the book, The Untold Story of Milk.

Sources: 
http://www.realmilk.com/
Nourishing Tradtions by Sally Fallon
http://www.floridarawmilk.com/
www.naturalnews.com
http://thebovine.wordpress.com/
The Untold Story of Raw Milk by Ron Schmid

 

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43 Comments

  • I know a guy here where I live, who supplies me with grass fed beef from his cows, and honey from his bees, a very natural organic kinda guy, and he used to do the dairy cow thing, and he strongly urges against raw milk, because of the disease factor, no matter how clean you think your cow’s milk is. He wouldn’t let his own children drink it from his own cows. So, not sure what I think about raw milk. I have done it a few times, and was really scared because of what he said. We do buy some regular pasturized milk from the Amish over here. My son’s homeopathic doctor is totally against dairy, and says cow’s milk is for cows. So, I am not sure what to do with that. Where can I read about the safety of raw milk? That I won’t be putting my kids at risk if I start that up again.

    • Thank you for sharing. Very interesting that he warns against it… The farmer. While he may not feel it is safe there are hundreds of thousands more who do and produce raw milk safely. There are more instances of food safety issues with spinach and green onions in the past years than with raw milk. Again as I explained in the article raw milk contains enzymes which remain in tact and fight against any harmful bacteria. Pasteurized milk removes these enzymes and goo bacteria leaving it helpless against that fight. In 1985 14,000 people were struck with serious illness due to pasteurized milk containing salmonella. There is lots of data proving the safety of raw milk however big business would rather that not be shared. Here is some interesting data analysis. http://www.westonaprice.org/press/government-data-proves-raw-milk-safe

  • This is just what I needed to read – been looking to find the time to research this a bit more – sending this article to my hubby to let him read it. We are slowly making some changes to our eating habits and I think this one may be one! So helpful – thank you for taking the time to write such a thought out article with info!

  • I’ll have to check out the farmageddon movie. I did watch foodinc, which is what started me on different path to see where even my “healthy” food comes from. I did see this article about raw milk, which kinda freaked me out. This is what my farmer friend was talking about, this type of thing
    http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2012/04/is-the-foundation-of-good-health-found-in-a-bottle-of-raw-milk/#.UbuOKeD0UlI

    I know stuff like this happens. But I wonder what the rate is. I am still trying to weigh is it worth it to do the raw milk. We don’t do any milk, just homemade coconut and almond milks. My kids can’t do dairy due to lactose issues and allergies, which our naturopath said wouldn’t change even with raw. Something in my son’s blood says he shouldn’t have dairy. It is funny how the CDC and FDA is against raw milk. I think I might try it again if it was from my own cow or something, but not if what this article says is true. What do you think? It is kind of like vaccines, are they worth the risk? Not everyone is vaccine injured, but do you take the chance anyway? I kind of think that with raw milk. The bacteria and disease is out there, and you never know when it will come up. So I am a little scared 🙁

    • There is risk with any food including raw milk. There have been tons of food recalls, such as peanut butter which demonstrate this. It is certainly a choice you must feel comfortable with. For our family and many others we personally know it is a choice we make and feel very confident with. In the years we have drank raw milk along with many friends we haven’t ever been sick either. Our farmer performs regular milk testing and we know where the milk is coming from. We are personally very scared of the risk with pasteurized milk and therefore stay away.

  • Hi Kristin,

    Growing up in the country, my family drank raw milk from a local dairy farmer/friend for a number of years and I don’t recall anyone (14 kids) in those years getting ill from it. Perhaps it was because the cows were healthy, free roaming, and they practiced clean milk processing…I’m not sure. I recall bringing it home in tin milk buckets and having to stir it before we drank it. When we were kids, this was all “Ewwwww” to us, and we wanted ‘normal’ milk, but as an adult, well, we eventually got over the trauma of it all. I was buying low-temp pasteurized from a local health food store a few years back, but they stopped selling it. I’ll have to look into the fully raw again since I live close to you. Thanks for the info. And wonderful site, by the way! We eat free range meat, free roaming chicken eggs, and organic dairy (but not raw milk – sad to say), and organic produce. I get ya’.

  • Kristin you provide interesting information in your own style. I was raised on a ‘modern’ day dairy in the 1960’s & ’70’s. Cows were on concrete, never grazed, consumed silage and grains and were as healthy as any other herd of cows. The milk went to a fluid milk processor and we always attained high quality and low somatic cell counts (white blood cell count or as bloggers call it ‘pus’). I drank ‘raw’ milk for my first 30 years, never a problem. I would caution people to ‘get to know their farmer’ before buying raw milk. Does the operation look clean, smell clean (as far as normal farm scents will go), does the farmer drink his own milk. Ask questions of the farmer, what is he feeding the cows, does he have much mastitis, how does he handle cows with mastitis ( this is a natural occurrence from a variety of causes). Start consuming milk slowly to adjust your own metabolism for raw milk.

    Two things: I feel that you over emphasized, about the ‘poor’ quality of milk production by some bad farmers in earlier times. All in all, most farmers produced good quality milk. Quality issues had to be dealt with but feel that you have over-generalized on the milk quality comments during earlier generations of farmers. They worked with the tools that they had available for the time. Secondly, a point that you completely missed. Pasteurization was implemented by and large due to sickness that was caused from Undulant Fever which was found in milk from cows with Brucellosis or Bang’s Disease. Today the USA is free of this disease, yet pasteurization has continued. Raw milk is a great food product but people must be careful if they have a weak immune system and be cautious of other food borne bacteria’s that can cause potential illness. Again I am in strong support of raw milk but we need to be smart about our food sources. Thanks.

  • We live in NJ and buy our raw milk over the Pa/Nj border 1/2 hr away for years.

    Trusted source. Raw milk, raw milk cheese, grass fed yogurt, raw honey. We also make raw milm kefir with our raw milk. We love our raw stuff!!

  • What a shame in Canada no one can sell raw milk. They fine the farmers. Huge corporations control every aspect of people life. I miss the wonderful taste of my childhood, warm , and raw milk from the cow, yes the cow not the store. …

  • Hi! I loved this post but I just wanted to let you know that I noticed several typos that were a bit distracting. Thanks! 🙂

    • Thanks, this is an older post. It’s quite the job being the writer, editor, and photographer all in one package :). Glad you caught them.

  • My 12 month old is starting to wean off of breast milk and I am struggling with what to transition him to. I would love to give him raw milk but I am having a difficult time finding it and also convincing the husband about the benefits and safety of it (if we do it right). If I cannot get raw milk of any kind, what would you suggest is best for him? Organic pasteurized cow? Goat? The only goat milk I can find is ultra-pasteurized but I am so nervous about messing with his system and putting hormones or bad things into his little body. We have been so careful up to this point with what he is exposed to. I need help! 🙂

    Thanks in advance – I love your site and your meal plans. I’m transitioning my family to a full real food kitchen and have a few more tweaks to go, but your site helps a ton! And I love the new look!!

    Cheers to a happy 2014!

    • Hi Jennelle, I completely understand where you are coming from. The milk situation isn’t always black and white due to laws, family members, and other scenarios out of our control. When raw milk isn’t available to us, I buy Natural by Nature (grass-fed milk), it is non-homogenized and lightly pasteurized. Organic Valley also now makes a “grass milk” that is beginning to pop up at health food stores around the country. It’s a bit tough to find right now, but they also make a non-ultra-pasteurized milk. It comes in jugs vs. the cartons. For us, a local farm also sells pasteurized, non-homogenized milk that is 95% grass-fed. You might be able to search around online or talk to a health food store manager about an option like that. I would just stay away from the ultra-pasteurized milk as much as possible. We try to the do the best we can. One step at a time :). Thank you for the compliment. So glad you like the new site. I can’t wait to hear more about your real food transition!

    • I was also concerned about our children and real food, one of our sons has eczema. I know it is not possible for everybody, but we chose to move to the country (a big change for the family, born and raised in a city all except my husband, but it is worth it for our health) and produce own food as much as possible. So if that would be an option for you, as I did, I started with a goat! It has some difficulties to keep them but they are great intelligent animals (most of them 😉 and produce milk that even people who are lactose intolerant can tolerate.
      Advantages: you decide what they eat or don’t, how clean they are, treated with antibiotics or not etc. You know all about your milk! Small animal, easier to handle than cow.
      Disadvantages: milking twice a day, rebreeding, handling, costs associated with start up (shelter, get feed, knowledge experience..) and time
      Now we switched to cows, make our own cheese, yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese, and of course our raw milk.
      We are from Canada

      • That’s awesome, AnnaK! I would love to move away from the city and have more land for raising a few animals (we have chickens, but a cow or goat would be amazing) and growing more produce. Thank you so much for sharing your story!!

  • I’ve done extensive research on raw milk and you claim that pasteurized milk has less vitamins and minerals is a lie. There have been studies done that prove that pasteurizing does not kill off vitamins and minerals. The proteins in milk are not denatured when pasteurized either.

    • I have never found any independent studies showing that pasteurization (as it is performed today) doesn’t kill off vitamins and minerals. Would you mind sharing the studies you’ve found?

  • Hello! I recently discovered your blog and I throughly enjoy reading it. I’m an American married to a Swiss and we live in Southern Germany. I have not gone about finding raw milk yet here in Germany, but we live in a very small town in the country and there are many farmers around us. I did a little research before I decided which milk to buy from our local grocery store. I currently buy organic, whole milk that uses the gentlest, short-time heating and it is not homogenized. The cows graze in the hills and mountains of Southern Bavaria. The milk comes in brown, UV protected, 1 liter glass bottles and it is the best milk I can buy outside of raw milk. I actually asked several of the store workers how often the milk is delivered because it is often sold out and they said everyday. Just thought you’d be interested to see how I get milk over here!

  • Hello. Interesting article about the raw milk… It seems like you have read a lot of information about this topic, but I’m wondering if you have a background in parasitology. While raw milk may have benefits, there are risks involved that can be avoided by heating the milk to a higher temperature for a very short time. This will maintain many of the “good” properties of milk, yet will eliminate many possible parasites. Raw milk may look and smell fine, but it may still contain minute organisms that your body will needlessly need to fight off if consumed. As a seemingly healthy adult with a healthy immune system, an introduction of some harmful organisms may or may not affect you in a detrimental manner, but a young child with a growing immune system, or an elderly individual, or one who is immune-compromised may not be as successful at fighting off these organisms. Here is my question: If someone said eating raw chicken is beneficial, would you do it? Probably not and here’s why: because we know that there may be undesired health results when eating chicken that is not properly prepared. The temperature is a standard determined through science insuring certain organisms are eliminated at a certain temperature. Yet, chicken still has benefits after it is cooked. The same for milk. I would love to see more milk from grass-fed cows because I know that is a better choice. Also, if people want to consume raw milk, while I may disagree, I think that is their choice and personal freedom. My caution to you would be to please talk to a knowledgeable veterinarian or parasitologist who can really explain what I’m attempting to convey. If adults choose a raw dairy path, I urge them to think twice about asking their young children to consume these products.

    • Hi Caring Mom, Thank you for sharing your words of concern. Personally, with all the research we’ve done, we are more confident in giving our children raw milk from a good source (grass-fed, tests the milk) than a commercial milk company. The risks, from our research, are far more dangerous with the latter. I know, this is a personal decision for everyone and one I encourage all individuals to research and come to their own decision. For us raw is best, and that’s why we have bee using this milk for over 3 years now. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

  • We LOVE our raw milk! We’re a total believer in raw milk and all the wonderful health benefits it gives us. If you can make your milk safe and clean and still have all of it’s natural components for me it’s a no brainer to make the switch. Why should we drink milk that is destroyed? Plus raw milk tastes AMAZING!

  • We currently use Fat Free Lactose Free Milk…..how would you transition to something likes this? Thanks just found your blog and trying to figure out what to do 1st???

    • Hey Julie, Welcome to Live Simply!

      Each family is different, but many with lactose concerns don’t have the same issues, caused by regular milk, when they switch to raw milk. First, I’d focus on the foods your family most consumes– dairy, meats, processed snacks–then find better (“real”) alternatives. If you’d like to focus on dairy, sourcing a local farm with very clean living and milking conditions is ideal. Then, move on to the next priority food.

      Small changes over time add up to a big lifestyle switch! The Real Food Planning Challenge is a great resource for making the real food switch with lots of detailed information.

  • Hi Kristin,

    First up I love a lot of your recipes, particularly the banana bread!
    I just wanted to comment on this article as I have had a few changing viewpoints on this subject. Initially I was pro raw milk, even though where I live in Australia it is illegal and only sold in health food shops as ‘bath milk’. I loved the taste and the idea that I was getting more nutrients. However, in recent months an Australian child died from drinking raw milk. After this incident, the risks became very real, and now I don’t think raw milk is something I could risk giving my children. I’m not sure of an alternative yet, and each to their own as you say, just thought you may be interested to know.

    • Hey Erin, Thank you so much. I’m so glad you love the banana bread.
      A raw milk death really does hit close to home and makes me stop and think about what we choose to eat/drink. There have been a few deaths/illness over the years in the States, nothing compared to other food-borne related illness, but it certainly happens. The raw milk choice is one someone should consider and ask lots of handling/animal welfare questions before purchasing and consuming. Thank you for sharing.

  • Hi Kristen, I’ve been pretty much obsessed over your blog the past few days. I’m glad I stumbled on it! I’ve been doing more research on raw milk. Is there a huge difference in raw cow’s milk vs raw goat’s milk. I’ve always known cow’s milk so goat’s milk seems a little odd to me.

    • Hey Amber, It’s great to hear you’re enjoying the blog! Goat’s milk is believed to be easier to digest (closer to breastmilk) than cow’s milk, so people with allergies often times turn to goat’s milk. I personally don’t care for the flavor of goat’s milk–it has a very wild taste.

  • I love learning more about whole, real food on your blog. I would love to hear more about how to use the raw milk in time before it goes sour. It’s just my husband and I, so I don’t want to waste anything if I can avoid it!

  • Hi Kristin! My name is Mel, I am a food scientist (basically it means I went to school to learn all about food processing). I am originally from Costa Rica but have been here in the states for several years. I love the concept of Real Food in your blog and think you are doing great things for the health of your family and those you reach with your blog. However, if I may I would look at re-writing some statements in this particular post as to not mislead people. Although I’m with you in that grass-fed milk is a must (although crazy hard to find in this country), I must say that pasteurization itself is not the root cause of the taste/quality issues you pointed out in your post. I have never worked at a dairy plant here in the United States but I have in Costa Rica where all cows are grass fed (I know, it’s awesome). The milk there is pasteurized and even ultrapasteurized and yet it still retains the rich flavor of raw milk without the danger. Pasteurization is a simple time/temp combination that achieves elimination of pathogens (which are classified as such because they can cause serious illness and even death, not simple at all!). You can pasteurize by exposing milk to lower temps for longer time or higher temps for shorter time. However standard pasteurization does not bring the temp of the milk high enough to denature (destroy) enzymes or even kill all microorganisms in the milk (this is why milk – even store bought- spoils). So, not to bash at all but I’d look at some of the statements made in your post. I think it’s great you are confident in your choice and your source, if I had the option of milking a cow straight into my glass I totally would but as I don’t, pasteurization (possibly even done at home) may be the only choice! 🙂

    • Hey Melania, Thank you for sharing! Raw milk is definitely a personal choice. I know it’s not always possible to find a clean source, and pasteurized milk can be a good option–I purchase pasteurized/non-homogenized milk from our local health food store during the winter. My issue isn’t so much with general pasteurization, but with ultra-pasteurization, which does kill basically everything and allows milk to keep for months and months without spoiling. This milk doesn’t even need to be refrigerated. Hope that helps clarify my comments about the good stuff being destroyed :).

  • I drank raw milk for almost five years, until the scariest week of my life. In the middle of the night, my husband woke me up complaining of terrible diarrhea; he was rummaging in the dresser to get a clean pair of underwear. A couple hours later, his fever was 102.5. When I got home from work that day, he was almost completely helpless. That night, the diarrhea continued after every intake of fluids, with the addition of vomiting, and by the next morning, his fever was 103.2. He told me he felt like he was dying. He told me that every time he went to the bathroom, he felt like his body was trying to commit suicide and failing. The fever went down, but Imodium and Pepto had no effect. Every liquid intake resulted in and equal or greater amount of diarrhea, often bloody. We finally ended up in urgent care. Two liters of IV fluid, a CT scan, and a stool culture later, we were on our way with a bottle of Cipro. This is all very expensive for individuals without insurance.

    I don’t know if the milk was the source of the confirmed campylobacter. I didn’t get sick, and neither did anyone else consuming milk from this farm. I know that nutritionally, raw milk is healthier. I know that our ancestors consumed it freely, without issue. The problem is, we’re not our ancestors. As a formula-fed infant who consumed mass amounts of processed food and chlorinated water and has gone through multiple rounds of antibiotics, my husband’s system is about as similar to his ancestors’ as it is to someone’s in Mexico or India. What I realized, is that as much as a 21st century American body needs nutrition from a few centuries ago, that body might not always be able to handle what comes with it. I certainly want to nourish his body to health, but I now also feel strongly that it is my responsibility to protect him from infections like this, which means from now on, pasteurized milk.

    Campylobacter is pretty difficult to pin down, given its 2-5 day incubation period and often isolated cases. It even passes routine tests, but still makes people sick.
    http://www.campylobacterblog.com/campylobacter-information/raw-milk-can-harbor-campylobacter-even-after-negative-tests/#.WSl0otxya1s

    When the health dept. called because the lab had reported the campylobacter case to them, my husband did not reveal information about his raw milk consumption or the farm we got our milk from. I was completely honest with them when I wrote and apologized for discontinuing our weekly milk deliveries. I don’t think anyone who has experienced campylobacter first hand could blame me for my decision, as it truly strikes terror into your heart.

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