Many of us recall the prevalence of milk in our diets as children. Perhaps we still consume milk regularly, or have switched to a dairy-free alternative. There are many factors that go into deciding if milk is right for us, so let’s start by discussing the basics.
As infants, consuming milk from our mother is how we got our first boost of nutrients that support vitality and growth. We attain a number of nutrients, growth hormones and beneficial bacterial from this raw, undenatured milk. As we wean off of human milk, it’s generally recommended to incorporate cows milk. Signs of cow’s milk reactions date back about 2,000 years ago, around the same time that pasteurization of cow’s milk began. While both raw and pasteurized milk contain milk proteins like lactose and casein that many people react to, raw milk may support the body helping build a tolerance to cow’s milk.
Pasteurization is a process using heat to kill off potentially harmful bacteria. It was developed as a way to protect us from foodborne illnesses derived from strains like salmonella, E. Coli and mycobacterium tuberculosis. The downfall of pasteurization is that it also kills off beneficial bacteria and reduces the nutrient content of milk. The nutrients in raw milk like probiotics, immunoglobulins, and vitamin D naturally boost the immune system, therefore reducing our risk of allergies. The harmful bacteria are certainly nothing to take lightly, however the CDC (Center for Disease Control) reports that of the 48 million foodborne illnesses each year, only about 42 cases (0.0005%) come from unpasteurized milk.
Along with the pasteurization process, conventional milk is also homogenized. This is an additional steam treatment process where the fat in milk is broken down, becoming oxidized and often rancid. Lower fat milk also contains thickening agents, “fortified” or “enriched” vitamins, meaning synthetic vitamins that the body has a hard time recognizing, as well as added sugars and artificial flavors. These processed and artificial components are another large reason why many people react to conventional milk products.
In learning more about the milk we are used to seeing on the shelves and the prevalence of milk sensitivities, it’s more clear to see how conventional milk has become another processed food. While raw milk may be a better option in terms of nutrient availability and also helping us build a tolerance to milk proteins, it’s certainly not easy to get a hold of. Due to it’s time and heat sensitive nature, it’s best consumed straight off the farm. Choosing a dairy source that maintains a high quality lifestyle for their producers is also important. Farms who keep their cattle on open pasture, treated humanely, inhibit the use of hormones and have sanitary measures for milk extraction will be the safest to consume raw milk from.
When deciding if milk is right for us, we should also understand that true allergies (IgE antibodies) tend to be ours for life. Sensitivities (IgG antibodies) can come and go as we work to improve our immune health and repair our gut lining. Removing things that we react to and then adding them back in after a period of reprieve and repair generally results in better tolerance. If we are looking to regain a tolerance to cow’s milk, adding raw milk may aid in the process. Milk is a great source of healthy protein, fat and carbohydrates in its undenatured form, it can be a nutrient dense addition to our diets or we can choose to lead a healthy life with the plethora of dairy-free alternatives. If our goal is to be fit and healthy for life, it’s best to listen to our bodies and avoid foods that cause internal stress. The true answer to drinking milk or not is – it depends.
- Edwards, Rebekah. “Do You Drink Pasteurized Milk?” Dr. Axe, 22 Aug. 2018, draxe.com/nutrition/article/9-myths-of-pasteurization-or-homogenization-better-options/
- Axe, Josh. “The Truth about Raw Milk.” Dr. Axe, 13 Mar. 2014, draxe.com/nutrition/article/raw-milk-benefits/.
- Thorning, Tanja Kongerslev, et al. “Milk and Dairy Products: Good or Bad for Human Health? An Assessment of the Totality of Scientific Evidence.” Food & Nutrition Research, Co-Action Publishing, 22 Nov. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5122229/.