Most people believe that raw milk and cream causes high LDL, (also known as bad cholesterol) levels in their blood stream. The media has bombarded us with information that vilifies raw milk not only because it is dirty but because of its allegedly “artery-clogging” fats. So we drink our skimmed, irradiated, vitamin D fortified, pasteurized milk, and yet heart attacks and cancer continue to skyrocket since the turn of the century. One has to pose the question: what are we doing wrong and what did our great grandparents do right?
(To read part one of “The Problem With Milk” where I explore the history of pasteurized milk go here.)
My grandparents owned a flock of sheep their entire life. They consumed copious amounts of raw cheese, milk, butter, and cream. My eighty-nine-year old grandma just finished planting her vegetable garden. My grandfather passed away last year at the ripe age of ninety-seven. He was never hospitalized, never suffered a stroke, or battled cancer. He did not own a car, instead he chose to walk everywhere (periodically forgetting his cane). According to the common view of cholesterol, my grandfather’s diet should have killed him by the age of fifty!
Meanwhile, I should mention that some studies have linked milk consumption and high cholesterol. What could account for that? According to Dr. Kilmer McCully, a student of cholesterol metabolism and the author of “The Heart Revolution”, industrial powdered milk is one culprit. Dried milk powder is created by a process called spray-drying, which creates oxidized or damaged cholesterol. Researchers in 1991 wrote, “Oxidized low-density lipoprotein ( LDL) is more atherogenic than native (unoxidized) LDL”. In other words, oxidized LDL causes atherosclerosis. Nina Plank, “Real Food”, Page 66.
In fact, raw milk has been recently discovered to have anti-cancer enzymes and promote heart health which would explain the advanced age people reach on traditional diets.
Compared to industrial milk, dairy foods from grass-fed cows contain more omega-3 fats, more vitamin A, and more beta-carotene and other anti-oxidants. Butter and cream from grass fed cows are a rare source of the unique and beneficial fat CLA. According to the Journal of Dairy Science, the CLA in grass-fed butterfat is 500 percent greater than the butterfat of cows eating a typical dairy ration, which usually contains grain, corn silage, and soybeans.
A polyunsaturated omega-6 fat, CLA prevents heart disease (probably by reducing atherosclerosis), fights cancer, and builds lean muscle. CLA aids weight loss in several ways: by decreasing the amount of fat stored after eating, increasing the rate at which fat cells are broken down, and reducing the number of fat cells. Nina Plank, “Real Food”, Page 69.
There are plenty of studies that point to raw milk, cream, and butter as being nutritionally superior to pasteurized milk. If you would like to read more on the subject, “The Untold Story of Milk” by Ron Schmidt and “Real Food” by Nina Plank are great resources.
However, as I mentioned in Part I, not all raw milk is superior. In fact there are circumstances in which I will absolutely refuse to drink raw milk! When is that you might ask? If the dairy farm is not up to the proper standards of cleanliness.There are certain criteria that we all have to take into account before deciding to go for a glass of raw milk.
Is the dairy farm up to your sanitary standards?
This is very important. I highly recommend visiting the farm you will be purchasing your milk from. You want to be OCD about this process. When we visited the dairy farm we are currently getting our milk from, we inspected the places they milked the cows, sterilized the jars, and refrigerated the milk. The sterilization of jars is very important because it prevents bacteria from leeching into the milk and causing it to go bad. A jar of clean raw milk won’t spoil in the fridge for three weeks.
What method of milking the cows is the farmer using?
I grew up hand milking our family cow. Most of the time we drank the milk raw, but there were those nights when the cow would, for example, kick the bucket and dirt would get into the milk – not good for drinking. So, after straining the milk we would boil it for about three minutes as a cautionary measure. If you don’t have your own family cow where YOU can judge what looks like dirty milk and what doesn’t, I would highly recommend choosing a farmer who uses an automatic milk machine. It is the best way to ensure your milk never gets contaminated. If the farmers around your area do not have milking machines there are other ways to enjoy their milk. You can always sour the milk and make yogurt or kefir with it. The souring process kills any invasive bacteria. Some people argue that we have been hand-milking cows for five thousand, or even significantly longer, with negligible sickness – and without refrigeration for the vast majority of that time. True, but the milk also turned sour since it was left at room temperature, killing any invasive bacteria.
Are the cows grass-fed or grain fed?
After the first sanitary inspection definitely observe the cows and watch what they’re eating. Grain fed cows, as I mentioned in a previous post, have a highly acidic stomach which may leech infection in the milk. Some dairy farmers feed the cows just a little bit of grain during milking which is also problematic, because there is no way they know how much grain is too much. Each animal is different. We opted for a farmer that feeds her cows beets and diamond kelp during milking. There are other options besides grains and soy. When cows are fed delicious snacks during milking they will make more milk and be more relaxed. Corn and soy are not acceptable snacks for a ruminant.
Does the farmer and his family drink the raw milk they sell?
Yes, there are farmers who will sell you the raw milk and then pasteurize their own or buy it at the store. They are selling raw milk because there is such a high demand for it without really trusting it themselves. I would be very cautious about purchasing milk from someone who is viewing raw milk simply as viable business rather than a delicious super-food.
If the farmer you are getting your milk from doesn’t meet some of these criteria or other concerns that you have communicated with them openly, it is time to find another farmer.
In case you are wondering how to find raw milk in your area here is the website that will provide you with information about dairy farms throughout the entire US. If you have a piece of property and would like to get your own family cow, Joann Groham’s book Keeping a Family Cow can be very helpful and insightful.
It is time to re-establish raw milk’s status as a nourishing, delicious, beneficent food. Nina Plank quotes doctor Francis Pottenger, famous doctor from the fifties:
The charge that milk produces high cholesterol in humans is largely based on the premise that the ingestion of cholesterol and the deposit of cholesterol are the same. Extensive use of quality raw milk, cream, and farm fresh eggs with tuberculosis patients failed to produce a single case of hypercholesterolemia [high blood cholesterol] and atheroma [plaque]. A life-time consumption of clean, fresh raw milk from healthy cattle does not produce metabolic disease. Cholesterol is not the villain; the villain is what man does to his cattle and milk. Nina Plank, “Real Food”, Page 66.
If raw milk is not available to you the next best thing is unsweetened, whole milk yogurt with live bacteria from grass fed cows. According to doctor Katherine Shanahan the beneficial bacteria that cultures milk into yogurt remediates much of the damage done by pasteurization and homogenization. Food Rules, Page 27
Read part three about our visit to a local dairy farm here.