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I used to have a problem with milk. It didn’t quite sit well with me, and I could not understand why people drank so much of it and what the “magic” was. It seemed like a lot of hype.

Farm dogs at a dairy happily clean up spilled milk

I had even convinced myself that no other species drank milk after weaning. But then I realized that was a fallacy—they would if they had opposing digits and a way to milk the cow. Or goat or sheep. Have you ever seen a cat around a saucer of milk? Or even dogs? They absolutely love it.

Then I also realized that what I drank as a child was not the same as what I was avoiding as an adult—the difference was pasteurization. I knew my grandfather had been a well-respected dairy manager in the mid-20th century and, although they provided the consumer with both pasteurized and raw options, he and his family drank it raw. But—why raw?

I started looking into the facts and they were compelling. The nutritional facts were impressive so I decided to give whole, raw milk a try. The taste was different from the watery blue stuff I had been avoiding all these years. A couple of sips, then a glass now and then . . . this actually went down pretty well. My husband, who had thought he was lactose-intolerant for years, started drinking it as well and it worked for him. No more indigestion, gas, bloating. Turns out he was not lactose-intolerant, but pasteurization-intolerant. The more I looked into the scientific data and sorted the facts from the hype, the more it made sense. The health benefits won me over.

So now I’m drinking milk again. Raw milk. And I’ve been asked why I go out of my way to find the raw milk instead of the pasteurized milk that’s in every supermarket. Is there really a difference? Let me explain in a nutshell:

Studies show that such milk—clean, whole raw milk from pastured, grass-fed cows—has beneficial fatty acids (and a good ratio of omega-3 to omega-6) and conjugated linolenic acid (CLA), and a higher percentage of protein. European studies show that consumption of farm milk reduces asthma and allergies. Unpasteurized (raw), unhomogenized milk retains natural lactoferrin (a component of the immune system that battles infection, inflammation and cancer while helping the body absorb iron), beneficial digestive enzymes like lipase and protease, and friendly flora like lactobacillus (which creates lactase, aiding in the digestion of milk) to help boost the body’s immune and digestive system. Raw, unprocessed milk from pastured cows is a natural probiotic. Food is so much more than just vitamins and minerals—we are learning more about this but still have much learn in this area.

Drinking pasteurized, homogenized milk would not have the same benefits—in fact, studies in animals where one group was given raw milk and the other given pasteurized milk have shown a failure to thrive in the group given pasteurized milk. Some may say the nutritional value is the same, but again, true nourishment goes far beyond just what we read on the nutritional facts label.

Most milk that is sold in the United States today originates with factory farms, where quality is sacrificed for quantity, which maximizes their profits. Cows in such concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) are understandably stressed—confined to inhumanely small areas with perhaps thousands of other cows, standing in their own muck and rarely, if ever, seeing the light of day (for natural vitamin D production) or a blade of grass. Their feed is usually nothing that resembles what a cow would naturally eat—waste material from other industries, or high-protein grains that may increase weight and milk production but are far too concentrated for the health of the cow. This creates a myriad of complications, including the dreaded bovine methane (which is more from belching due to indigestion than from the other end) and alteration of the pH balance of the cow’s gut, which then allows certain pathogens to live that wold otherwise not survive the trip through the cow. The potential for cultivating and spreading disease among the CAFO facility and and possibly infecting humans later is frightening.

So milk from such cows is typically pooled together with milk from other CAFO dairies for processing. Now this milk is NOT something you should EVER drink raw, because of the potential for illness due to a high pathogen count. This milk is pasteurized to kill those pathogens, but the process also kills the beneficial bacteria and enzymes that would aid gut health and digestion. All those dead bacteria are left floating in the pasteurized milk, which is then homogenized, bottled and sold to unsuspecting consumers. The result? Asthma, allergies, lactose intolerance and more . . . all could be avoided by drinking the real thing.

Given these facts, I choose to drink whole, raw milk from happy pastured cows.

Until next time~