A couple months ago, I posted about the benefits of sauerkraut, my most beloved food. So, enter stage left, my second most favorite food (it might actually surpass sauerkraut and become top on my list), to which I attribute much of my new-found health to: raw milk.
Unless you have a story about how your grandmother used to serve you fresh milk on her farm with chocolate chip cookies just out of the oven or surprisingly already fall into the roughly 3% of the population who drinks raw milk…you’re probably giving me a weird look right now. You might be thinking, “isn’t that dangerous?” or “I was told to avoid dairy, isn’t milk bad for you and hard to digest?”
The short answer to those looming thoughts is yes…but ONLY if you’re drinking the highly-processed milk found in grocery store aisles produced from cows in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). What if I told you that commercial milk found in the grocery stores shouldn’t even be considered milk after all the processing and chemical alterations it goes through before making it to your table. What you buy in the grocery store today (pasteurized, homogenized, fortified, and full of hormones and antibiotics) is not the same thing you get from a healthy, grass-fed, happy cow. One is a white, chemical liquid and the other is milk that is full of life-sustaining nutrition and referred to as “white blood” or “nature’s perfect food” in some cultures.
So how did I go from drinking skim milk with my cereal, to avoiding dairy because diet “experts” recommended we take it out of our diets, and then to drinking it straight from the cow? Among my many searches over the years for a diet to heal Crohn’s, I came across some interesting food plans that allowed raw milk from goats or Jersey cows. I also stumbled upon a blog from another Crohn’s sufferer who drank raw milk and found an article talking about the “Milk Cure” from the early 1900s where patients were brought back to health by following a diet of only raw milk. After that, my interest was piqued and I did some research on my own. Then, in May of 2016, I found a local farm that was about an hour and a half from my house that sold raw milk from grass-fed cows (thank you MooJesus! ranch in Seguin, TX!). I gave them a call, scheduled a visit, and have been drinking between 1-4 glasses of raw milk per day since then.
Some people might be inclined to shy away from raw milk because they are lactose intolerant. But, many people who are lactose intolerant are actually able to digest raw milk without problems. In a small survey done by a coalition of dairy farmers in Michigan titled “Pilot Survey of Cow Share Consumer/Owners,” 81% of the people who reported they were lactose intolerant were able to drink fresh, raw milk without any issues. One of my nieces is lactose intolerant and my sister switched her to almond milk. However, already aware of the benefits of organic and unprocessed foods, my sister was quick to embrace the benefits of raw milk when I told her I had started drinking it. She found a local farm near her and began giving raw milk to her two children. Not only did they love the taste, but the one who was lactose intolerant had no issues.
Raw milk is full of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, beneficial bacteria, and healthy fats–including conjugated linoleic acid, which helps fight inflammation, reduces insulin resistance, and improves body composition among many other benefits. Since Crohn’s is an inflammatory, autoimmune disease known for malabsorption, raw milk was something I wanted to incorporate into my diet…and I haven’t regretted it for a minute.
Some people believe that raw milk is dangerous…but, how can a food that has been around for 7,500 years suddenly be considered not safe? It wasn’t until the late 1800s that milk started to be pasteurized. This was a result of dairy operations that began keeping cows in confined spaces and fed a poor, unnatural diet high in grains. The average lifespan of a CAFO milking cow is 42 months, compared to a natural lifespan of 12-15 years for a cow on a pasture. The confined cows became sick and milk-born infections arose. Pasteurization–the process of heating milk to high temperatures–was used to kill pathogenic bacteria in the milk and deem it “safe.” But, pasteurization destroys the nutrients in milk and some harmful bacteria can survive the pasteurization process. If ultra-pasteurization is used, the structure of the milk molecule is changed, which causes an immune response in the body when it is digested. As soon as we started making our cows sick, we ended up with sick milk. But healthy cows in their natural environment who are free to roam and graze on pasture, produce healthy, nutritious, life-sustaining, safe milk. Some people also argue that no other species drinks the milk from another…to that, I say, no other species flies airplanes either 🙂
Sick cows = sick milk
Healthy cows = healthy milk
After pasteurization, conventional milk is typically homogenized. This changes the size of the fat molecules to be smaller so that they can be evenly distributed throughout the milk…no more fresh cream rising to the top of the milk in glass bottles. There are theories that because the fat molecules are so much smaller, they bypass digestion which then allows all of the cow’s natural hormones and hormones obtained in CAFOs, which increase milk production, to interact with our own body’s hormones and play a role in heart disease and cancer.
To take my raw milk one step further, I ferment it and turn it into a tangy, yogurt-style drink called kefir. Kefir has more probiotics than yogurt (if you read my sauerkraut article, you’ll know why beneficial bacteria are so important to our health…especially gut health) and the fermentation process reduces the milk sugar content. For most of the 7,500 year history of milk consumption, it is believed that most of the milk was consumed in fermented forms such as kefir, buttermilk, and cheese. It was in the mid 1800s when people began settling in cities that some women were unable to breastfeed. An alternative milk was sought and Americans began giving fresh milk to children (read The Untold Story of Milk for a detailed history of milk).
Interesting tidbit here…no one actually knows where kefir grains came from. Most people believe they originated in the Caucasus Mountains, but the source of the grains is unknown. Kefir grains can’t be made, they can only be acquired from multiplying kefir grains. Kefir grains look like a clump of squishy cottage cheese that is stuck together (so, not grains in the traditional sense) and are similar to a kombucha SCOBY in that they are a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. Since the kefir grains multiply, just like a kombucha SCOBY does, you’ll have extra grains in no time…I always feed a clump or two to my dogs (they go nuts for it; it’s a great probiotic) or I’ll eat a little of the grains myself.
So, if you ask me, yes raw milk is safe, healthy, and delicious! Just do some research on the farm you choose to get your milk from and ensure they have safe, clean practices and healthy, grass-fed cows. You’ll come to appreciate your food more as you take the time to learn about traditional and current conventional practices of meat and dairy production and understand what a difference it makes to eat food that is unprocessed and allowed to live life as nature intended.
Got (real) milk?
Want to learn more? Here are a few books I recommended reading to help you with your own decision of whether to drink raw milk:
The Untold Story of Milk, Ron Schmid, ND
The Raw Milk Answer Book, David E. Gumpert