On Milk

iStock_000008600268XSmallUpdated 3.3.2010.

Given the interest in my Whole Foods Initiative, as I like to call it, I thought I’d write some posts about different foods that we are changing in our house and give you a Good-Better-Best scenario, to help simplify some of the choices out there.  The biggest thing that kept me from overhauling our family grocery list for several years was the sheer amount of contradicting information that is out there.  I’m going to do my best to help you wade through it, but please don’t take what I say at face value.  I’m telling you what we’re doing based on what I’ve been reading and learning, but I’m by no means an expert or a medical professional.

That said, let’s tackle milk.

Whole milk is healthier than low-fat or skim.

Perhaps the most surprising thing that I’ve discovered so far in my whole foods journey is that whole milk is healthier than low-fat or skim.  I’ve always stayed away from other low-fat dairy products, mainly because they don’t have any flavor.  But we did drink 2% milk because I always thought it was healthy, and I like the taste.


What I’ve learned is that when they take out the fat (and this goes for all dairy products, not just milk), they have to use additives to preserve the original body and texture of the product.  According to In Defense of Food, powdered milk is often added to low-fat or skim milk, and powdered milk contains oxidized cholesterol, which is bad news.  And also, your body needs the fat in whole milk to absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K.

Nina Planck writes 45 pages on Real Milk, Butter, and Cheese in her book, Real Food: What To Eat and Why, and I only wish I could cut and paste the whole thing right into this blog post.

She explains that whole milk contains a long list of healthy vitamins and minerals that are good for our bones, skin, hair, eyes, teeth, nerves, and even digestion.  But when you remove the cream to make low-fat milk, you lose the butterfat that aids digestion and vitamin-absorption, and you also remove the vitamins A and D, which is why low-fat and skim milk are fortified with SYNTHETIC vitamins A and D, which are not the same as the natural A and D vitamins that were lost in the processing.  Synthetic A and D are thought to be harmful in excess.

Therefore, we are now drinking whole milk only in our house. And I only buy whole milk cheese, sour cream, yogurt, etc.

All milk is not created equal.

Then of course, there is a big difference between the traditional milk my great-grandfather drank fresh from his family cow 100 years ago and the industrialized milk you can buy at Giant.  And this is where the waters get muddy.

Traditional milk comes from cows that are raised outdoors and eat mostly grass, whereas industrial milk comes from cows that have been raised indoors and fed mostly corn, grain, and soybean, often with a chaser of synthetic hormones to help them produce more milk than is natural.  Milk and dairy products from traditional grass-fed cows have more nutrients than industrial milk, particularly the healthy Omega 3 that we hear so much about.  (And we aren’t getting nearly enough.)

What About Pasteurization?

Then there is the never-ending debate about pasteurization.  While pasteurization kills harmful bacterias such as E. coli, it also destroys vitamins and healthy enzymes and bacterias (such as the enzyme that digests lactose — which is why I can drink raw milk but not pasteurized milk.)

And please beware of ultra-pasteurized milk. This process of heating the milk to extremely high temperatures extends the shelf-life even more than regular pasteurized milk, but it also means that it has pretty much destroyed anything beneficial in the milk.  For more on this, see this post on the different types of pasteurization.

Some states, such as my own, regulate raw milk and allow it to be sold with a license.  You can find it at some small health food stores, and of course you can buy it directly from the farm.

Proponents of raw milk claim that it is healthier than pasteurized because it retains all of its natural vitamins and enzymes, and it has a long list of health benefits.  Some even believe it to be medicinal.  Documented cases of illness due to raw milk are few.  But raw milk can be expensive and difficult to come by, and many believe that it’s too risky to drink raw milk because of how quickly bacteria multiplies.  However, the proponents of raw milk claim that it has its own built-in safety mechanisms, and as the raw milk ages, it doesn’t go bad so much as it goes sour, at which point you can use it for other purposes.

Of course there are plenty of naysayers, but I believe that drinking this raw milk is safe, and I was thrilled to discover that I could drink it without a Lactaid tablet!  I keep coming back to the fact that raw milk nourished people for hundreds and thousands of years, and as long as I have confidence that the farm that produces my milk adheres to the proper safety standards, I prefer to drink my milk the natural way.  The raw milk I purchase comes from a local farm, and I personally interact with the farmer and his mother who runs their store.

In my opinion, the next-best thing to raw milk is whole milk from grass-fed cows that is low-temperature pasteurized and not homogenized. Natural By Nature is a brand sold at my local whole foods store.  Unfortunately it is homogenized, but I can’t find a pasteurized, non-homogenized option near me.  My mom, the lucky ducky, does have a source of local pasteurized, non-homogenized down in her neck of the woods.

Please note:  My choice is subject to change at any time.  It’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind, after all.  For now we are drinking raw milk that comes from one of two farms in our area.  When I can’t get it, I buy the Natural By Nature that I mentioned above.


So here is the long and the short of it.  Or as my mom is fond of saying, let’s get down to brass tacks.

Good — Whole milk that is pasteurized (not ultra-pasteurized) and hormone free.  If cost is an issue, or if you don’t have access to anything else, I believe this is an adequate alternative, although most of the real food advocates will disagree with me on this.

Better — Pasteurized, organic whole milk (organic milk is always hormone free.)

Best — Pasteurized, organic whole milk from grass-fed cows.  OR.  Raw milk from grass-fed cows, if you are comfortable with that.

And there you have it.  For even more about milk, here are a few articles that may be of interest:

Healthy Milk: What To Buy — Food Renegade

Healthy Milk — Kelly the Kitchen Kop.

Top 10 Reasons to Drink Raw Milk — Cheeseslave.

10 Reasons to Drink Your Milk Raw — Nourished Kitchen.

Raw Milk Vs. Pasteurized MilkArmchair Science, London.  This is an interesting article written in 1938, advocating making the raw milk clean rather than pasteurizing it.

Join The Conversation

41 Responses

  1. Interesting you would post this today, when I just finished my cereal (w skim milk) and once again resisted the urge to gag and told myself “it’s official, I don’t like milk”. Sigh…I have tried, but something about the taste/smell of milk really bothers me, and the more “whole and natural” it is, the worse it is for me. Figures. Lol

    Guess I’ll get my calcium from cheese, I love me some cheese.

    Still, this was a really great informative post, and I’m looking forward to your future good/better/best posts.

  2. This is a great post. I did similar research and came to the same conclusions as you. 🙂

    We have plenty of raw milk sources in our area, we’re fortunate to live close enough to the Amish that we can easily find it.

  3. I am still torn about the topic of milk.

    Sometimes I think the Internet makes us too knowledgeable or something.

    I have read that many of the hormones in milk come not from the actual hormones given to the cow, but from milking cows year-round, including when they are extremely pregnant. In the “olden days,” pregnant cows were not milked.

    These hormones apparently live mostly in the milkfat–which would mean drinking skim is the best option for eliminating these.

    Obviously, it’s a toss-up. Because I have PCOS I am concerned about me–and my daughter–ingesting a lot of hormones we don’t need. But I honestly have no idea what to do.

  4. What is PCOS?

    And yes, I agree, we know TOO much, don’t we?

    You’re in Nashville, so I guess you don’t have a source for raw? If you can find organic, grass-fed, that shouldn’t have any added hormones, and I don’t know about the milking issue. You can always call the company and inquire though.

  5. I totally hear ya, but I just can’t stomach whole milk. I can’t even handle the taste of 2%. We do all hormone free and my girls do all organic dairy, but we frankly don’t drink a lot of milk round here. We do more yogurt and cheese. I pretty much only use milk on my cereal and occasionally with a cookie 🙂

  6. Hey! I wanted to know your thoughts on what foods to pack for kids lunches…down south (Texas) we go back to school in a few weeks…sandwiches/carrot sticks/fruit are all good, but what about a drink? Water? 100% Juice? I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter!

  7. I love this post! My husband and I are firm believers in whole milk and the benefits. (our oldest hates the taste so wwe also buy 1% so she’ll at least drink milk) We cut back in other areas of our fat intake but not when it comes to dairy products. I’d drink it right from the cow if we had one.

    I’m so glad you posted this topic and I can’t wait to read what else you find at whole foods.

  8. Ugh! It’s all so overwhelming! I have been participating in a “bootcamp” style fitness program 3 mornings a week all summer and everything THEY tell me about nutrition, what to eat and not to eat contradict the things I am reading on your (and others’) blogs. The sat vs. unsat fats, whole vs lowfat, pasteurized or not, HFCS is the scourge of our nation…my head is spinning.

    I would love your opinion on this latest tidbit I’ve come across based on things you’ve researched… https://www.nourishingourchildren.org/parents/cereal.html

    I really don’t want to become a food “czar” policing every little thing we put in our months, but things like this scare the trash outta me. >sigh<

  9. My MIL was raised on a Wisconsin dairy farm and has always tooted the whole milk horn. But I’ve continued to buy skim or 2% because, I too, thought it to be healthier. Personally, I don’t like the taste of milk nor do my children. Even as young children when I gave them whole milk. I guess they just couldn’t top that good ole’ breast milk. We actually only use about a half gallon a week on cereal and I use it for cooking. I throw out more milk than we drink unfortunately.

    I always buy organic/hormone free – have for years.

    But this makes me wonder why I’ve been buying skim for all these year when we don’t even drink that much of it. I think when we do use it we might has well get all the benefits of whole.

    I also buy whole diary products only so why not the milk? It was good to read this and question this buying habit and what is really best for my family.

    Thanks for a very comprehensive post on milk! Love it. Learned a lot.

  10. Oh,I’m with Maddy – what do you pack for your kids lunches? I’ve been struggling with this so much and was about to write a post about it. Would love to know your thoughts.

  11. Kar, yes, we have pretty much eliminated boxed cereals from our house. At best, it’s just not that good for you. At worst, it’s harmful. There are SO MANY better options. We do eggs or oatmeal usually. Sometimes I make pancakes using half whole wheat flour. I made homemade granola but my kids don’t like it. I, however, love it, so I plan to keep making it. Maybe they’ll get used to it eventually?

  12. What great info! I am currently reading In Defense of Food – inspired by your posts. I would love to see you list more specific brands of milk that are good. I know not all brands are available everywhere, but it would give folks some brands to track in their area!

  13. This is a great post. We started getting our milk delivered (in glass bottles, no less!) from a local dairy that is organic and whose herd is grass fed and free range. It is amazing how delicious the milk is. We do get 1% so I’ll need to look into the benefits of switching to whole milk.

  14. Thanks so much Jo-Lynn! I have read In defense of food since reading your posts. I am definitely being so much more careful of what I bring in to our house. My extended family is going to think I am nuts but oh well! I am having a hard time switching to drinking whole milk. I like skim in my latte. I gave up cereal after reading IDoF so that is easier! Keep up the good research! You are doing the hard work for me!

  15. JanMary, my food budget has probably increased, although it’s hard to tell. There are many things I am NOT buying, so it might even out in the wash. I do want to look into buying meat in bulk to make it less expensive.

  16. Neena, it’s hard to say because there are so many small, locally run dairies. My mom has access to a nice one where she lives. They even sell the non-homogenized, pasteurized, which is hard to find. AND she can get that at her Kroger! So if I were you, I’d look into what local farms might have available.

    I’ve read good things about Organic Valley, but whenever I see it in my stores, it says ultra-pasteurized. On their website, it appears that they make both pasteurized and ultra. Why, I have no clue.

  17. if cost is an issue, try going to trader joes! we but organic milk by the gallon there and it is MUCH MUCH cheaper than the grocery store, whole foods or farmers market.

    we’re whole milkers now as well. nick is THRILLED and sends his thanks.

  18. Great post Jo-Lynne! I just finished reading “Real Food” last week. I was still a bit skeptical about the raw milk. Fortunately for me, my hubby was not and found a farm that delivers to our area. He was adamant that I at least give it a try. I have been a skim milk drinker for years, but am absolutely loving the whole raw milk. We have been drinking it for almost a week now.

    I love following your real food journey! Thanks for letting us all join you!

  19. I LOVE this info, thanks so much for posting. Eating “real” food is something that I would love to learn more about, so I appreciate you taking the time to share. ROFL about your “big bad affiliate links” as well! 🙂

  20. But what about those of us who MUST watch their calorie/fat intake and still want milk? Guess we can only have a little bit then?

    Good post. I hadn’t come across this info in my reading yet…

  21. Elaine, Glad you asked, lol!! I was surprised no one else did. Supposedly, it is “good” fat and won’t make you gain weight. But that’s complicated and I don’t quite 1) understand it or 2) believe it. LOL. So I limit my intake. But I need to do a whole post on that, because it applies not only to milk, but to butter and olive oil and “good fats”.

  22. Thanks for the ‘milk for dummies’ lesson. I’ve been wondering about the milk thing but I haven’t made it to the library yet to pick up the two books that you’ve been recommending (they’re waiting on the hold shelf!). Chances of me finding a farm where I can buy milk here in Tucson are slim to none. However…organic I can do. Now it’ll just be getting used to the whole thing. Yick.

  23. Great post! I’ve been giving Jillian organic whole milk ever since she’s been on cow’s milk and it’s great to finally read something about eating well that doesn’t make me feel like I’m doing EVERYTHING wrong!

  24. Jo-Lynne, I think you hit the nail on the head with this post! And I think it’s awesome that you took the time to research it yourself! We love raw milk, and I love making butter and ice cream with the fresh cream!

  25. Love the info… thanks so much for all the great help… I do have a question though. What about creamers? I am so addicted to having some vanilla creamer with my coffee and I know it’s probably horribly bad for me but could you give us some healthier alternatives? I need my caffeine with two itty bittys and know I should be putting something better in it! Thanks again!

  26. VEEEERRRRYYY Interesting. I’ll have to read up on this milk stuff. Not at all comfortable with Raw, but I could be convinced to go to whole. We already by organic, but I’m sure it’s not from grass fed cows. My problem is that I’ve got four kids, and I can’t even imagine hopping around from store to store to find the different foods I need like this.

  27. Launa, for my coffee, I buy the Natural By Nature’s half-and-half sometimes and other times I just buy it at the grocery store, but I try to not buy ultra-pasteurized.

  28. Kristen, I hear ya. I have 3 kids. But I do kind of enjoy making the stops and it’s almost easier to do a few quick stops than one big long one. And also, when the kids are in school this fall, it will be even easier.

  29. It’s great to see another blogger take up the benefits of drinking raw milk! This is my first visit to your site but will be bookmarking you and coming back, to be sure.

    As you have written, whole, raw milk is a healthy thing to do! (The fat in milk IS important…)

    Whole, raw milk also has a powerful healing potential which I have posted about here: https://www.campaignforrealhealth.com/2009/07/29/the-milk-diet-a-physicians-experience-with-real-healing/

    This covers the work of a medical doctor using raw milk a hundred years ago. I frequently shake my head at the good things physicians used to know but have forgotten since the drug industry came along.

  30. GREAT post! I’ve been wanting to do a series of posts on similar topics on my own blog, milk being one of the first I want to tackle. You’ve touched on pretty much all of the points I planned to. We’re not really big milk drinkers, but we get the milk we do use fresh and raw from a local farm every two weeks. There is really an incredible difference from store-bought milk, and, like you, my husband can drink it just fine even though he is lactose intolerant. We also get cream and make some of our own butter. Oh. my. It is scrumptious!

  31. I read something like this about milk several years ago…and we’ve been buying whole, organic milk ever since. We also steer clear of margarine and all low-fat/fat-free marked packages. Ick!

  32. I am SO behind (back from Vaca) and loved this post! I am having a hard time getting the kids used to 2% (I did get them up that far) so it will be awhile before I hit whole milk – however my 9 year old is LOVING her whole milk organic vanilla yogurt everyday. I also have to rave about raw cheddar cheese (from TJoes) I found a little heaven on earth! I am enjoying this journey with you. We were doing great for two weeks and feeling great – just back from vacation now and feel AWFUL from all the ‘nontraditional’ foods we felt forced to eat. I am SO making changes for good here!

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