When you walk into the grocery store and stare at the dairy case are you confused by all the labels?  Do you buy whole milk, 2%, or skim?  Do you buy organic, rBGH-free, or conventional?  What about local, grass-fed, or raw?  Now milk has additives too – like DHA and Omega 3.

Buy rBGH-Free Milk

Despite opposition from scientists, farmers, and consumers, the US currently allows dairy cows to be injected with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), also known as recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST). Developed and manufactured by the Monsanto Corporation, this genetically engineered hormone forces cows to artificially increase milk production by 10 to 15 percent.

Milk from cows that have received this growth hormone contains higher levels of IGF-1, a naturally occurring growth hormone that is identical in cows and humans. When you drink milk from these cows you get a dose of IGF-1, one of the most powerful of many insulin-like hormones that prompt cells to grow.  IGF-1 is linked to cancers of the reproductive system, including breast cancer.

The European Union, Canada, Japan, and Australia have all banned the use of rBGH in their countries.  And, many dairies here in the US have voluntarily discontinued the use of rBGH and although labeling is not required, those who are not using the hormone are making it known.  Walmart’s Great Value milk is rBGH free as well as many other store brands including Kroger and Safeway to name a few.

If you can’t afford to do anything else, start here first.  Many store brands are labeling their milk rBGH free so this is within everyone’s budget.

Buy Whole Milk

Why whole milk?  Isn’t it fattening and full of saturated fat?  Butterfat helps your body digest protein and your bones require saturated fat to lay down calcium.  The cream that whole milk contains holds the fat-soluble vitamins A & D that are vital to your body and are required to absorb calcium.  But, if you read a label at the grocery store you’ll notice even skim milk contains the same amount of vitamins A & D according to the nutrition label.  So why does it matter? By law skim milk and 2% milk must be fortified with SYNTHETIC vitamin A & D3.  There is some evidence that both of these synthetic vitamins are toxic in excess.  And, after reading Nina Planck’s book, Real Food, I’m convinced that saturated fats aren’t as bad for us as we once thought.  There is a lot of evidence that says otherwise and I’m tired of big food businesses determining what I eat and how much of it is “right” for me with their wallets and agendas being the drive behind the figures and the research.

Buy Local, Organic and/or Grass-fed

I wish I could say that the two were synonymous, but alas, they are not.  Industrial cows (the ones that produce most of the milk in our grocery stores – traditional or conventional milk) are fed corn, grain, and soybean ration along with injections of hormones (for those who are getting rBGH) and all this while living indoors.

Grass-fed cows are fed, well, grass and hay.  The cows live outdoors – where the grass is – and because of this, the milk is much tastier AND healthier. Compared to industrial milk, milk from grass-fed cows contains more omega-3 fats, more vitamin A, and more beta-carotene and other antioxidants. It also contains up to 500 percent more CLA – a unique and beneficial fat that, according to some studies, prevents heart disease, fights cancer, aids weight loss, and builds lean muscle.

So, grass-fed is what you should look for first.  But, if you can’t find it, organic is second best – and much better than traditional/conventional milk.  Sadly, a lot of organic dairies are not much different than their conventional industrial counterparts.  If a cow’s milk is organic, it just means the cows are eating an organic diet – which could be grain, not grass. They do not, however, receive any hormones or antibiotics.  And, they are required to have “access” to pasture -although many don’t spend very much time outdoors.

I recommend Organic Valley and Natural by Nature milk for Organic brands, they are two of the only Organic brands whose farmers raise their cows on pasture.  However, if you can find a local brand that states the cows are grass-fed that would be fine too.  Most farmers who raise their cows on grass are using traditional wisdom in raising their cows (ie: no hormones or pesticides).

Raw Milk, Unpasteurized

100% grass-fed, raw milk, and raw milk cheeses are your best choice but they may not be available in your area – as they are not in mine.  Raw milk is milk that hasn’t been pasteurized or homogenized.  Eeek!  You may be saying – isn’t pasteurization what keeps us from falling ill?  Standard pasteurization is heating the milk to 161 degrees for 15 seconds and is what destroys pathogens like salmonella, E.coli, and campylobacter.  It is also what destroys vitamins, useful enzymes, beneficial bacteria, texture, and flavor.

Pasteurization is absolutely necessary due to the way conventional milk is handled and delivered in the United States.  Typically what happens at an industrial dairy is a farmer pours fresh milk into a refrigerated tank after milking.  Every few days a tanker truck goes from dairy to dairy collecting raw milk. Thus, the milk of thousands of cows is blended before being shipped for bottling and pasteurization. Pasteurization in this instance will prevent contamination from one sick cow, one unhygienic dairy worker, one dirty nozzle that would otherwise taint the milk from dozens of other dairies. It also is practical for industrial milk since it permits more handling, long-distance shipping, and longer storage.

However, pasteurization isn’t a cure-all.  It allows dairy workers to be lax with their cow health and milk handling.  And, it doesn’t protect you against food poisoning. Some pathogens such as Listeria can survive gentle pasteurization.

Raw milk is delicate. It contains heat-sensitive folic acid and vitamins A, B6, and C. It contains important heat-sensitive enzymes: lactase to digest lactose; lipase to digest milk fats; and phosphatase to absorb calcium.   Raw milk has beneficial bacteria, including lactic acids, which live in the intestines, aid digestion, boost immunity, and eliminate dangerous bacteria.  Raw cream from raw milk contains a cortisone-like agent which combats arthritis, arteriosclerosis, and cataracts.  And, raw butter made from raw milk contains myristoleic acid, which fights pancreatic cancer and arthritis.

However, the FDA will not allow raw milk to be sold across state lines.  And, most states have outlawed the sell of it altogether.  If you live in a state that allows it to count your blessings.  And, if you have a supplier that will sell it to you, keep your secret! LOL.  Until we finally bite the bullet and get our own family cow, I’m afraid there will be no raw milk for us.

What about you?  What milk are you buying for your family?

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