Do you ever ask yourself when and why we started pasteurising our milk? Is raw milk really all that dangerous? And should we be as worried as we have been led to believe we should?
Currently raw dairy is legal and found to be safe for human consumption within the UK – it can be sold as long as it abides by the FSA’s (Food Standards Agency) rigorous standards such as regular tuberculosis testing (not really a bad thing) and by carrying a health warning label.
As a child I used to visit my aunt’s farm – and I still have some vague memories of the oddly pleasant lingering smell of the cows and the clean, sweet and creamy taste of ‘real’ milk. Could this fresh and natural food source that I once loved as a child really be all that risky? And in a really immature and naive way I can’t help but wonder if the flesh of a cow is edible, and if the egg of the chicken is okay to consume – how could the milk of a cow not be?
As a breastfeeding mother I have asked myself some pretty odd questions and one of the oddest being “… if my raw breast milk is okay for human consumption then why isn’t a cow’s?”.
Did you know that human breast milk contains a similar kind of oligosaccharide (a carbohydrate molecule linked with simple sugar molecules) to that of bovine milk? And did you also know that these same oligosaccharides contained within human breast milk are indigestible by the enzymes within a human infants gut? These very same indigestible oligosaccharides feed the microbiota (friendly bacteria) within the gut which then synthesise certain vitamins and fatty acids.1,2
Mother Nature is pretty impressive no?
Several studies, including those from the UC Davis International Milk Genomics Consortium (IMGC), have also found that human breast milk contains over 700 different variations of bacteria including some human pathogens such as staphylococci and streptococci which happen to be found in raw bovine milk. Now take into consideration that 80% of our immune system is based upon the biodiversity of the bacteria that thrives within our guts, and that these bacteria can influence our moods, feelings, and behaviors (you can learn more about your gut microbiome here).3,4
Raw milk isn’t sounding so dangerous now is it?
So when and why did we decide to ferry our milk away, store it for a few days before then heating it rapidly to temperatures of up to 80°C, cooling it again, scraping off the delicious butterfat and adding it back again to obtain our skimmed, semi-skimmed milk etc., followed by shaking it up until any fat molecules that remain are smashed into oblivion, and then packing it into plastic bottles?
Well, it was simply a matter of disease control. This rapid heating and cooling process known as pasteurisation was developed in 1864 by none other than Louis Pasteur himself. Pasteur was recruited by the Emperor Napoleon III to prevent his wine from spoiling, Pasteur found that this rapid heating process destroyed the bacteria responsible for souring the wine, extending the shelf life and all without ruining the taste. In the late 1800s this same low temperature pasteurisation technique was introduced in dairy production in order to kill off the tuberculosis pathogen – which at the time was commonly found to be carried in bovine milk. It was around the same time that the mass production and distribution of milk had begun, and due to poor hygiene plenty of other milkborne diseases such as diptheria, scarlet fever, and typhoid fever arose. Pasteurisation was then heavily commercialised and these diseases subsequently disappeared.5,6
But with the elimination of milkborne disease came a new problem – lactose intolerance. Whilst these potentially hazardous bacteria are being killed off so are the majority of nutrients and enzymes, but more specifically the enzyme lactase.
Homogenisation was introduced (that shaking up process I spoke of earlier) in order to create a more uniform fat distribution and to eliminate the milk and cream separation which is typical of raw milk – all so that we could have a nice and pretty product on our supermarket shelves. Pasteurisation temperatures also became higher in order to extend the shelf life of milk. It has all just become a matter of aesthetics and commodity – pretty much like everything else that you see within our beloved supermarkets today.
But with the elimination of milkborne disease came a new problem – lactose intolerance. Whilst these potentially hazardous bacteria are being killed off so are the majority of nutrients and enzymes, but more specifically the enzyme lactase. Lactase is produced within your body and is responsible for breaking down lactose, the sugary substance found within milk which is what gives it that lovely sweet taste. But for those who have low levels of lactase within their body they simply can’t break down the lactose and that’s when lactose intolerance comes in to play. You’ll often find that those suffering from lactose intolerance purchase lactase supplements to add to their food and dairy products but it has actually been found that drinking raw dairy can heal lactose intolerance due to its lactase content.7
Rather ironically the enzyme lysozyme can be found within bovine and also human breast milk. Lysozyme protects us from bacterial infections such as E. Coli and Salmonella – think of it as the body’s natural antibiotic. It is also an anti-inflammatory and helps to grow our gut microbiota (that friendly bacteria stuff in our guts).8,9
Currently raw dairy is legal and found to be safe for human consumption within the UK – it can be sold as long as it abides by the FSA’s (Food Standards Agency) rigorous standards such as regular tuberculosis testing (not really a bad thing) and by carrying a health warning label. But some places haven’t been so lucky, with raw milk having been banned in Canada and certain states within the USA and with bans only just recently being lifted in Australia.
It is advised however that certain people may want to err on the side of caution when consuming raw dairy – particularly those with a compromised immune system such as; the elderly, pregnant women, and young children.
If you still aren’t convinced that raw dairy is your friend just cast all of this disease panic aside for a moment and take a look at the health benefits and nutritional content of raw milk:
- Raw milk has been found to prevent childhood asthma, eczema, rhinoconjunctivitis, and even hay fever.
- A whopping 10.3% of the composition of raw milk contains minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and phosphorous.11
- Contains high levels of vitamins B, C, and D (which is only soluble in conjunction within the fatty acids contained in raw milk), various enzymes, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), and other essential fatty acids.
- Raw milk also contains the protein beta-lactoglobulin that increases the intestinal absorption of vitamin A, and immunoglobulins (antibodies) which bind to antigens within bacteria and viruses aiding in their destruction.
And it would seem that I’m not alone in the view that raw dairy isn’t a threat and is no less of a risk than eating the odd batch of dodgy shell fish or uncooked chicken – a raw dairy revolution has begun within the UK with farms such as Hook & Son selling raw milk and butter online and Fen Farm Dairy launching the UK’s 1st raw milk vending machine and selling the only raw brie that I have seen yet – ‘Baron Bigod’. But the demand clearly doesn’t stop there – you can now head on over to Ocado and pick from a whole host of raw cheeses and raw grass-fed butter.
So, have you got milk and joined the raw dairy revolution? Why not share your experience and views using the comments box below.
- (Anonymous). (2013). IMGC Conference Day 1. In UC Davis: Foods For Health Institute. Retrieved from http://ffhi.ucdavis.edu/news/2013/november/imgc-conference-day-1
- Grant, J.. (2015). The Difference Between Oligosaccharides & Polysaccharides. In Livestrong. Retrieved from http://www.livestrong.com/article/545158-the-difference-between-oligosaccharides-polysaccharides/
- Gould, S.E.. (2013). The bacteria in breast milk. In Scientific American. Retrieved from http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/lab-rat/the-bacteria-in-breast-milk/
- (Anonymous). (2013). Not All Raw Milk is Produced Equally. In The Weston A. Price Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.westonaprice.org/action-alerts/not-all-raw-milk-is-produced-equally/#sthash.bH6YYBBu.dpuf
- White, C.. (2010). How Pasteurization Works. In HowStuffWorks.com. Retrieved from http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/cellular-microscopic/pasteurization1.htm
- (Anonymous). (n.d.). Heat Treatments and Pasteurization. In Milk Facts. Retrieved from http://milkfacts.info/Milk%20Processing/Heat%20Treatments%20and%20Pasteurization.htm
- Kresser, C.. (2012). Raw Milk Reality: Benefits of Raw Milk. In Chris Kresser. Retrieved from http://chriskresser.com/raw-milk-reality-benefits-of-raw-milk/
- (Anonymous). (2015). What’s In Breast Milk?. In American Pregnancy Association: Promoting Pregnancy Wellness. Retrieved from http://americanpregnancy.org/first-year-of-life/whats-in-breastmilk/
- Król, J., Litwińczuk, Z., Brodziak, A., Barłowska, J.. (2010). Lactoferrin, lysozyme and immunoglobulin G content in milk of four breeds of cows managed under intensive production system. In Polish Journal of Veterinary Sciences. 2010;13(2):357-61. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20731193
- Raw milk. (2015, September 14). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raw_milk#Legal_status
- (Anonymous). (n.d.). What’s in Raw Milk?. In Raw-Milk-Facts.com. Retrieved from http://www.raw-milk-facts.com/what_is_in_raw_milk.html