Milk has been an important source of nutrition for generations of New Zealanders. There is a huge range of types of milk choose from today, but not all of it provides the same benefits. Kyra Xavia investigates.
This article was featured in the July/August 2014 issue of Organic NZ magazine, under the Health and Food section.
Under current regulations, milk sold over the counter must be pasteurised. It commonly goes through additional processing to standardise its taste, texture and appearance, extend shelf-life and boost market appeal, all of which alter its composition and nutritional status. Conventional and intensive farming practices also negatively affect milk quality, and so can storage. Fluorescent light in supermarket chillers destroys up to 50% of vitamin C in milk stored in clear containers. As with all food, the fresher and less processed it is, the better.
Raw milk is totally unprocessed, tasty and wholesome, containing a full complement of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and beneficial bacteria, with just the right ratio of protein, fat and carbohydrates for optimal nutrient absorption. More effectively digested and tolerated than pasteurised and homogenised milk (many people with lactose intolerance and dairy sensitivities can digest raw milk), when drunk regularly, it can relieve the symptoms of asthma, eczema and hayfever, and even prevent these conditions from developing.1
Raw milk also helps recolonise the gastrointestinal system with friendly bacteria, which can rebuild and strengthen the immune system. In New Zealand, the only legal way for farmers to sell raw milk is directly to customers from their farm gate. Village Milk imports automated raw milk dispensing machines which make it easier for farmers selling from the farm gate (see www.villagemilk.co.nz and ‘Raw milk success story’ by Annie Wilson in Organic NZ Sept/Oct 2012).
Pasteurisation heats milk while under pressure to temperatures above 72ºC for 15 seconds in order to destroy potentially harmful bacteria. Although manufacturers claim this does not significantly change its qualities, so many of the health-giving substances present in raw milk are heat sensitive. (For a full list visit www.euphory.com/raw-milk-benefits) Pasteurisation also destroys or deactivates most enzymes in milk, including the majority of enzymes necessary for the digestion of milk and the absorption of calcium. It destroys beneficial bacteria (probiotics) and lactic acids, diminishes vitamin content; denatures whey proteins, and harms important immunoglobulins which provide resistance to many bacteria, bacterial toxins and viruses. Last but not least, pasteurisation damages butterfat, which boosts immunity, protects against disease, and prevents stiffness in joints.
UHT stands for ultra high temperature. Milk is heated up to 150°C for 5 seconds, killing all living enzymes and bacteria. This sterilisation process enables UHT milk to be conveniently transported and stored for months without refrigeration, but UHT not only significantly changes the taste, appearance and structure of milk (denaturing proteins and oxidising milk sugars), it also causes the marked loss of the amino acid lysine, vitamins B9 and C, and a reduction in other water-soluble vitamins, folate-binding protein (crucial for the assimilation, distribution and retention of B9 in the body), vitamin A, and calcium.
Healthy soil, nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich pasture, and rotational grazing methods provide cows with an optimal diet, giving organic milk its nutritional advantage, full taste, and slightly yellow colour. Recent studies show that organic milk has significantly higher levels of omega 3 essential fatty acids (up to 62%), than conventional milk. Omega-3 EFAs play a crucial role in development and are particularly important for pregnant women, infants and children.2 Organic milk is safer for humans, and better for ruminants and the planet, because sustainable systems use natural compost and soil enrichment methods, and cows eat a completely natural diet. Although organic milk is healthier, this applies only to whole (unhomogenised) milk, not processed products. Nor should truly organic milk be ‘enriched’, ‘fortified’, or contain additives.
Nutritional deficiencies in the soil and diet result in the same deficiencies in milk. Land that is chemically treated and dependent upon synthetic nitrogen fertilisers will produce inferior feed and living conditions for cows. Sadly, it’s standard practice with many conventional and all intensive dairy farms in New Zealand to supplement cows with genetically engineered (GE) soy, corn, and/or cottonseed meal, as well as palm kernel expeller (a waste product from unsustainable palm oil extraction.) Not only that, the various pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, nitrate inhibitors, antibiotics, hormones (for more frequent and shorter calving cycles, to increase milk production) and chemical cleaning agents used in conventional farming, pollute the food chain. Permeate (a waste product from cheese-making and the ultra-filtration of milk), is added to certain blue-top (homogenised) or ‘lite’ varieties to cheaply standardise milk for consistent levels of fat and protein year round. As it’s derived from milk, it’s not considered an additive and therefore escapes labelling.
Whole milk is non-homogenised – the old ‘silver top’. Contrary to what nutritional experts have been saying for years, research reveals that the dietary intake of saturated fats does not contribute to heart disease and obesity. In fact, it’s the opposite. Saturated fats, especially those found in dairy products, have been proven to be protective, even preventing these conditions from developing.3,4 Whole milk keeps the body lean by providing a sense of satiety (satisfaction), regulating appetite, stabilising blood sugar, boosting metabolism, and improving the assimilation of minerals and nutrients.2,3
Most milk is homogenised unless labelled whole or non-homogenised. The homogenisation process forces whole milk through small orifices under very high pressure to make fat globules so small they disperse evenly, preventing cream from rising to the top. This alters the colour, flavour and most likely, the nutritional status of milk. Homogenisation lengthens shelf life by 11 days or more, and makes reduced-fat milk appear less watery. Homogenised milk has been incorrectly blamed as a leading contributor to the development of heart disease, cancer and diabetes, but more research is needed to prove that it is benign.
‘Lite’, trim or skim: low-fat
These products have had the butterfat removed and are lower in calories and nutrients than whole milk. Although they are targeted at consumers concerned about health and weight loss, they are in fact linked to illness and obesity. (Skim milk used to be considered a waste product and is so effective at weight gain it’s been used to fatten pigs.)3,4,5 Butterfat removal strips away important nutrients. Adding extra calcium and vitamin D afterwards (misleadingly marketed as ‘enriched’ milk) is pointless because milk fat is required by the body to absorb both substances, along with other nutrients. Low-fat milk has a higher glycemic index rating than whole milk and causes fluctuations in blood sugar. Without butterfat, milk is blue, watery and chalky tasting, lacking the pleasant full mouthfeel and taste of whole milk, so manufacturers add processed skim milk powder and/or milk solids (protein, lactose and minerals.) Homogenisation of whatever fat remains makes the milk seem less thin.
A1 and A2
The A2 type of beta-casein component of milk protein is believed to be better for humans because, unlike A1 (a mutation of A2), consumption of A2 milk is not linked to heart disease, type 1 diabetes, autism, schizophrenia and some autoimmune diseases.6 A1 beta-casein may be particularly problematic to infants and those with a leaky gut (hyper gut permeability.) Some people who believe they are lactose intolerant and dairy sensitive may instead be reacting to A1 beta-casein. Heirloom breeds such as Jersey, Ayrshire, Brown Swiss, and Milking Shorthorn tend to produce milk with more A2, with some Guernsey producing 100 percent A2, while breeds like Holstein, Friesian and Kiwicross (preferred by large dairy farms for their high milk output) produce more A1. Many organic dairy farms have heirloom breeds, which produce milk with high butterfat.
In summary: It’s well worth sourcing raw, whole organic milk from a local farmer. Failing this, choose organic unhomogenised whole milk.
Kyra Xavia is a freelance writer, photographer and qualified nutritionist, naturopath, herbalist, homeopath and aromatherapist.
1. G Loss, et al., 2011, ‘The protective effect of farm milk consumption on childhood asthma and atopy’, J of Allergy and Clin Immun., 128:4
2. C Benbrook, et al. 2013., ‘Organic production enhances milk nutritional quality by shifting fatty acid composition’, PLoS ONE 8(12)
3. S Holmberg and A Thelin, 2013, ‘High dairy fat intake related to less central obesity’, Scand J Prim Health Care, 31(2)
4. R Chowdhury, et al., 2014, ‘Association of dietary, circulating, and supplement fatty acids with coronary risk’, Ann Intern Med., 160(6)
5. A Oliver and E Potter, 1930, ‘Fattening pigs for market’, Oregon State Agricultural College, http://hdl.handle.net/1957/14694
6. M Sodhi, et al. ‘Milk proteins and human health: A1/A2 milk hypothesis’, 2012, Indian J Endocrinol Metab.,16(5)
To source raw milk
Ask around or contact your closest Weston A Price Foundation chapter.
Jo Robinson, Eating on the Wild Side (2013)
W Price, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration (first published 1939)
R Schmid, The Untold Story of Milk (2009)
K Woodfood, Devil in the Milk (2009)
D Gumpert and J Salatin, The Raw Milk Revolution (2009)
W Douglass, The Raw Truth About Milk (2007)
B Macfadden, The Miracle of Milk (1923)