Dairy is an important category to be well-educated on largely because there are so many different options available on the marketplace today. What is the difference between organic and conventional milk? Is it worth the money to spend more to get organic? What about the difference between skim, 1%, 2%, and whole milk? We will go item by item down the list of the most common dairy products and hopefully shed a little bit of light on them so that you can make an educated and wise decision for your family.
CONVENTIONAL MILK: Conventional milk comes from cows that likely have been fed a diet of grains. Grains are cheaper to feed cows, however the cow was designed to eat grasses. When grains and soy are fed to cows, their bodies actually become sick and their immune systems compromised, and therefore they are frequently treated with antibiotics. When you consume conventional milk, not only is the milk not as nutritious due to the poor diet of the cow, it also is likely full of antibiotics. You should not only know where your food comes from, but you should also know what the food you eat eats.
ORGANIC MILK: Organic milk comes from cows that are not given any antibiotics, and in our opinion – this is a great step to take if you are currently drinking conventional milk. If you take a minute to think about it, you will realize that whatever the cow eats or is given as far as medication passes through her milk and directly to you, the milk drinker. Just as a new mom wouldn’t breastfeed her baby after consuming certain foods, beverages, or medicines, we should be weary of consuming milk that is chock full of antibiotics. Additionally, milk labeled organic by the USDA also guarantees that there is no added bST in your milk. Cows naturally produce a hormone called bST, but many cows are given more in order to increase their milk supply, and therefore the profit from the milk.
ORGANIC MILK FROM 100% GRASS-FED COWS: 100% Grass-fed milk takes it one step further and guarantees that the cows your milk came from were pasture-raised. This is hugely important because of something called Conjugated Linoleic Acid, or CLA. Think of CLA as the good fat. These amazing fatty acids fight cancer, the formation of body fat, and allergies. And, the amount of CLA present in milk from 100% grass-fed cows is proven to be 3-5 times higher than that of any other milk. The cow gets CLA from the grass, passes it to her milk, which then passes to you when you consume it. As stated by a local Washington state dairy farm, Pure Eire Dairy, lush pasture is the key to increasing CLA production in cows. It is important to find milk that is labeled either “100% grass-fed” or “grass finished”… unfortunately, current regulations allow for milk to be labeled grass-fed as long as the cow has access to pasture, even if the cow doesn’t regularly eat from the pasture.
RAW MILK: Raw milk is basically just that… raw milk, with no processing, just as the baby calf drinks. It is actually illegal in some places. There is quite a debate out there as far as the benefits of drinking raw milk, as well as many people who wonder if not pasteurizing your milk is safe. Pasteurizing milk is the process of heating the milk to kill off the pathogens that may cause disease. If you are considering drinking raw milk, make sure it comes from organic, 100% grass-fed cows.
MILK FAT: You will notice that milk is sold with varying levels of fat in the milk. Skim milk has the most fat removed from the original cow’s milk, while whole milk has all the fat still present. In order to make dairy products lower in fat, not only is the fat removed, but various things are added into the milk to attempt to make the milk seem creamier and thicker. According to Michal Pollan in his book In Defense of Food, “to make dairy products low-fat, it’s not enough to remove the fat. You then have to go to great lengths to preserve the body or creamy texture by working in all kinds of food additives. In the case of low-fat or skim milk, that usually means adding powdered milk. But powdered milk contains oxidized cholesterol, which scientists believe is much worse for your arteries than ordinary cholesterol, so food makers sometimes compensate by adding antioxidants, further complicating what had been a simple one-ingredient whole food. Also, removing the fat makes it that much harder for your body to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins that are one of the reasons to drink milk in the first place.” For a long time, people believed that all fat was bad, but we are coming to understand that certain fats are actually good. Additionally, we look for milk that is non-homogenized. The fat in milk naturally separates and floats to the top. Homogenization is essentially the process of breaking down the fat so that it evenly suspends throughout the milk. It is proven that homogenized milk causes more allergic reations, isn’t as heat stable, and doesn’t taste as good.
CHEESE: Since cheese is made from milk, it is best to find cheese that is both organic and pastured. Pastured is another way of saying grass-fed. We have found that the word “grass-fed” is used with beef and milk, and “pastured” is used with other dairy products, pork, poultry, and eggs. Pastured cheese is somewhat hard to come by, depending on where you live and where you shop, so in that case, organic cheese is a good alternative. Similar to milk, we believe full-fat cheeses to be the best choice. In order to increase thickness, cream, and flavor of low-fat or light cheeses, things such as corn starch and hydrogenated oils are often added to the final product. Wouldn’t it be better to consume the real, whole food without any additional (and often harmful) ingredients? A couple more things, we choose to purchase blocks of cheese and grate our own. Pre-grated cheese often has cellulose in it, which is an unnecessary ingredient to consume when it takes all of 20 seconds to whip out the cheese grater and grate your own. We also buy cheese that is white. Cheese comes from milk, which is actually never bright orange like many cheddar cheeses on the market, so we stick to white cheese.
BUTTER: We are probably reaching “broken record” status at this point, but the same is true for butter. Look for organic, pastured butter. Butter replacement products were created during the whole “low-fat” campaign, which has since been proven to be false. The right fats don’t make you fat or unhealthy, and often times fat-free products do make you fat and unhealthy because of the additives, man-made oils, artificial flavorings, and added sugar. Pure butter is just one ingredient. And if it is organic and pastured butter, that one ingredient is arguably a healthy one – regardless of the fat. Margarine has upwards of 10+ ingredients, many of which are known to be harmful.
YOGURT: As far as yogurt, we look for organic, whole milk yogurt. We have found pastured yogurt at our local farmer’s market, but have not yet seen it in stores. If you are interested in the increased protein in greek yogurt, you can find full-fat organic greek yogurt at a few health food stores. It is also important to look for plain yogurt, as opposed to flavored yogurt. The various flavors added into the yogurt are often full of sugar, artificial colors, and flavors. Best to stick with plain, and flavor it yourself.