In a Paleo-perfect world, dairy would be a big no-no, as cavemen didn’t really take the time to sit around the campfire slugging back a cup of warm milk before bed. However, over 10 million Americans now drink raw milk on a regular basis. Raw dairy is Primal, not Paleo, but some Paleo eaters choose to include a certain amount of raw dairy in their diets.
What Is Raw Dairy?
Raw dairy includes dairy products (cheese, milk, yogurt, etc.) that come from grass-fed cows, and that is unpasteurized and unhomogenized. This means that the raw dairy contains all of its natural enzymes, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, making it a complete food. (1)
Nutritional Value of Raw Dairy
Serving size: 1 cup
- Calories: 160
- Fat: 9g
- Carbs: 12g
- Protein: 9g
Raw dairy also contains a significant volume of vitamins and minerals, including:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
- B complex
Raw dairy contains several enzymes, such as:
- Amylase: helps to digest carbs
- Catalase: protects cells against oxidative damage
- Lactase: helps to digest milk sugars
- Lactoperoxidase: inhibits pathogenic growth
- Lipase: helps to digest fats
Health Benefits of Raw Dairy
Like many misunderstood foods in the nutrition arena, dairy has been demonized over the past several years. The differences between consuming raw dairy and dairy coming from confined animal feed operations (CAFOs) is immensely different.
Raw milk contains many components that actually kill pathogens and strengthen the immune system. These include:
- Antimicrobial components that are found in the blood (leukocytes, B-macrophages, neutrophils, T-lymphocytes, immunoglobulins, and antibodies)
- Special carbohydrates (polysaccharides and oligosaccharides)
- Special fats (medium chain fatty acids and phospholipids)
- Complementary enzymes which actually help to digest the dairy including lysozyme
- Beneficial bacteria, such as bifidus factor, which can support overall digestive and immune health
Dairy products that come from grass-fed cows have higher levels of vitamin D (since they are outside frolicking in the sun), calcium, and fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, vitamin E, and vitamin K. (2,3)
Raw dairy has higher amounts of essential fatty acids such as omega 3s and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). According to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, CLA has been linked to cancer prevention, reduced body fat, and better cholesterol levels. (4)
Unpasteurized milk has higher levels of anti-microbial enzymes and probiotics since none of them were killed during the processing. This can support immune health, cardiovascular health, and bone health. A study that was published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology which involved 8,000 children, concluded that by drinking raw milk, children experience “naturally immunizing” effects, and also found that children who drank raw milk were 50 percent less likely to develop allergies, and 41 percent less likely to develop asthma as opposed to kids who didn’t. (5)
Cows have the ability to convert omega-3s in grass to omega-3s in their body, which not only contribute to reducing cell signaling inflammatory pathways in the body, but also are a rich source of butyrate, a short chain fatty acid which can feed colon cells, improve GI health, and reduce inflammation. (6)
CLA found in raw dairy also has many health benefits including raising metabolic rate, removing abdominal fat, boosting muscle growth, reducing insulin resistance, strengthening the immune system, and lowering food allergy reactions. (7) Raw cow’s milk has all 8 essential amino acids, and 60 fully intact and functional enzymes. (8)
Research shows that children consuming raw milk had greater resistance to disease, better growth, and stronger teeth than children consuming pasteurized milk, as well as that those who consume raw dairy have better bone structure, organ development, nutrient assimilation, and even increased fertility. Several European studies have also found that children who drank raw milk are much less likely to develop allergies and asthma, especially if the raw milk is given in the first year of life.
Processed Dairy vs. Raw Dairy
Today’s milk contains roughly 60 hormones, along with a number of allergens and inflammatory components that have been linked with tumor and cancer cell growth. Most cow’s milk today also has considerable amount of herbicides, pesticides, and up to 52 antibiotics, blood, pus, feces, bacteria, and viruses. (9)
The chemical additives—such as pesticides, herbicides, and growth hormones—that are injected into these cows reduce the quality of nutrients and increase the risk for developing allergies, cancer, and GI distress.
Conventional milk is typically pasteurized more than once before it gets to the stores. Many studies have linked consumption of pasteurized milk with the following: (10)
- Lactose intolerance
- Frequent ear infections
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Autoimmune disease
Homogenization is a bit more recent in the realms of milk processing. When milk is homogenized, it is pushed through a fine filter at pressures of 4,000 pounds per square inch. In this process, the fat globules are made smaller by a factor of 10 times or more. When pasteurized milk is homogenized, a substance known as xanthine oxidase is made. This compound plays a role in oxidative stress by acting like a free radical in the body.
Any time that fat is subjected to high heat and pressure, it oxidizes and becomes rancid. Oxidation free radicals are associated with advanced aging. The homogenization process breaks up enzymes in milk into much smaller molecules, which allows the enzymes to enter the bloodstream directly and react against arterial walls. The body thinks something foreign is attacking the arterial walls, and prompts it to protect the area with a layer of cholesterol.
The processing of dairy also destroys about 20 percent of the iodine available in raw milk, which can cause constipation and thyroid issues.
Is Raw Dairy Safe?
The risk of illness from all dairy foods, raw and pasteurized, is very low compared to other foods, contributing to only one percent of all illnesses. A government document published in 2003 found that on a per-serving basis, deli meats are ten times more likely to cause foodborne illness than raw milk. (11)
According to the US government’s own data, you are about 35,000 times more likely to get sick from other foods than you are from raw milk. Between 1999 and 2010, there were only an average of 42 cases of illness per year attributed to raw milk. Meanwhile, an estimated total of 48 million foodborne illnesses occur each year from all foods. (12)
Pasteurized dairy can also be more problematic when it comes to allergies. Pasteurization actually changes the shape of the amino acid configuration into a collection of proteins that is essentially non-functional and changes it into a shape that is highly allergenic. In 2007, the Weston A. Price Foundation conducted a survey of raw milk drinkers in Michigan and found, of those participants who were diagnosed with lactose intolerance, 82 percent found that they could drink raw milk without any problems. (13)
Cows Don’t Drink Milk
Have you ever sat down and thought about the fact that cows aren’t sitting around drinking each other’s milk, yet they are the ones giving us all of these bone-building nutrients (calcium, vitamins K and D, magnesium, etc.)? In America we actually have some of the highest consumption rates of dairy products, yet we also have the highest rates of osteoporosis. Weak bones are not a result of lost calcium. Our bones are living organs that are made up of over a dozen different minerals which work together to create strong and porous bones.
So where do the cows get calcium for their big bones? From plants! Strong, big-boned, happy cows are generally found outside playing in the sun and grazing on grass and plants, which are rich in magnesium, folate, vitamin K, and calcium. The calcium the cows consume from plants has a large amount of magnesium, which is necessary for the body to absorb and use the calcium. These minerals are not only important for cellular health, but also for building bone density, muscle health, and blood circulation. (14).
Buying Raw Dairy
Purchasing raw dairy products can be more difficult than one would presumably think, especially in states that make the sale and distribution of raw dairy illegal. Raw milk can be sold in 10 states and purchased at farms in roughly 28 states. (15) You might find that grass-fed raw dairy products tend to be more yellow in color, not pure white, as the coloration comes from the natural antioxidant carotenoids found in the grass, which is a precursor to Vitamin A.
The gold standard when it comes to dairy is organic, grass-fed, raw dairy. Grass-fed should be your starting point when pursuing the refrigerator section of the health food store, or even if you are chatting with your local farmer at your weekly farmers market. Don’t be afraid to ask the dairy farmer about the cow’s diet, such as were the cows grain-finished or truly grass-fed? Did they receive rounds of antibiotics? Did their diet consist of GMO-laced corn and soy?
Ask about the cows’ living conditions as well. Did they have access to pasture and open acres or were they confined to an overcrowded lot? Find out how the farmer transported the dairy product, as colder temperatures are critical to maintain the safety and quality of the raw milk.
Raw dairy products should also be full fat, as many of the important anti-microbial and health supporting benefits are found in the fat. If fat is removed from raw dairy, all of the fat-soluble vitamins go with it.
Should You Eat Raw Dairy?
The decision to eat dairy is individual and on a case-by-case basis. For some, trying it and seeing how they feel is the best way to determine ability to digest it. Do you notice bloating within two hours of eating raw dairy? If yes, then you should avoid it. Do you notice your skin breaks out every time you consume raw dairy products? If this is the case, then avoid it.
Other things you might notice, however, are feeling more satiated between meals, have reduced cravings, and even finding yourself less stressed about completely eliminating an entire food group.
Whether or not you include raw dairy in your Paleo diet is entirely up to you, and listening to how your body reacts to it is critical for determining whether it’s a helpful dietary addition or another food that your body can’t digest or process well, and thus should avoid.