Final Dairy Clarity

The one who burns his mouth for drinking milk too hot eats even yogurt carefully. 

–Turkish Proverb

Let’s talk about dairy one last time. We’ve considered whether we need to abandon it entirely solely because we imagine our supposed Paleolithic ancestors didn’t eat it. We’ve looked at whether it is going to give us cancer (no) or save us from cancer (no). We talked about its insulinogenic quality.

If you’ve come through all that you’ve probably figured out where I land on this issue: in general, dairy is perfectly fine in moderate amounts if you personally tolerate it and don’t show an insulin addictive response to it. (If you’re just reading this or aren’t sure what I mean I’ll give you a hint: if you ate half the block of cheddar at one sitting without even realizing what you were doing, you probably have a disproportionately high insulin response to this low-sugar food. Sorry.)

If you’ve landed here with me on this then there’s just a couple more important questions to consider.

1. Ok, dairy won’t kill me. It’s fine. But is there any reason I should eat it? What’s in it for me?

Can’t I get the same nutrition from meat alone? Other than calcium, sure you can. If you prefer not to eat any dairy other than butter, or even to avoid butter, that’s fine. But for me and a lot of other people, it’s a lot cheaper to get grass-fed dairy than grass-fed beef. Dairy provides extra nutrition at a lower cost than eating all meat. Dairy also provides convenience. If I’m in a hurry for breakfast or need to rush a meal before I head out somewhere, it’s easier to throw a tablespoon of butter or cream in my coffee than cook up a slice of steak. It’s even easier to eat a few slices of cheese. Finally, dairy lets you get something more out of your vegetables.

But what’s really in it for you is plenty of fat-soluble vitamins and minerals, healthy fatty acids and probiotics (in the fermented dairy that isn’t highly processed). Note I used the word “fat-soluble.” This means that you can’t digest those vitamins and benefit from them without fat. Dairy is fun that way–it comes packed in its own fat. You can eat broccoli all day long, but if you eat it without any fat you don’t get much, folks. The form of the nutrients counts, too. For example, about 1/3 of the calcium in dairy is water-soluble. That’s the kind of calcium we can digest. Most of the calcium in plants is bound to oxalates, making them insoluble to you and me. Or as is explained more scientifically here:

…generally speaking, plant foods contain a considerable amount of inhibitory substances, such as oxalates and phytates. These bind to calcium and form insoluble salt complexes, thus decreasing calcium absorption.3 For example, cooked spinach contains 115 mg calcium per serving (125 mL or ½ cup), but only an estimated 5% (6 mg in absolute value) of it is actually absorbed. This is very little compared to the 32% (i.e. 101 mg) of milk’s calcium absorbed. Therefore, one would have to consume about 8 cups of spinach to obtain the same amount of available calcium found in 1 cup of milk…

In addition to the well-known calcium, dairy products are also nicely filled out with vitamins A and E, as well as K, D, most of the Bs and even C. They have plenty of potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus. (If you want more info in detail, browse this book.)

Bear in mind that some of those studies linked to above are not even using good quality dairy. In other words, even people eating processed American cheese slices were less likely to be deficient in minerals than those who eschewed dairy altogether.

Which brings us neatly to our segue.

2. Is one kind of dairy better than another?

Absolutely. First, grass-fed is superior nutrition to grain-fed:

  • Your typical grain-stuffed cow gives you milk that is high in omega-6 fats. Grass-fed dairy has an ideal ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Most people in industrialized nations have an imbalance of the latter.
  • Dairy from grass-fed sources has five times the CLA of conventional dairy. That’s conjugated linoleic acid, and when it occurs in natural sources like dairy it’s very good for you. It’s unclear whether taking CLA supplements has anything like the same effect.
  • Grass-fed cows in general are healthier, meaning more nutrition for you when you eat them and their milk products. If you’ve ever gotten grass-fed butter, for example, you might have noticed that it’s yellow. The butter from grain-fed cattle is white unless yellow food coloring is added back in (which it often is). That yellow is from all the carotene and vitamin A. This study looked at 30 Uruguayan steers, some of whom were finished on grass, some on feed, and some on feed sprayed with vitamins. The grass-fed ones had redder meat, yellower fat, more vitamin E, more CLA and much better overall fatty acid profile than the others.

What do I mean by “grass-fed?” I mean cows that ate grass all their lives and were not “finished” for the last 150-300 days on feed made from corn, sugar, and grains that cows were not meant to eat. Feeding cows that garbage changes the ph balance of their rumen, makes them more vulnerable to disease (hence the need to give feed lot cattle antibiotics much more often than grazing cattle) and, as seen in the Uruguayan study, results in a fatter but unhealthier cow.

Cows don’t naturally have the enzymes needed to digest starch, which makes up the bulk of cattle lot feed. They do have enzymes to digest cellulose, which is what grass and straw are. The cow can be made to digest starch, but it isn’t good for him to eat so much and makes him susceptible to disease. Just like you and I. If you switch a cow from a pasture to a grain feed suddenly, you’ll make him very sick. But you can always switch him from grain feed to pasture suddenly with no problem.

I do not, however, object to the use of feed in “emergency” situations. I once read a long series of very argumentative posts all about Kerrygold’s butter. Kerrygold is an Irish butter. When the people in Ireland were asked by Americans to defend themselves on the grass-fed/grain-fed issue, their response was:


They didn’t even know what the Americans were talking about. You see, the Irish have never stuffed their cattle with corn, molasses, bran, and wheat. Cows eat grass. Everyone knows that.

But the people on the site I was reading were all up in arms because once they explained the issue to the Irish the response was, basically, “Of course they eat grass. That’s what cows eat: except when we have drought. Then we get them some feed.” This caused a lot of people to go berserk. Why, this butter wasn’t healthy! 100% of these cows might not be 100% grass-fed 100% of the time!!!

I’ve mentioned before that we don’t live in Fairytale Princess Pink Wonderland. In the real world, droughts happen and sometimes there isn’t enough grass or even straw. I am not of the mind that the cows must be forced to starve to death, or the farmers forced to lose all their investment and go bankrupt, just so you can be assured that not a single ounce of anything non-grass passed through your butter source. If you owned the cow and it was a food source your family depended on for survival, you’d feed it whatever was necessary to get it alive through a drought.

Back to one kind of dairy being better than another, raw dairy is also better for you than pasteurized.

  • All raw dairy is grass-fed. It’s very dangerous to NOT pasteurize grain-fed cows’ milk, because grain-fed cows are in such worse health and so much more susceptible to bacterial infection.
  • The pasteurization process does indeed destroy a measurable amount of the minerals and vitamins in dairy.
  • The process also kills or alters some of the proteins of milk, like beta-lactoglobulin protein that makes the vitamin A in milk particularly absorbable.
  • Many people who are “lactose intolerant” when they drink pasteurized milk suddenly become tolerant when drinking raw milk and other dairy. Why? Because pasteurization kills the bacteria in the milk that produces lactase. Lactase is the stuff in your dairy digestive supplement that you take whenever you want a piece of pizza. You don’t need that pill if you are drinking and eating unpasteurized dairy.
  • A European study showed that kids who ate raw dairy had fewer allergies and asthma attacks than kids who ate pasteurized dairy, irregardless of whether they lived on farms or in cities. This was just a correlation–not anything proven. But it is something that a multitude of anecdotal testimonies backs up worldwide. Ask three people at your local farm co-op why they choose raw milk and two of them will give you an allergy and/or asthma reduction testimony. And it is known that pasteurization destroys the immunoglobulin in milk, which is something that helps with asthma. It also kills off the naturally occurring probiotics.


But won’t raw milk kill me? Wasn’t pasteurization a process that saved thousands and thousands of lives?

First our history lesson: when everyone was a farmer or bought their milk from a nearby local dairy, there were very few problems with this. This would be pre-1850 or so. As urban areas got denser and the supply chains for milk got longer and longer, people started dropping dead all over the place from drinking raw milk.

You see, milk is easily contaminated and the longer it sits–especially un-refrigerated–the more easily that happens. Pasteurization did indeed stop tuberculosis outbreaks and generally saved the lives of thousands of people. Our ancestors were neither stupid nor naive in inventing the process.

However today is not 1910. It is 2014, and the world is different. We understand a lot more about bacteria, contamination, pathogens, and transportation than we did 100 years ago. We have refrigeration. And most raw dairy products are only available locally–which is the safest way to eat them. It’s up to you to decide if you trust your local farmer to keep everything in his dairy clean.

Now the FDA will scream at us that raw dairy only makes up 1% of the dairy consumed by Americans, yet 33% of (reported) dairy-related food illnesses. All very true, but what they aren’t telling you–again–is the absolute risk versus the relative risk. What they aren’t telling you is that you are far, far more likely to be throwing up all over the place after eating a vegetable than after drinking milk from any source. Even the Center For Science in the Public Interest(ofForcingEveryoneToBecomeaVegatarian), who desperately want you to eat nothing but soybeans and whole grain sprout bread for the rest of your life, can’t hide the facts–even with all their fancy charts and “unpasteurized dairy” spotlights.

Between 1996 and 2006 there were 5,778 food illness outbreaks in the United States. Of those, seafood caused by far the most: 1,140 of them. Yet strangely I hear no one calling for us to ban all that healthy seafood because of the danger of getting sick from it.

The second most likely thing to cause you to ruin your car interior as you rush to the hospital is produce. All them healthy vegetables and fruit, you know. 768 outbreaks: 279 from vegetable, 121 from fruit, and a whopping 368 from salad.

Yes, salad.

You remember salad.

CSPI-OFETBAV wants you to eat a salad every day and wants to force all schools to put in a salad bar. ‘Cause that’s the way to avoid contamination: build a salad bar around elementary school kids and let them grub all through it.

Meanwhile, of all the things likely to give you a food-born illness, dairy was #10 on the list with only 221 outbreaks.

That’s 147 less than salad. And not only that, but the diary outbreaks only caused a total of 6,364 people to get ill, while the produce outbreaks sickened 35,060 people. That means that when dairy sickens, it gets an average of 29 people. But when lettuce does it, it lays low 46.

That’s right. CSPI-OFETBAV wants the government to swoop in and make it illegal for you to choose, knowing the risks, to buy raw milk from your neighbor. In fact they’d like to make it illegal for your neighbor to drink his own raw milk. But they do recommend that you eat a salad every day and want to force all schools to put in a nice, sanitary salad bar. You’re also encouraged to eat all the bread you can stuff down your gullet, despite the 179 outbreaks of illness they caused in those 10 years. Party dips accounted for 107 outbreaks; but not one word of caution that you need to avoid party dip or we need a new Party Dip Supervisory Division of the Government.

But be careful of that raw dairy.


Plato says he’s hungry

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