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How to Choose Better-for-You Dairy

So it’s been a little quiet here on the blog. I did this crazy thing that’s taking up quite a bit of my attention…I went and had a baby. We welcomed him on June 1 at 9:00am and he’s perfect. Bradley Alexander.

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With that news, everything is going well, including breastfeeding. I started this post before he was born but as I’m finishing it up now, the irony is not lost on me. The topic of choosing safer dairy as I’m feeling like quite the milk factory myself. Anyway…

Dairy is a controversial issue. Is it good for you? Bad for you? Does it cause inflammation? Digestive problems? Is it unethical? Ahhh just stop the madness.

Many people have problems consuming dairy for a couple reasons. One of them is that a person may be lacking the enzyme lactase, which is responsible for digesting the milk sugar called lactose. Others may be allergic to a milk protein called casein. This is a protein that’s difficult to digest. However, there are many dairy products, such as properly prepared yogurt, kefir, butter, sour cream, and some cheeses, that are still tolerated by people with these issues because the lactose and casein have been partially broken down or predigested, respectively. That being said, for those who can and choose to consume milk and other dairy products, let’s talk about how to choose the highest quality product possible.

How to Choose Better-for-You Dairy

Full fat

I’m going to say Always to this, for the whole family…not just the toddler as commonly (and unfortunately) recommended. Fat, as I’ve mentioned numerous times before, is so important for the body in many ways, especially for the brain, again, not just the toddler. This isn’t just for milk either. It goes for all dairy products, things like cheese, cream cheese, sour cream, yogurt, etc. According to Sally Fallon Morell in Nourishing Traditions, milk that has been altered to reduce or remove the fat content has had powdered milk added back in, which has oxidized cholesterol and is a contributor to heart disease. These products also often have sugar added back in to help fix the taste that was changed by removing the fat. (Sugar is what contributes to weight gain. Not healthy fat sources.)

Grass-fed

This is also important and the first thing I look for after finding the full fat version. Cows are animals that should be feeding on grass, as the herbivores that they are, along with having plenty of space to roam. Sometimes the cows may be given some grains in order to keep energy up to produce milk since it really can be a tiring job. (I speak from experience!) But the majority of their diet should be grass. Cows are ruminants, which means they have the ability to turn that grass into usable high quality protein as nature intended, and produce more nutrient dense milk that includes omega 3s and fat soluble vitamins.

Non-homogenized

Homogenization is the process of breaking down fat molecules in the milk so that they stay suspended throughout the product, as, opposed to floating up and collecting at the top. This is typically done more for the sake of appeal, but in my opinion, it’s just one more way the milk is further removed from its natural state. Homogenization is also said to be linked with cancer and heart disease. This is because the fat oxidizes under the high pressure process. Stick to non-homogenized, cream on top..simply shake the milk before pouring.

Raw or low-heat pasteurization

Up until not too long ago, everyone enjoyed raw milk and products made from it and reaped all the nutritional benefits. Today, to most people, the idea of consuming raw cow’s milk is weird at best…usually more along the lines of “disgusting” or dirty. That’s partly because of articles stating the presence of puss in raw milk. That’s actually true. There is puss in raw milk…when that milk is from a factory farm cow. Those cows are incredibly unhealthy and mistreated, being fed an unnatural diet which leads to high rates of mastitis and other infections, so sure..puss could definitely be present. However, raw milk from a healthy properly raised animal is clean and full of nutrition. Unfortunately there are only a few states that offer raw milk in stores. Many other states require a cow share, and others don’t allow it at all. If you have access to raw milk, go for it. If not, the next best thing would be milk that’s been pasteurized at a low heat. Avoid those “ultra-pasteurized” products because there’s nothing left that could benefit. Anything that’s advertised as being in there, such as vitamin D, is a synthetic form that had to be added back in. That high heat also promotes rancidity of fatty acids in the milk which contributes to heart disease and inflammation.

Raw milk also retains its beneficial bacteria and enzymes. This means that any harmful bacteria that enter the raw milk would be naturally killed off. In pasteurized milk, that line of defense is taken away so those harmful bacteria will thrive and cause the sickness you read about in the news.

Organic

Organic is a word that’s thrown around a lot today, but it shouldn’t necessarily make or break your decision about a product, particularly dairy. What the organic label means for dairy products is that the cow wasn’t treated with antibiotics or hormones, provided with organic GMO-free feed, have outdoor access throughout the year, and are pastured for at least 120 days per year. While, yes, a dairy product following these guidelines would be healthier than a product from a conventional cow, the organic label itself may or may not be attainable for all farms. In order to be certified organic, a farm must be inspected and pay the required fees. This is why it’s important to get to know your farmer so you can ask the right questions about their animals (this goes for produce and meats/eggs too) or research your favorite brands you get at the grocery store. Many farmers and even some bigger brands follow organic guidelines, for example Kerrygold, but haven’t gone through the process of becoming certified.

Unflavored

It seems like just about everything today has a plain version and then multiple flavored versions. While that variety can seem fun sometimes, from a health perspective, it’s not a beneficial addition to our food system. Flavored products, like milk, yogurt, and kefir, are loaded with extra sugar, possibly food dyes, extra additives, preservatives, and natural and artificial flavors. For the healthiest dairy products, stick with the plain versions and add your own flavors at home using real food ingredients.

Our favorite brands

Milk: Tricking Springs, Lazy Meadows (Atlanta Fresh), Homestead Creamery

*Tricking Springs and Lazy Meadows offer non-homogenized versions too.

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Heavy cream: Trickling Springs

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Yogurt: Stonyfield (100% grass fed organic whole milk yogurt), Organic Valley Grassmilk yogurt, Siggi’s whole milk (9% or 4% milkfat) yogurt

Sour cream: Organic Valley (made with milk from pasture raised cows)

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Cream cheese: Organic Valley (made with milk from pasture raised cows)

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Butter: Kerrygold (original, NOT reduced fat our made with canola oil), Vital Farms Alfresco butter

Cheese: Organic Valley Grassmilk Raw cheddar cheese

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**These brands are not the only quality brands available. These are just the ones we personally use here.

One of the benefits of being a member of the Weston A Price Foundation is that you’ll get this super handy Shopper’s Guide that helps you find the healthiest brands of every category of whole foods. An app is also available.

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I encourage you to watch Farmageddon (available on Amazon Prime videos) to see the unfortunate happenings to many dairy farms.

If you’d like to know if you are in a state that allows the sale of raw milk, go to RealMilk.com.

In good health,
Michelle

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