Milk 101: Whole, Raw, Organic, Low-Fat, Etc.

We’ve been getting all sorts of questions about dairy lately, especially around the many different types of milk options out there. So hopefully this post will clear some things up. Later this month we’ll be sharing our thoughts on cheese, sour cream, yogurt, and other dairy products as well so be sure to stay tuned!

Raw Milk

Before our switch to real food I honestly had no idea what “raw milk” even was. I actually remember the day I first discovered that there’s an entire world out there of raw milk advocates complete with websites, blogs, non-profit organizations, and the like. I’ve learned that the people who drink raw milk really LOVE their raw milk and feel strongly about their choice.

Raw milk is literally the way the milk comes out of the cow. It has not been pasteurized (heated to kill pathogens) or homogenized (processed to suspend fat globules) in any way, shape, or form. In the most basic terms it’s exactly what the calves get. And I actually think this quote from Wikipedia sums up why raw milk can be such a heated topic these days:

“Health food proponents tout the benefits of raw milk and the ills of pasteurization and homogenization. The medical community warns of the dangers of not pasteurizing milk. Preferences vary from region to region.” – Wikipedia

So speaking of our “region” raw milk is actually illegal here in North Carolina. I’ve had many people tell me I can drive just over the border into South Carolina to buy some, but to be honest I was actually kind of relieved that I didn’t have to make the tough decision if we should drink raw milk or not. I know the advocates say raw milk can cure all your ailments (or something like that), but others say there are health risks with milk that hasn’t been pasteurized (which kills both potentially harmful and beneficial bacteria – just like cooking raw meat). So I’ve basically chosen to just stay out of it and drink the milk that is available to us here in town, which is obviously a personal choice that has been influenced by the state in which we live.

Plus I tried raw milk once and it didn’t exactly taste like the “milk” I am used to drinking (and enjoy), but I am certainly very happy for everyone who drinks raw milk and loves it. To each his own!

Pasteurized, Non-Homogenized, Whole Milk (from Grass-Fed Cows)

This is the type of milk that we’ve determined to be the least processed milk available here in North Carolina, and what we started drinking sometime last year. My whole 33 years prior to that I mainly drank skim milk so let me tell you what I was SCARED to gradually go from skim to whole (we briefly drank 2% in-between). I did it though and honestly have never looked back. The milk we drink now is soooo good and fresh…it tastes how I think milk should taste! And to offset the switch to full-fat dairy we also reduced our consumption a bit, which helped from a budgeting standpoint as well.

The brand we buy is called Homestead Creamery (I get it from Earth Fare – pictured above) and it’s from cows that are mostly – but not 100% – grass-fed. Cows were designed by evolution to eat grass (not corn) so they are healthier when they do, which in turn gives more nutritious animal products to us as a result. The milk we buy is also pasteurized at a slightly lower temperature than standard grocery store milk so for me I feel like this gets us a little bit closer to that whole “raw milk” option without going all the way. And while Homestead Creamery is not USDA Certified Organic they do follow all organic practices. Getting officially certified is expensive and timely so it’s always good to ask this question when purchasing from smaller farms.

Organic Milk

If you can’t find local, grass-fed, non-homogenized milk in your area then I think a “big brand” (i.e. Organic Valley or Horizon) of organic, whole milk is the next best bet. One downfall of highly commercialized organic milk though is that it’s actually ultra-pasteurized at a high temperature, which leaves even less beneficial bacteria. This is why the expiration dates are sometimes further out than their conventional counterparts. I am not sure if they did this to give organic a longer shelf life (before it started becoming more popular), but regardless that’s the way it’s done and it usually says it right there on the package so it’s not a secret.

As I once heard Dr. Oz say though you can’t “peel” or “wash” off dairy like you can when it comes to conventional produce so I agree with his advice to go organic when it comes to dairy products (including milk).

Low-Fat Milk

As part of our switch to real food we did away with all low-fat and non-fat products, including milk. You can read more about that switch in our “Mini-Pledge Week 6: No Low-Fat, Lite or Nonfat Food Products” post. In short, according to Michael 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.” – Michael Pollan

After recently learning that the orange juice industry doesn’t even include their mysterious “flavor packs” (to keep the juice tasting the same year-round) on their list of ingredients I wouldn’t count on seeing “powdered milk” listed as in ingredient on your skim milk jug anytime soon either. Long story short – I don’t think anyone can argue that low-fat and skim milk isn’t “more processed” than whole milk, which is of course one of our family’s top concerns when it comes to making food choices.

Milk Alternatives

Some people just can’t tolerate dairy and thankfully for them there are all sorts of milk alternatives out there these days. I do want to say though that I don’t personally believe there’s any reason to avoid dairy unless you have an allergy or intolerance. If you are one of those that needs to skip the lactose be sure to look for milk alternatives that are unsweetened, but no matter what always read the ingredients. My top choices would be either unsweetened full-fat coconut milk or almond milk…or even brown rice milk. Soy is already an additive in so many packaged foods so I would favor some of the other choices out there instead.


Question:
What kind of milk do you drink (and why)?

Local Dairy Resources

To search for local farms in your area that might offer grass-fed dairy products like milk check out the following resources:

Posts may contain affiliate links. If you purchase a product through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but 100 Days of Real Food will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated and helps us spread our message!
  • Comments

    1. Cara |

      I recently found a soup recipe for evaporated milk. I think I can just use whole milk, but what are your thoughts? Evaporated vs. whole milk?

      • Amy Taylor (comment moderator) |

        Hi Cara. Whole milk should work, too or you could consider cream.

    2. Amanda |

      Any suggestions on an easy way to mix the cream back into the milk on the Homestead Creamy creamline milk? We love it here but it’s so hard getting the cream mixed back in through the mouth of the jug.

    3. Cindy Condrich |

      Lisa,
      I’m wondering why you went with the Homestead Creamery Creamline vs. their homogenized whole milk. Other than leaving the fat to settle to the top are there other benefits? I’m looking at starting up with Lakeview Farms delivery service here in Charlotte (Earth Fare is just a bit inconvenient) and was wondering if you’d ever looked into their service. Thanks!

      • Amy Taylor (comment moderator) |

        Hi there. Non-homogenized milk is one step less processed. :)

    4. erin |

      We drink raw whole milk. Our family Dr gives it to us

    5. Kerry |

      i drink almond milk and my son drinks coconut milk. I had breast cancer and have seen doctors who believe that dairy products cause a build up of bacteria that can cause cancer.

    6. Erin |

      Homestead creamery milk is not from grass fed cows. My lengthier comment was deleted for some reason by moderators?

      • Amy Taylor (comment moderator) |

        Hi Erin. I didn’t see a lengthier comment from you and there is not one held in moderation. It could be that it just didn’t post for some reason. It is my understand that their cows are pastured/grass fed during the warmer months and supplemented when grass is harder to come by.

        • Erin |

          I live nearby the Homestead creamery and enjoy all of their dairy products. I think that the milk and cream are so fresh tasting. However, I do know that the cows are not grass fed during milking years. You may want to check into this if having grass fed milk is important to you

          • Jessica |

            Crud! I have been supplementing my 18 month olds sippy with this while at work. Any way we can. Get clarity on this? The blog says they follow organic practices, so if the cows aren’t grass fed, are they at least fed a non-gmo/organic diet?

    7. |

      Raw whole milk all the way. Since I can buy directly from the farmer, I have not looked back. Less expensive than grocery store milk too. There is no way to explain how delicious it tastes and it could not be any fresher. There are so many ways to eat local food now and the farmers deliver it to you!

    1 28 29 30

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *