So what are raw dairy products? Raw milk is milk that comes from grass-fed cows which is unpasteurised and unhomogenised. Raw milk contains all of its natural enzymes, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals which makes it a ‘complete food’. The milk we usually buy in the supermarket has been heated and emulsified to kill bacteria, change the consistency of the milk (this prevents a layer of cream at the top of the bottle/carton), and prolong shelf life.
Why do we process milk in this way? To reduce the risk of consuming bacteria, but is it really that risky to consume raw dairy products? The risk is in fact pretty low. We are actually more likely to get sick from other foods such as produce, seafood and poultry than from raw milk. It has been reported that there are an estimated 48 million foodborne illnesses diagnosed each year and only 1.3 percent of those are from raw milk. Of course raw milk can become contaminated like any other whole foods so that’s why it’s important to ensure you buy it from a reputable supplier.
So what can raw milk do for our health?
Raw milk contains nutrients such as probiotics, vitamin D and immunoglobulins (antibodies) which boost the immune system and studies indicate it can reduce infections and allergies in children. More on vitamin D here. Children who drink raw milk are 50 percent less likely to develop allergies and 41 percent less likely to develop asthma compared to children who don’t.
Raw milk contains healthy saturated fats as well as Omega-3 fats which are great for keeping the skin hydrated. It can even be used as a moisturiser. The probiotics in raw milk not only look after your gut and protect it from the unhealthy bacteria, they look after your skin and can reduce acne and eczema but keeping inflammation in check and ensuring a diverse gut flora.
One serving of raw milk contains around 400mg of calcium, 50 mg of magnesium and 500mg of potassium. These nutrients are essential for metabolism, hydration, cellular function, detoxification, muscle health and bone density to name a few. More on magnesium here.
Raw milk contains fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins, A, D and K2 which keep our hearts healthy, fight cancer, support brain function, the central nervous system and balance hormones. The short chain fatty acids such as butyrate in raw milk support metabolism and stress resistance and conjugated linoleic acid has been linked to healthy cholesterol levels and body fat reduction.
All of these nutrients are greatly reduced by the pasteurisation process.
What other foods can be produced from raw milk?
Raw milk is fermented to produce foods such as kefir, yogurt and cheese. When fermented the good bacteria increase along with all their benefits. Cultured dairy products have the highest natural content of probiotics. More on the health effects of gut bacteria here.
Who should avoid raw dairy products?
Those most at risk of foodborne illness from raw milk are infants, young children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with a weakened immune system but the risk is low compared to other foods. If you ensure you buy your raw dairy from a reputable source there shouldn’t be any issues. It’s important to understand that the nutritional and mineral content of raw milk varies depending on where it was produced, soil quality, geographical location, species of cow, health of the cow and how fresh it is. Ask your local farmers market for recommendations. Store in the refrigerator and consume within a short time.