Milk can be very confusing. What once provided the purest, most natural wallop of nutrients in a single glass has been tainted with artificial growth hormones, pasteurized to within an inch of its life and stripped of the very fat dissolving molecules that helped us to digest it in the first place. It seems as though there are dangers lurking in all of the grocery store cartons (even the ones with the happy cows plastered across the front), so what is a milk lover to do?

First, let's look at a few milk facts:

  • Grocery store milk is a highly processed food.
  • Whole milk contains about 3% milk fat, while low-fat milk contains 2% milk fat. When fat is stripped away from whole milk, powdered milk or milk solids are added back to create a texture more reminiscent of whole milk. Additives that are considered ‘industry standard’ are not required to be identified on the label.
  • Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH/BST), while still an approved drug according to the FDA, has been eliminated from most dairy operations. However, labeling does not require that milk containing rBGH be labeled as such.
  • Organic milk comes from cows that are fed organic, non-GMO feed. Organic dairies are also prohibited from giving the cows synthetic hormones and antibiotics. There is also a requirement that at least 30% of the feed is pasture grass.
  • A good portion of organic milk is subjected to ultra-high pasteurization, which means it is heated to a high temperature (above 280F) for at least 2 seconds. This dramatically extends the shelf life of milk; this is important for grocers since organic milk is more expensive than conventional milk. It is also important for producers because milk travels a great distance from farm to shelf.
  • What’s good for large producers and grocers isn’t always good for consumers.  Ultra-high pasteurization is blamed by many for the destruction of the fragile molecules of milk, thereby making it difficult to digest and introducing foreign proteins into the body.

As you can see, milk is a confusing food. There are thousands of studies, reams of reports and as many opinions about what makes milk good, bad or indifferent.

Based upon what I’ve read and heard, here, in order of best to worst, are my milk recommendations.

  1. Raw milk – Go back to basics and get the pure, lightly processed, nutrient rich stuff that made humans start drinking milk in the first place, thousands of years ago.  This is non-homogenized (you can either skim the cream off the top or shake it really well), unpasteurized and truly delicious.  Health benefits of raw milk include everything from improved immunity systems to better bone structure.  Go to realmilk.com to learn more and find sources of raw milk near you.
  2. Pasteurized organic milk (not ultra-pasteurized) – Some grocery stores are now carrying both ultra-pasteurized and pasteurized organic milk. Whole Foods is one such store, but with a little pressure from customers I expect many more stores will follow suit.
  3. Pasteurized conventional milk (not ultra pasteurized) that indicates no rBGH was added, preferably from a local or near-local provider.
  4. Whole milk - Whatever kind of milk you buy, I stick to the theory that the less processing the better. Whole milk is naturally rich, creamy and tasty, where low-fat milk requires additives to achieve the same flavor and texture. Buy whole milk and use less of it, or just add a little water to thin the milk.

I hope this article helps to clarify your milk choices, and that you now 'get milk'.