One of the most common questions asked concerns recommendations for milk or milk alternatives. The answer to this question has evolved over the years, so today, I'll share the latest preferences for milk and milk-like beverages.
Thumbs up: Raw milk
Over the last two years, I've become a proponent of raw milk (especially raw fermented milk, see below). Raw cow's milk is my personal recommendation, but even raw goat's milk has merit. What's so good about raw milk? Because it's not homogenized or pasteurized, it's nutritionally superior to dead, cooked milk. Raw milk seems to be far easier to digest, and it contains living bacteria cultures that enhance digestion and even soothe the digestive tract.
It's no surprise, then, that raw milk is under attack by both federal regulators and some members of the processed milk industry. They don't want people to find a "superior" milk that isn't as profitable to sell (because it has reduced shelf life), so they're trying to destroy the raw milk market and limit consumer choice to processed, dead milk. (The same is true in the almond industry, where the Almond Board of California is now trying to irradiate all almonds grown in the state, yet have them labeled as "raw" even when they're dead.)
This attack on raw milk is dressed up to look like a public safety concern. Raw milk is dangerous, regulators claim, because the live cultures might get contaminated with unfriendly bacteria and harm someone. The preferred alternative, it seems, is to kill all the food so that it harms everyone equally.
In terms of choosing raw milk, the typical choices are raw cow's milk and raw goat's milk. I encourage you to try both raw cos's milk and raw goat's milk, then decide what you like best. My personal preference is raw cow's milk.
Thumbs way way up: Certified Raw Milk
Certified and inspected by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. Look for this information when
you are buying raw milk in the state of Pennsylvania. Bring your own container. Certified raw milk sales are
exploding in popularity. Check this website often to find farms that offer it in your area. Always ask if your farmer is certified.
Thumbs way up: Fermented raw milk
The best dairy beverage for your health is, in my opinion, fermented raw milk. If you take raw milk and inoculate it with bacterial cultures, then let it sit for a day or two, you end up with a living, predigested, nutritionally superior beverage that's so packed with life it's actually fizzy (carbonated due to the off-gassing of bacteria) when you make it yourself at home.
One form of this fermented milk is called Kefir. It's an incredible beverage when you make it yourself. The store-bought kefir just isn't the same because it's usually dead, flat and pasteurized. But home-made kefir is something else entirely! It's alive, energetic and completely natural.
Store-bought kefir is tricky. Definitely avoid non-organic kefir of any kind, and I strongly recommend that even when you buy organic kefir, avoid products made with added sugars. This is a fermented beverage, not ice cream. Don't think it's supposed to taste like a milkshake. It's a slightly bitter beverage when you drink it plain, but that's what kefir is supposed to be.
Thumbs up: Raw almond milk
Another current favorite among foodies is raw almond milk. It's made from raw, soaked almonds,water, vanilla and a pinch of sea salt.
Raw almond milk is both delicious and nutritious. While it doesn't have the protein content of animal milk, it's rich in plant-based fats and various anti-cancer phytonutrients. Once you make a batch, you'll need to drink it within a day or two, since it tends to sour very quickly (it's alive, raw and nutritious, obviously), but I've found that you can preserve it in the refrigerator for several days longer by adding a couple of drops of food-grade hydrogen peroxide.
Many raw food proponents are now drinking a combination of raw almond milk and raw goat's milk kefir. It's good to have a balance of both plant and animal-based milks, but only if they're from ethically treated, naturally raised animals who are not exposed to antibiotics, toxic chemicals or conventional veterinary care (which is all based on chemicals, just like human health care).
Thumbs down: Soy milk
A few years ago, I recommended soy milk as a natural alternative to cow's milk. But since then, far better alternatives have emerged (see below). Also, more information has appeared regarding the environmental impact of soybean farming (the Amazon rainforest is being devastated by clear cutting to create soybean agricultural lands) as well as the frightening fact that most soybeans grown today are genetically modified GMO varieties.
On top of this, most popular soy milk brands (I won't name names, but these are likely the ones in your grocery store) have been bought out by big, profit-seeking food and beverage corporations, and as a result, they've been sugared up and made nutritionally inferior. Check the ingredients on "plain" soy milk the next time you're at the store: It's loaded with sugar!
Without question, most soy milk has become too mainstream, too sugary and too much controlled by the same food and beverage giants that are still manufacturing and marketing other products that promote degenerative disease. Because of these reasons, I no longer recommend soy milk (unless you make it yourself or get it from a small, truly natural company).
Thumbs down: Processed cow's milk
I'm also not thrilled about processed milk from cows. By "processed," I mean homogenized and pasteurized. The pasteurization kills all the beneficial microorganisms, and homogenization artificially modifies dairy fats in a way that ultimately harms the human cardiovascular system when consumed. Processed "mainstream" milk is also taken from dairy cows pumped up with antibiotics, rBGH (Bovine Growth Hormone) and usually treated very poorly in terms of ethics. Even the popular brands showing happy cows and claiming to be organic are under intense fire by the Organic Consumers Association for exploiting certain loopholes that allow non-organic cows to be suddenly considered "organic" on the day they're giving milk.
Processed cow's milk is bad for your health and bad for the cows who give it. It's great for corporate profits, however, and that's why milk continues to be so heavily marketed as a nutritional beverage. They've even managed to so strongly influence the USDA that the latest dietary recommendations by this government agency essentially recommend that everyone should drink more milk. And it's no surprise that infant formula manufacturers have, for decades, tried to convince nutritionally ignorant mothers that cow's milk is better for their baby than human breast milk. (An odd idea, isn't it?)
Okay, here's the low down on milk products and milk alternatives as I see it:
Soy milk: Not recommended. Too many GMO soybeans, bad environmental impact and some possible undesirable estrogen effects. See our recommended reading!
Processed cow's milk: It's just gross. Homogenized, pasteurized, milked from unhealthy cows and containing alarmingly high levels of pus, this liquid is nothing less than frightening. Reject it always.
Certified Raw Cow's Milk: This should be your first choice. In the state of Pennsylvania, certified raw dairy farms are
inspected 4 times per year and must adhere to very specific and strict standards of cleanliness and nutritional content. Don't be afraid to ask your farmers if they are certified and have a certificate on display in their milk house.
In the state of Pennsyvlania, certified raw milk is always antibiotic and hormone free.
Raw cow's milk (organic): This is an acceptable dairy beverage. If it's from healthy cows treated with kindness and good nutrition, this raw beverage is far better than processed cow's milk. Once again, ask for certification. Check the laws of your state or area of the country.
Look for cleanliness, healthy cows, and certification.
Row goat's milk (organic): An alternative to raw cow's milk, when raw cow's milk is unavailable. Ask for certification. Look for clean conditions and healthy, happy animals.
Fermented milk from cows or goats (organic Kefir): A great choice! It's alive, nutritious and great for digestive health. Make it yourself for best results. If you buy it, avoid the sugared-up commercially produced kefir products in the store.
Raw almond milk: A top choice for vegans. Make it yourself with raw almonds, water a nut milk bag and a blender.