Updated: Sep 12
I have known several people, including my mom, who thought that they were lactose intolerant. But when they drank raw milk from cows eating a healthy diet, they were happy to find that they could enjoy the milk without nasty consequences that come from drinking jugs of milk from the grocery store.
What is wrong with grocery store milk that makes it undigestible for so many people? Among other things, pasteurization and homogenization.
Pasteurization is the process of heating milk to temperatures high enough to kill pathogens. While pasteurization does effectively destroy harmful pathogens, it also destroys beneficial bacteria and enzymes that aid in digestion.
Because most milk is produced hundreds of miles (or farther) from where it will be consumed, big dairy plants have turned to a pasteurization method that gives the milk extra long shelf life. UHT (ultra heat treated) milk, also known as UP (ultra pasteurized) milk, is heated to a crazy 280 F (much higher than boiling point). At such extremely high temperature the protein structures change so that enzymes (both the enzymes produced by your gut and also the ones native to milk that were destroyed by pasteurization) no longer work to break the proteins down through the intricate lock-and-key mechanism of enzyme function that nature designed. At best, this makes it hard to digest; at worst, if you have a leaky gut and these deformed proteins enter your blood stream, the body's immune system freaks out and you have a bad reaction to the milk.
Homogenization is the process of forcing the milk fat through a tiny screen that breaks the fat molecules into smaller pieces so that the cream no longer rises as it does in raw milk, but it stays suspended throughout. Homogenization increases the fat's surface area, making it more susceptible to oxidation. Homogenization has been linked to heart disease and atherosclerosis.
Raw milk has been neither pasteurized nor homogenized. It is important to buy raw milk from a farmer who takes hygiene seriously (like me), because raw milk produced in dirty conditions can absolutely have pathogens that you want to avoid. But when a farmer cares enough to do it right, raw milk is one of the most nourishing and safe foods you can consume.
Milk, like mine, that is not homogenized is called "creamline milk" because the cream visibly rises to the top. You can either skim the cream to enjoy its goodness, or shake it back into the milk before serving it. Some people even make butter or ice cream from the cream they skim off!
Raw milk is a traditional, whole food that has been an important staple of many cultures' diets for millennia. If you love milk but have trouble digesting store bought milk, maybe you should give (my) raw milk a try!