A chance comment sends Sustainamom on a milk research mission...
Milk. It may do a body good, but it drives a green mom crazy. At least the non-vegan green moms.
I started buying organic milk long before my pregnancy. Thanks to media attention, I was aware of the dangers of hormones in milk long before I considered the health or eco-implications of every single decision I make in the grocery store.
So, organic milk. That was easy.
Then my son was born and I went off the green end.
First, I worried about the plastic. Milk is not sold in glass bottles at any of my local grocery stores. I kept buying plastic jugs of milk and recycling the jugs all the while worrying about leaching.
Then I started to eat more locally sourced foods. I was thrilled when my twice-a-month veggie delivery added the option to buy milk from a local farm. Not certified organic, but a quick email to the farmer reassured me that the cows are mostly grass-fed, free of hormones and steroids, and given antibiotics only if they are sick. (Drawbacks: (1) the milk is more expensive, but then again it is delivered! (2) two weeks out of the month, I have two half-gallon jugs to recycle instead of one gallon jug.)
So, I started having local milk (pasteurized, non-homogenized) delivered every other week and buying organic milk (pasteurized and homogenized) at the store the alternating weeks. That was easy.
Then a friend mentioned she’d purchased milk from a farmer at her farmer’s market. He’d taken a great deal of time explaining to her the meaning of “pasteurized” and “homogenized.” And the health implications of “homogenized.”
Now, I’ve read about raw milk before. And with all the food recall scares, I opt to err on the side of paranoia and buy pasteurized milk. But I had not thought about what "homogenized" means in terms of health.
(In case you’re not familiar with the terms, homogenization is the process of reducing the size of fat molecules in milk so that the cream does not separate from the milk. Pasteurization is the process of heating milk to destroy bacteria. In many states, it is not legal to buy or sell non-pasteurized — or raw — milk for human consumption because of risks of contamination. On the other hand, raw milk proponents feel the added benefits of raw milk — including taste and higher vitamin content — outweigh risks. It really depends on the source of the milk, I think.)
Anyway, homogenized… According to my friend, the farmer explained that his milk was not homogenized and would separate. He did not want her to think that the milk was bad if she noticed separation. But he went on to say that non-homogenized milk is healthier. He said that our bodies digest the different size particles differently. He indicated that the smaller fat particles of homogenized milk are more likely to contribute to the clogging of our arteries and heart disease.
Obviously this farmer is biased toward his product, but my friend is a nurse practitioner and she said that it is an interesting theory.
So here we go again. More worrying. In spite of recent encouragement from Ruchi and The Conscious Shopper to focus on the positives. ☺
Here is what I found about homogenization:
Apparently, a Dr. Kurt Oster theorized that the homogenization of milk was causing an epidemic of heart disease. (The timing of the epidemic coincided with the widespread distribution of homogenized milk.) This theory was studied from the early 1960s until the mid-1980s and has been disproven.
You can read all about it in “Milk Homogenization and Heart Disease” by Mary G. Enig, PhD, who ends the article by saying,
“The fact that Oster's theory has been disproven does not mean that the homogenization process is benign. During homogenization there is a tremendous increase in surface area on the fat globules. The original fat globule membrane is lost and a new one is formed that incorporates a much greater portion of casein and whey proteins. This may account for the increased allergenicity of modern processed milk.”So I’ve now spent hours trying to find a non-biased, fairly easy-to-understand answer to my original homogenization question only to be told that even the scientists do not know what other questions I need to be worried about! I should’ve listened to Ruchi and The Conscious Shopper!
After reading about this subject, I'm inclined to look for the least processed milk that I can legally buy. I think that would be non-homogenized milk that is pasteurized using the vat process at 145 degrees. Anyone know something else I should know before I declare this my final answer?
Please note that the website hosting Enig’s article is by a company that advocates raw milk. I tried to find unbiased sources, but they were more technical and much longer. I think Enig’s article sums up what I found elsewhere, and I like her credentials.
Additional interesting information that I came across:
• Dairy products are sensitive to photo-oxidation. In other words, exposure to light causes quality deterioration, therefore many dairies prefer to bottle milk in opaque plastic bottles rather than glass. Light affects the vitamins and minerals, as well as the proteins, in milk. (A quick search at My Plastic-free Life reveals you can find milk in glass bottles, though. Do you buy in glass? Where? Notice any quality issues?)
If you are interested in reading varying perspectives about raw and processed milk, here are a few resources:
• The Weston A. Price Foundation maintains http://www.realmilk.com - includes sources for raw milk by state, should you be interested.
• Law firm Marler Clark maintains http://www.foodsafetynews.com. “Raw Milk: An Issue of Safety or Freedom?” is an interesting read.
Do you have any good sources of information about milk and the effects of processing or packaging? What is your take on raw milk, different levels of pasteurization, and homogenization?
* original photo by wwarby on Flickr