Be honest, now — where does your dairy come from?
If you’re like most people, the answer is, “The store.” That is, regular ol’ milk, cheese, and butter. Maybe not even “butter,” but margarine. Honestly, we can do better than that. This will be an easy change, too, once you learn more about it. (Mostly because there are a lot more options now for quality dairy almost anywhere — that was not the case when we started on our real food journey five years ago.)
Why does it matter? Why might we want to avoid store-bought milk and cheese? Let’s find out!
What’s Wrong with Dairy?
I’ll be honest: when it comes to food, animal products concern me more than produce. I try much harder to find ‘clean’ and healthy options here and am much less likely to compromise than I am with fruits and veggies. Why? Because whatever is on the food the animal is fed (grains/veggies) gets concentrated in their fat — which then gets into the meat, milk, eggs, and everything made from it. Plus, if the animal has been fed an unhealthy diet, then the problems are compounded further.
Studies have shown that conventional produce still has benefits which may outweigh any risks (depending on the item), but conventional meat and even milk has been shown to be more harmful than beneficial in many cases. But that only applies to conventional items.
It’s also true that many conventional dairy items now have unnecessary additives that make them less healthy — even where you wouldn’t expect.
Let’s take a closer look.
Most cows today are raised on conventional farms, which have very crowded conditions. They need the animals to grow quickly and produce a large amount of milk. A healthy, natural cow will produce around 3 – 4 gallons per day. Specially bred Holstein cows who are also pumped full of growth hormones will produce closer to 10 gallons per day. This is not healthy for the cow — or you. The amount of nutrients per serving is lowered (because the cow only has so much to give and it’s spread over a larger amount of milk) and there are trace growth hormones left in the milk.
These growth hormones have been said to be responsible, in part, for early puberty in children. There have been reports of children showing signs of development — breast buds, starting their periods — as early as age 4! We were simply not meant to have these hormones in our systems, especially not in the large amounts that occur when we eat 3 – 4 servings of dairy daily as recommended.
Because cows are needed to grow quickly and are in crowded, unhealthy conditions, they’re pumped full of prophylatic antibiotics. (That means they’re given all the time, not just when the cow is sick.) Roughly 80% of the total antibiotic use in this country is on conventional farms! Since we know that antibiotic resistance is a serious issue, reducing our consumption of foods that contain antibiotics is a good way to help stop this problem. That antibiotic-laced milk is destroying your healthy gut flora.
Cows are meant to be fed grass. Many also supplement with barley or barley grass, molasses, etc. depending on breed and season, but they are meant to be primarily grass-fed. They are ruminants.
But, cows will eat just about anything. In conventional operations, they’re fed GMO corn and soy — and that’s if they’re lucky. A lot of cows are fed “bakery waste” from factories, or corn chips, or even gum. Yes, really — I’ve spoken to farmers about this. They feed whatever is cheapest.
Naturally, this does not produce healthy, nourishing milk.
This issue has to do with the products made with the milk. These days, you’ll see:
- Corn syrup in yogurt
- “Natural flavors” in plain old butter
- Aspartame in flavored milks
- Artificial colors and flavors in flavored milks and yogurts
There have been documented issues with corn syrup (causes additional weight gain over cane sugar), aspartame (can cause headaches, weight gain, and more), and artificial colors (can cause hyperactivity and behavior problems). These are not things that we want to be consuming, or that we want our children to be consuming.
Okay, that’s all overwhelming. So what do we do about it?
Dairy Options: Good, Better, and Best
It’s time to upgrade your dairy. Which option you choose will depend on what is available in your area and what you are comfortable with. Any of these are better than the “usual” stuff!
Choose dairy products that are hormone- and antibiotic-free, and which have minimal ingredients. There are a number of options like this in most grocery stores now. You will find a lot of them labeled as “hormone and antibiotic free.” Plain yogurt almost always has few ingredients and is a fairly good option — you can add some honey or maple syrup and some fresh berries to sweeten it yourself at home.
I was recently introduced to Yulu yogurt, which definitely falls into this category. They only use milk and cream to make their full-fat yogurt options, and sweeten with real cane sugar. They also add real fruit to flavor it. It’s also rich and creamy — they call it Aussie-style yogurt. It’s kind of like Greek yogurt, but it’s not as sour and it’s actually whole milk. (Most all Greek yogurt is non-fat, which I hate!) This is a big step up, especially if you are a fan of Greek-style yogurts. My boys loved it. And, it’s available at many regular grocery stores.
I really like that the dairy products in this category, including Yulu, are widely available and easily affordable. Some people cannot double their budget to buy higher quality dairy products right now, and that’s fine. For a long time we simply bought store brand yogurt that was plain and unprocessed forms of cheese and called it good.
Choose dairy products that are organic. Almost every store now has their own organic line now — I know that Giant Eagle, Kroger, Aldi, Costco, and other stores offer it. This is no longer hard to find — thankfully! It can be more expensive, though, so if your family goes through a lot of milk it could push your budget up. Plus, most stores don’t necessarily carry any organic cheese. (And organic butter is really expensive too — $4 – $5/lb.)
I do choose to prioritize this area and don’t mind spending a little more here, but it’s up to you to choose.
The very best dairy is grass-fed and either low-temp-pasteurized or raw. Raw, meaning, unpasteurized. (No, it’s not dangerous. Read here to find out more.) Kerrygold is one of the best brands of butter out there (and you can find it at Costco for a pretty good price). The best place to get milk is from a local farm, where you can actually talk to the farmer and see the cows and know you are getting the very best product.
Budget-wise, I find that in my area, raw dairy is actually cheaper than store-bought organic options. But, it’s not available in all areas, so that will affect your choice. Plus, some people feel weird about consuming raw dairy. Anecdotally, we’ve been buying it from three different farms for almost five years, and I actually prefer it and feel safer with it than with pasteurized milk. When pasteurized milk gets contaminated or goes bad, it’s bad and likely to make you sick. Raw milk has naturally occurring bacteria that prevents contamination in many cases and which naturally sours it. Sour raw milk isn’t palatable to many (but it’s fine to drink) and it’s good for baking.
If you have questions about raw dairy, feel free to ask.
What We Choose
The truth? We choose a mix of dairy products from all these categories.
The milk we choose falls into the ‘best’ category, as does the butter. If I buy heavy cream, it is in the ‘better’ category. Yogurt is either in the ‘good’ or ‘better’ category depending on whether or not there is a sale on organic yogurt that week. Cheese is usually from the ‘good’ category. It’s completely fine to do this — we work with what’s available to us and what we can afford.
I like to buy the better brands of yogurt for my boys, especially the individual flavored cups, as an occasional treat. They love that! It’s kind of a bit of grocery-day fun. They were very happy to see the Yulu yogurt I brought home for them last weekend.
Do the best you can — resolve to choose at least one dairy item that’s a step up from your usual choices this week!
What kind of dairy does your family choose?
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Yulu. The opinions and text are all mine.