By: Arthur Anderson

I’m talking about basic cow’s milk.  I used to drink milk by the gallon.  But today milk is a different product.  I can’t help but ask why, if 7500 years ago our bodies adapted to the consumption of cow’s milk, today we have high levels of intolerance to milk consumption.  And why most milk from the store can’t be used for cheese making, something I started dabbling in.

Milk was consumed primarily in its raw form until the late 1800s/early 1900s.  At this time populations had grown to a point that farmers couldn’t get milk to market in a timely fashion which allowed for diseases like tuberculosis, diphtheria, and scarlet fever and harmful bacteria Salmonella, Listeria, Staphylococcus aureus, and Escherichia coli to flourish.  To address this issue commercial pasteurization was introduced into milk production.

Pasteurization is a simple process of heating milk to 145 dF for 30 minutes.  This process kills the bad pathogens and bacteria while preserving the ‘good’ bacteria in milk.  When I say ‘good’ bacteria I’m referring to beneficial bacteria.

Fast forward to today. The US population has grown about five times since the turn of the century.  The push to expedite milk processing and increase its shelf-life has led to use of UHT (Ultra pasteurization) as a method of milk pasteurization.  UHT heats milk up to 280 dF for a few seconds and then flash cools it.  This effectively kills ALL bacteria in the milk and provides it with several months of shelf stability compared to a couple weeks. Great, right? Maybe not.

This process includes the destruction of Lactobacillus, a bacteria important in digestion, the absorption of iron, folate and other nutrients and reduces inflammation; Bifidobacteria, a bacteria that makes up a large portion of the gut biome and aids in the digestion of lactose as well as in combination with the Lactobacillus bacteria has shown to lower cholesterol levels. Both these bacteria are primary ingredients in probiotic supplements.

Let’s go back to cheese making.  It was a head scratcher to me to why UHT would make milk unusable for cheese production. What I found is that the high heat process of UHT causes the proteins in milk to denature, essentially unravel. Because of this unraveling it can’t be used in the process of making cheese.  So if the bacteria responsible for making cheese can’t use these denatured proteins, what about our own digestive system.  Interestingly I ran across a studythat showed that the absorption of these proteins in the human body was different than that of lower temperature pasteurized milk.

Take away:  UHT is great at creating a shelf stable milk product, that still retains some of its nutritional qualities.  However, this is done at the expense of removed beneficial bacteria that aids in the digestion of lactose, the reduction of cholesterol, and the absorption of nutrients and proteins.  If you are a milk drinker look for local milk (for freshness) done with old fashioned pasteurization.  It will take a little research on your part, right now I have only found one local dairy that does this – Sandhill Dairy.

For those of you who want to get back into drinking milk or consuming quality dairy products, be aware that your gut biome may need some conditioning with probiotics before you get started.