There are a few important terms to understand when talking about milk:
Ahimsa. Ahimsa is a Sanskrit word with many connotations, but its root meaning is basically “nonviolence” or “without harm.” It is used to refer to milk from cows that are happy and loved and will never be killed. Such milk is rather rare to find because even the organic dairy farms send their cows to slaughter when they grow too old to produce milk. Nevertheless, throughout the world there are compassionate no-kill farms with Adopt-a-Cow programs.
Organic. Refers to milk from cows not treated with synthetic hormones and antibiotics or fed with GMO and pesticide-loaded grains.
Grass-fed/pasture-raised. Refers to milk from cows fed their natural food—grass and hay. A study conducted by the USDA has determined that pasture-fed cows produce milk containing as much as five times the level of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a known anti-carcinogen, as cows managed in confined housing.
Conventional. Refers to milk produced in factory farms where the cows are often mistreated, fed unnatural GMO grains (and even chicken beaks, junk food, or sawdust!), injected with hormones and antibiotics, and brutally slaughtered as soon as they stop giving milk.
Raw. Refers to unprocessed milk with all its nutrients, bacteria, and proteins preserved. Currently, ten states allow the retail sale of raw milk. In the rest of the United States, sales regulations vary. Check www.farmtoconsumer.org for details. Uncooked raw milk is best digested when it is still warm and frothy, immediately after milking the cow. Refrigerated raw milk is best digested when boiled, ideally with spices. Make sure the farm you’re getting your raw milk from follows proper farming and hygiene standards.
Pasteurized. Pasteurization is a process of heating milk at high temperature to reduce the risk of milk contamination with pathogens and to extend its shelf life. The process denatures milk proteins and makes casein (milk’s primary protein) difficult to digest. It also destroys lactase, the enzyme that helps us digest lactose, reduces the vitamin content in the milk, and makes its calcium difficult for a human body to absorb. Avoid the ultrapasteurized milk that can be stored unrefrigerated for up to nine months!
Homogenized. Homogenization is the processing of milk by breaking down (and damaging) its fats and distributing them throughout the milk so that the cream is permanently mixed in, which extends its shelf life. The larger and differentiated fat globules in raw milk hold the nutrients and lactose and cause slower absorption in the gut because they’re more complex to break down. The faster absorption of homogenized milk is more shocking to the digestive system and can lead to greater chance of lactose intolerance and inflammation.
Unhomogenized. Also labeled as “cream on top” or “creamline”; refers to milk that is pasteurized but not homogenized; available in health food stores across the country.
Fortified. Refers to pasteurized milk with added vitamins A and D. These vitamins are often synthetic, and according to some natural health practitioners, the body treats them as toxins. No fortified food can replace the naturally occurring vitamins in whole, unadulterated foods.
Whole. Refers to full-fat milk, closest to the way it comes from the cow.
Low-fat or skim (nonfat). Refers to milk that is processed to reduce or eliminate fat. Such milk is much harder to digest. A lot of the milk’s nutrients are lipid-soluble, so removing the fat from the milk also lowers its essential nutrient content. Regular consumption of low-fat milk is associated with osteopenia (thin bones) and osteoporosis (very frail bones).
Colostrum. The milk a cow gives immediately after giving birth. Ayurveda recommends that during the first week after birth, the colostrum milk should be reserved for the baby calf only—it is its rightful claim.