Nutritional Foundations- Making the best of the regular grocery store, Part 3

Let's continue on with our tour of the conventional grocery store, and how to do the best we can with what's available to us…

Dairy

This is a tough one. The dairy at our local grocery store has unfortunately been dealt with rather poorly. First off, it has been pasteurized:

Pasteurization destroys enzymes,
diminishes vitamin content, denatures fragile milk proteins, destroys
vitamins C, B12 and B6, kills beneficial bacteria, promotes pathogens
and is associated with allergies, increased tooth decay, colic in infants,
growth problems in children, osteoporosis, arthritis, heart disease and
cancer.
(From Realmilk.com)

Not to mention, also being homogenized, which breaks up fat globules and may be a major contributing factor to heart disease and high cholesterol, in addition to the fact that it adds unnecessary processing to what is otherwise a whole, natural food.

So, what types of dairy are worth purchasing as we seek out a whole foods diet?


Ideally, raw milk is one of the ultimate "health foods" out there (along with other dairy products made from it- raw cheeses, cultured dairy such as kefir, yogurt and buttermilk, and beautiful yellow butter). I am all about creamy, unadulterated raw milk, straight from the farm. To find out if there are any sources of this liquid gold near you, you can check for it's availability by location.

What if raw milk isn't available to me?

If your only shopping options are conventional grocery stores (or even health food stores, depending where you live), chances are good that buying raw milk just isn't an option. Here are my suggestions for some of the healthier compromises:

Don't drink conventional milk

Now this is a difficult statement for many people. There are many foods that I would still encourage people to consume, whether they can get organic or the best quality or not. Unfortunately, milk is not one of them. If you cannot find unpasteurized milk (even if it's organic), I would suggest removing it from your diet in it's standard form (ie. straight from the jug).

What about alternatives? I know of only two alternatives that I feel good about. Soy milk is definitely NOT one of them (read this to find out why). Rice milk is also not such a great option, because it doesn't offer anything more than rice and water mixed together (and most of us eat plenty of grains as it is).

Almond or other nut milks (hazlenut, brazilnut, etc.) are one decent option. They offer some good protein, fat (yes, we need good fats!) and calcium, along with other nutrients contained in nuts. The only problem is that commercial nut milks are not made correctly. Nuts should be soaked or sprouted before being consumed, or they are much more difficult to digest, and contain phytates which inhibit mineral absorption. Making your own nut milks is a good possibility, as I have done and had good results with.

Another option I had not heard of until recently is Coconut Milk Tonic. Though I haven't tried this, it seems to be a great alternative, and has much to offer nutritionally. 

Focus on cultured dairy


If milk is out of the question, then make room for more cultured dairy in your diet. This would include yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, and even sour cream. The reason these products are more acceptable is that they have added bacteria cultures, which promote good digestion and a healthy intestinal tract, and are not associated with the same problems as drinking regular cow's milk.

Back in the days before I found raw milk, we ate a good variety of cheeses and sour cream, had plenty of yogurt in smoothies and for snacks, and I used buttermilk to replace milk in my cooking (sometimes yogurt makes a good substitute as well, if you water it down a bit).

Since the cost of my raw milk is rather insane, I still buy organic pasteurized milk (when it goes on clearance due to it's expiry date) and use that to make all of my yogurt and kefir (because culturing the milk adds back in many of the benefits that the pasteurization removed). I can even stock up on it and make huge batches (both keep well in the fridge) or freeze the milk to have on hand for later.

When buying cheeses…


I prefer to stick to white cheese, to avoid the food coloring that goes into orange cheese. It's just totally unnecessary, and most good cheeses come un-dyed (you can get incredible white cheddars).

I tend to avoid standard cream cheese, as it's rather fake and not a very close cousin to the real, traditional cream cheese. I do buy cottage cheese sometimes. I never, ever (and recommend that you don't ever, ever!) buy processed cheese slices or spread, any Velveeta or Cheese Whiz or anything like that. They are, quite simply, very processed and no longer offer the nutrition of regular cheese (but they do offer a host of other things your body doesn't need or want!).

Say no thanks to margarine


Along with it's hydrogenated fats and trans fats, margarine is made up of rancid vegetable oils, as well as soy protein and other additives and coloring that are completely unnatural. There is nothing redeeming about margarine.

Butter, though it has been made out to be a villain, is full of healthful nutrients (Vitamins A, D and E), plus anti-oxidants, good cholesterol, beneficial fatty acids, iodine (for healthy thyroid glands), and more. If you're not convinced yet that butter is, in fact, not the enemy but rather a healthful food to be embraced, read this article, Why Butter is Better. Another good read is Kimi's post on butter and good sources of the best butter.

What if you can't get organic

Naturally, organic is ideal and many grocery stores are jumping on that bandwagon these days. Dairy that is not organic most likely contains hormones and/or antibiotics that have been given to the cows who often get sick, have infections and are expected to produce much higher quantities of milk than they can naturally produce. In addition, it does not contain the same spectrum of nutrients due to the inferior diets of conventionally raised cows (who receive very little, if any, pasture time where they are able to eat fresh, green grass).

If yours store doesn't carry organic dairy you can still enjoy these products, knowing that the items I have mentioned above are a reasonable compromise. Personally, I would encourage you to limit your dairy somewhat if you are not buying organic, and find other ways to get more of your protein, calcium, good fats, etc. Nuts and seeds (especially almonds and sesame seeds), dark leafy greens (including cruciferous greens like broccoli), and free-range eggs (no calcium, but great protein and fats) are excellent ways to boost your diet without dairy. (Edit: I should have added Cod Liver Oil to this list, for it's amazing Vit A and D content, as well as essential fatty acids!)

This series will take a short hiatus while I'm on vacation, and will pick up in a few weeks as I continue to work my way through the conventional grocery store… I'll be tackling meat and poultry and eggs, the bakery, and those pesky inner aisles, so stay tuned!

About Stephanie Langford

Stephanie Langford has a passion for sharing ideas and information for homemakers who want to make healthy changes in their homes, and carefully steward all that they've been given. She has written three books geared to helping families live more naturally and eat real, whole foods, without being overwhelmed, without going broke and with simple meal planning. She is the creator of Keeper of the Home.

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Comments

  1. Registered Dietitian says:

    I am curious to know the source of your information. Especially the information on raw milk consumption, specifically, “promotes pathogens and is associated with allergies, increased tooth decay, colic in infants, growth problems in children, osteoporosis, arthritis, heart disease and cancer.” Could you please name the pathogens it PROMOTES? How does pasteurizaion specifically increase osteoporosis, tooth decay, and allergies? I am just very curious to read this peer-reviewed journal article. I am additionally interested in reading the source leading to the statment that homogenization commonly leads to heart disease. While raw milk consumption may not be harmful, it saddens me when information that contains so many fallacies is presented to the public by people who may have the best of intentions, but no background in nutrition, food science, food safety, microbiology, or biochemistry. This MISinformation is why eating healthy and natural is so confusing for people trying to live a healthy lifestyle, provide food sources that are optimal for their family, and also avoid harmful additives that are commonly found in our food supply, including preservatives, hormones, emulsifiers etc. I completely advocate for trying to eat a natural and organic diet, but making false claims that have no basis in evidence-based research or practice is unethical. As a registered dietitian, I devote my life to educating anyone and everyone on the benefits of a healthy, natural, and even organic diet free of harmful additives. I am a Christian as well, and I pray for those individuals that struggle with finding a way to feed their family in the most healthful way in a world bombarded with misinformtion heresay.

  2. Thank you for the information on dairy. This week I finally found raw milk at an Amish diary for $2.50 a gallon!! That is less then traditional milk. The only problem is that I am very nervous to let the kids drink it. I have been raised by a nurse mother who is convinced that raw milk is very dangerous. I know it is better, but it is so hard to let go of the things I have been told for 28 years. Is it truely safe to use? My father-in-law was raised on a dairy farm and said he grew up drinking milk straight from the cow. How common is food poisoning from drinking raw milk.

  3. Very thorough coverage of this topic. I will be linking to your post soon as I was wanting to discuss this very thing. I would recommend that quality coconut milk is the best option beyond raw cow or goat’s milk, because even organic milk has been pasteurized or often times even ultra-pasteurized in addition to be being homogenized.

  4. Great post!

    I know I drink more pasturized/homogenized milk than I should, but I just love milk and haven’t been able to find a reasonably-priced alternative around here. It is something I have been thinking a lot more about now that I am pregnant though… The plan is to someday have a dairy goat when we are able to move out of town (We already have chickens in the backyard, but I do think the neighbors might object to a goat:-)

    I have always used real butter and can’t image why anyone wouldn’t. It is soooooo much tastier than margerine. Yuck! And I always figured when in doubt, go for the least processed, most natural option.

    To anyone who might still be considering soy milk as an alternative, please do your research… Soy has been found to be a mild thyroid supressant and is NOT recommended for those of us with a thyroid disorders or a family history of thyroid problems.

  5. Thank you for this wonderful post!!!! I found it interesting that you could use the past. milk, as I often find it at the discount store…..I will have to try this with my next kefir batch….
    Thanks again….

  6. I have a question, actually several. We live overseas and cannot get raw milk (it’s illegal). My husband likes milk in his coffee. Is cream a better option, even if it’s pasteurized? Also, is normal butter ok, even if it’s not organic? Is it ok to eat yogurt I have made from store-bought pasteurized milk? I really appreciate your site and all the information you give. I can’t do everything yet, but little by little I hope to incorporate much of what you talk about here. Oh, one more question on a different topic–aside from meat, what is a good source of iron for babies? My 7 month old is eating some fruits and veggies, but I’m not sure how to incorporate broth and/or meat into his diet. (I know you use liver, but I would not consider that due to the quality of meat here.) Thanks again for all your help!

  7. Michelle – we use raw goat’s milk instead of cow. Our kids have some sensitivity to cow milk so we only use butter and fermented cow dairy. But the goat’s milk is supposed to have a protein that is easier to digest as well as good fat content. S if you have access, go with it! It’s way better than pastuerized cow milk.
    Jennifer – have you tried goat milk for your kids’ allergies? Are they true allergies or just digestive sensitivities? I’ve found with mine that they were sensitive to cow milk but ok to drink Goat milk. I agree that the nuts milks are better than the soy (but do your own research – Stephanie has a good link).
    This is a great post – very informative! I hope that some who are nervous about raw milk can do the research and see how safe it really is! The benefits are immense and I could NEVER drink the store stuff again. Thanks Stephanie!

  8. Melissa, I can understand your concern about the price- it’s very pricey for us, too. Because I’m really convinced about the health benefits, I’ve made the sacrifice in our budget to do it and I’m glad that I did. As far as the bacteria concerns, my husband was concerned about that so I’ve looked into it a fair bit. Check out my post on the safety of raw milk:
    http://www.keeperofthehome.org/2008/01/is-raw-milk-rea.html

    Faith, in my grocery store the clearance milk is with the other milk, and they put a 1/2 price sticker on it (it’s bright pink, so it’s hard to miss!). I’ve seen the same thing in some other stores. However, some places put their discounted dairy in an area slightly away from where it usually would be- try asking a store clerk if they discount dairy and where it is located. Also, your store may not discount it, but I’ve found over and over again that if I find milk near expiry, and find a staff member to politely ask, they will discount it just for me. It’s always worth it to ask!

    M, I don’t know much about hemp milk and it’s nutritional value, but thanks for adding that option in. I’ll have to look into it!

    Alison, that sounds so yummy! I haven’t tried it, though I’ve made my own (but it’s just not the same as store bought, so I was disappointed). Maybe I’ll get some while I’m down in Seattle!

    Jennifer, I can totally understand how much harder allergies make it! We’ve dealt with our fair share of allergies as well. Have you considered using almond milk, or is your daughter allergic to nuts as well? Almond milk has good calcium and protein, plus some fats as well. If she can’t have nuts, I would personally steer clear of the soy and stick to a good rice milk instead. Allergies like those are tough, so good for you to do your best to find good alternatives! :)

  9. I like this series. My problem is my dd who is 7 has a dairy, egg and beef allergy. So as for options for her to drink and use in baking and on cereal my only 2 really are rice milk and soy milk. The rice milk I buy is fortified with stuff that she doesn’t get enough of due to her food allergies. It is just really hard to find a good alternative to getting her calcium, protein, omega-3 nutrients, etc when dealing with her allergies. I am just happy that she will drink 1 cup of soy milk each day.

  10. I just discovered that Organic Valley makes cultured (imagine that!), organic cream cheese, and I am SO excited about it. I found it in my grocery store a couple of weeks ago. Have you tried this stuff before? It’s fantastic!

  11. You forgot hemp milk! In the US, there are two varieties, Living Harvest and Manitoba Harvest. Hemp milk has an excellent ratio of omegas, is creamy, and tasty!

  12. Where do you look in your grocery stores for milk that is on clearance? I have never found it anywhere.

  13. We’ve struggled with the whole milk issue a lot. Right now we are buying “gently” pasteurized (I’m not sure what that means, exactly but it’s what they say) non-homogenized milk from a small, local dairy. It’s delivered in glass milk bottles and tastes sooo much better than anything store bought. I felt like the non-homogenized part was really important, and my kids love milk so much I couldn’t cut it out of our diet. I just found a source for raw milk that is actually cheaper than this milk, so I’m going down to the farm on Friday to check it out! I’m so excited!

  14. Thanks for a post with so much information in it!

  15. Wow, this was very interesting. I have to admit, I can’t get over the whole “don’t buy milk if you can’t get it raw” thing. My family drinks a ton of milk and my one year old just got put on whole milk. I’ve heard and read so much about how milk is so good for you. I don’t have the option of raw milk around here and even the organic stuff is soooo expensive. I’ve also read why milk is pasteurized and that raw milk has bad bacteria in it and can make you sick. I’m still not convicted yet to try raw milk or stop buying regualr milk but I do appreciate your posts on it.I’m so glad you posted about butter. We just switched to only using butter and not any spreads or margerine. The article was super helpful and makes me feel a lot better about that switch. I grew up on spreads and my mother was completely against butter since it was supposed to be “so bad for you”. I continue to enjoy your information and take what I can at this point in my life and use it. Have a wonderful vacation. You deserve it!!

  16. This is a challenging post for me… I don’t like to hear that my grocery store clearanced milk isn’t a good thing. ;-) THANK YOU for the information, though. I did take the plunge and switch to butter several months ago, but I’ve got lots more thinking and researching to do!

  17. Thanks for this series! Everything is so confusing and finding a dairy or creamery around me is down right impossible! (Northern suburb of Mpls., MN). I did find a goat dairy very near me – any thoughts on goats milk? I have never tried it. We actually don’t drink milk, just have it on our cereal and use it for baking.

    You hear soy is good, then you hear soy is bad. It is SO hard to know what to believe – you sort of feel like you can’t win either way!