Home Blog Is Dairy Healthy? The Whole Story – Part 3

Is Dairy Healthy? The Whole Story – Part 3

Written on September 13, 2011 at 7:24 pm, by Eric Cressey

Today marks the third and final installment of Brian St. Pierre’s guest series on dairy consumption. In Part 1 and Part 2, he covered a lot of ground on the total health impact of dairy foods. If you missed them, I highly suggest reading these before you continue here with Part 3.

Pasteurization – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I am going to assume that you all know that pasteurization is the method by which milk is heated to destroy bacteria that may cause harm, as I am not going to get into technicalities of what it is and the different techniques available. Anyway, it does seem all well and good right? It destroys harmful bacteria, making contamination almost impossible.  Is it really all it is cracked up to be, though?

When Louis Pasteur came up with the process, our food production was terrible. Sanitation was poor, and (thanks to Pastuer) we’d really just begun to understand that germs caused illness.  Animals (like cows) were not brought up in pristine conditions.  Folks were starting to mass-milk cows in these unsanitary conditions, too – so there was certainly an increased likelihood of getting sick and ending up with serious health problems, as medicine back then surely wasn’t what it is today.

This was before the creation of the FDA or any other food regulatory system, and before Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle showcased to the nation how disgusting our food production was (incidentally, that book led to the creation of the FDA, but that is beyond the scope of this article). It is completely logical to believe that pasteurization was a huge breakthrough, and a necessity at the time of its inception. At the time, pasteurized milk was safer than raw. The question is though, is that still the case today?

Let me back up a second and talk about glutathione, our body’s master antioxidant. Glutathione has many important functions:

  • Neutralizes free radicals and peroxides
  • Maintains blood levels of antioxidants vitamins C and E
  • Helps the liver and white blood cells in the detoxification of foreign compounds and carcinogens
  • Is essential for the optimized immune function
  • Plays a key role in a plethora of metabolic and biological processes like DNA synthesis, protein synthesis, prostaglandin synthesis and more.

We know that whey protein’s cysteine content is responsible for much of its ability to boost glutathione, but not all of it. This ability may also come from two biological fractions found in whey: beta-lactoglobulin and serum albumin. These proteins contain some very special glutamyl-cysteine bonds that tend to enter our blood stream intact, and are much more readily turned into glutathione. Unfortunately, it seems that when whey protein undergoes extensive heat treatment, these two delicate fractions are destroyed.

This is not only problem in whey protein powder processing, but also with pasteurizing milk. In fact, pasteurization in general decreases the whey protein concentration in milk. The heat causes the proteins to denature and associate with the casein proteins. The higher the temperature – as when milk is ultra-pasteurized – the greater the denaturing of whey.

In fact, whey normally makes up about 20% of the protein in raw milk. Gentle pasteurization (high temperature, short time) causes this to drop down to about 12-13%, while ultra-pasteurization causes whey to fall to only about 5% of the total protein content!

On top of that, exposing raw milk to different heat treatments also affected those delicate biological fractions of whey.  In raw milk, beta-lactoglobulin makes up almost 90% of the whey protein. After gentle pasteurization, it makes up just under 70%, and after ultra-pasteurization it drops down to just over 20%!

In addition to the beta-lactoglobulin, serum albumin levels are also affected by pasteurization. Gentle pasteurization has been found to decrease serum albumin levels by 40%, while ultra-pasteurization reduced it by 77%!

After reviewing the evidence, does raw milk seem healthier? I would say one could make a very strong argument that this is the case. Is raw milk any less safe?  This is also debatable, but in my opinion it is probably only an issue for pregnant and nursing moms, as well as young children.  For them, I am hesitant to recommend raw milk, regardless of the potential benefits.  For everyone else, the choice is yours – if your state allows it.

Whole Fat Milk Leads to Greater Muscle Growth?

I haven’t discussed the role of dairy in muscle growth yet in spite of the fact that it’s surely of interest to you – so let’s get to it now. Researchers compared skim milk to whole milk in the post-training period to see which would produce greater anabolic effects.  They pitted 14oz of skim milk against 8oz of whole milk, to make them calorically equal.  Theoretically, the results should be even or in the favor of skim milk, since it had six more grams of protein.  The research actually showed that whole milk was more effective than skim, despite the lower protein content and equal total calories.

Another notch in favor of whole-fat over fat-free, and while it is just one study, at the very least it seems clear that fat (specifically milk fat), is certainly not going to inhibit results if consumed post-training.

In Conclusion

If you made it this far, I applaud you, as this was an absolute beast of an article. You have just read almost 3,000 words on dairy, so give yourself a little pat on the back.

In my mind, and from the totality of the data, it is clear that if you choose to consume dairy (and I’m not even saying you have to) your best bet for health and body composition purposes would be whole-fat, grass-fed and lightly pasteurized (or raw) options.

However, finding companies that make such products can often be difficult. To make matters worse, not all organic dairy options are created equal, and not all are even grass-fed. In fact, many organic dairies produce milk and dairy that is no better than conventionally-produced grain fed options.  To find out whether the organic dairy available to you is of high quality, or even grass-fed, check out this report from the Cornucopia Institute. It will provide you with national and local organic dairy options, as well as how much time their cows spend on pasture, whether they receive antibiotics and more.

For example, Organic Valley and Whole Foods 365 are two brands that are available nationally and received good reviews. In contrast, Horizon, the largest organic dairy producer, would not even provide their information to the Cornucopia Institute. I don’t know about you, but I am not willing to consume food from a company that is not transparent about its production practices.

In the end, the choices are yours, so choose wisely.


Douglas F, Greenberg R, Farrell H, Edmondson L. Effects of ultra-high-temperature pasteurization on milk proteins. J Agri Food Chem. 1981 29(1):11-15

Morales F, Romero C, Jiménez-Pérez S. Characterization of industrial processed milk by analysis of heat-induced changes. Inter J Food Sci Tech. March 2000 35(2):193–200

Elliot TA, Cree MG, Sanford AP, Wolfe RR, Tipton KD.  Milk ingestion stimulates net muscle protein synthesis following resistance exercise.  Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2006 Apr;38(4):667-74.

About the Author

Brian St. Pierre is a Certified Sports Nutritionist (CISSN) and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). He received his degree in Food Science and Human Nutrition with a focus in Human Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Maine, and he is currently pursuing his Master’s degree in Human Nutrition and Dietetics from the same institution. He was the Nutritionist and a Strength and Conditioning Coach at Cressey Performance in Hudson, MA for three years. He is also the author of the Show and Go Nutrition Guide, the accompanying nutrition manual to Eric Cressey’s Show and Go Training System.

With his passion for seeing his clients succeed, Brian is able to use his knowledge, experience, and energy to create highly effective training and nutrition programs for clients of any age and background. For more information, check out his website.

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34 Responses to “Is Dairy Healthy? The Whole Story – Part 3”

  1. Rees Says:

    Great series.

  2. R Smith Says:

    I’m convinced. Thanks for a great series, Brian

  3. Dave Says:

    Here in Virginia we have the FREEDOM to purchase raw milk. We buy our milk from a farm, so we can witness the milking process, and most importantly, the sanitation of that process, which I feel is the most important factor in choosing to consume raw milk.
    This was a valuable, informative series that should receive wide dissemination.
    Thank you, Brian.

  4. JP Says:

    Hey Brian (or others),

    Do you have a brand or supplier of whey protein (powder) that you recommend? Is there specific wording that I should look for?

    Thanks. -JP

  5. Payam Says:

    Why is whole milk better than skim for muscle growth? You mention that it is, and that you would expect skim to be better, but you don’t say the reason that whole actually is better

  6. Mike Westerdal Says:

    Great job on this article series. Appreciate you writing it up. I’ll have to check out that report to see if the organic brands I’ve been buying are up to par. Mike

  7. Brian St. Pierre Says:

    Rees, R Smith and Dave,



    I personally recommend Jay Robb. It is low-temp processed, from mostly grass-fed cows, has no artificial sweeteners, taste good and can be had a reasonable price. There are other companies out there with similar products (one world, blue bonnet, whey cool, etc), I am just more familiar with the Jay Robb brand.


    The researchers were unsure themselves. They went through a list of options but dismissed them all. My simple theory is you are comparing a (mostly) whole food to a more highly processed one. May or may not be the case, but maybe it has something to do with the CLA, vitamin K2, trans-palmitoleate, or some other fat-soluble component that we are not yet even aware of. Regardless, in this instance it just was.


  8. Jason Says:


    In your article you state that you hesitant to recommend raw milk for pregnant or nursing mothers or children. I wanted to let you know that my 2.5 year old son has been drinking raw milk since he was 5 months old with no ill effect. My wife continued to consume raw milk while pregnant and while nursing both of my sons. When my wife started to have issues nursing my first son we turned to a raw milk formula and my son thrived on it. With our second son my wife again had issues nursing so we turned to the raw milk formula. He seemed to not do as well on it as our first son, so we turned to goats milk and now he is doing great.

    I just wanted to share my experience with raw milk with you and to let you know that clean raw milk can be safe for everyone!

  9. Mark Says:

    While the articles were great and helpful, your comments in the end take some of the air out of it for me. The fact that many brands calling themselves organic may, in fact, be no better in their practices than the mass produced brands is what concerns me. I guess that we consumers have to be on guard! Thanks again for this series!

  10. george siegfried, d.c., n.d. Says:

    I enjoyed your article and the research and biochemistry.

    Have you read the Pottenger Cat Studies? Or seen his 20 minute video? THe evidence is clear: raw milk is superior.

    Also Dr. Weston Price, DDS, studies and book from the Price/Pottenger Foundation. Were you introduced to these great scientists at school?

  11. John Says:

    Great article. I was surpised to see Horizon on the not so good list since it is the pervasive brand in the stores. Should have guessed since it is mass produced.
    You don’t mention Bang’s disease from raw milk. A friend of mine contracted it from his own cow no less. It was really debilitating. Any thoughts on that?
    If anyone wants more info on grass fed vs. grain factory fed products and how the corn industry has reshaped Agriculture (read that as ruined) read Omnivore’s Dilema. It is a great book that is a very easy read on the whole “organic vs. grass fed” differences and the factory fed industry.

  12. Bryan Says:

    Only baby cows should drink cows milk. Humans are the only mammal that drinks the milk of another mammal and the only one that drinks milk after being weened. Not to mention that milk causes a decrease in the bodies Ph which causes the body to leach calcium from the bones to buffer the acid.

  13. James Cipriani Says:

    How I missed the first parts of this series, I have no idea. But this last part has me intrigued and needing to go back and catch up.

  14. Randy Says:

    I read recently that the homogenization process most commercially available milk goes through does something to the milk fat which makes it less healthy. Is this true? Would that make fat-free a better choice than whole milk…assuming you have to buy typical grocery store milk?

  15. Sweeny Says:

    I just started on GOMAD diet so it was a relief when i found out cows in australia are predominantly grass fed

    Top series mate ill be forwarding this to all the milk haters and checking your website on the regular from now on


  16. Marie Says:

    I milk a couple Jerseys and consume and sell the milk. All my children drink the milk, from ages 1 to 5. I drink it when I’m pregnant. Personally I think the pregnant and young children are the ones who most benefit from consuming raw milk as they are the ones who need the best nutrition and need to avoid the hormones and antibiotics that can be in commercial milk. This is an interesting article http://www.foxnews.com/health/2011/09/14/kids-who-drink-raw-milk-have-less-asthma-allergies/ Though of course they have to have the same disclaimer.

  17. Marie Says:

    Oh, and where I live I have to sell my milk for animal use… Frustrating, but it works 🙂

  18. Chad Waterbury Says:

    Excellent series!

  19. M Castaneda, DC, BA, CFT Says:

    Thanks, Chad, for spreading the word on quality (real) milk (food) and the problems with our (junk) system food. Having shared this valuable information with patients for years now, it is encouraging to see it become more widely acknowledged and shared by opinion leaders such as yourself! All the best, DrC

  20. Lindsay Says:

    Hey Chad,

    Thanks for the great articles. It really explains A LOT in detail as it’s hard for my clients to understand the benefits of RAW. I’m a mother of one and am expecting next week, and I will let you know that I eat Raw Cheese and Raw Keifer. I also am intaking 60% RAW and 40% cooked. Before the baby, I was 85/15. I’ve never had any problems with Raw cheese or milk. Though, it is VERY hard to find raw cheese and milk since the government does not allow it (pretty ridiculous huh?) Have you seen the documentary ‘Forks Over Knives’? I HIGHLY recommend you watch it. It touches base on the dairy side and meat side. It goes over how we have the HIGHEST numbers in breast cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease, and of course other amounts of cancer. But it’s because we depend so much on animal foods for protein sources. They did a 12 + year study on individuals who were on their deathbed with cancers and heart disease. Here’s what they found: they were able to REVERSE breast cancer, prostate cancer, thyroid cancer, heart disease, etc., by eating a plant based diet. Geeeeeeee, it’s like DUH! Check it out!

  21. ws Says:

    “The research actually showed that whole milk was more effective than skim, despite the lower protein content and equal total calories.”

    This isn’t actually true. If you read the study, there was no significant difference between the iso-caloric skim and whole milk. Mean uptake of phenylalanine was actually (non-significantly) higher in the iso-caloric skim. That isn’t a great measure of whether whole milk is better at building muscle, anyway. Ideally, you’d want to follow people over time to see if they actually gained muscle or not – there may be weird things we don’t know about in whole/raw milk that hinder muscle growth over time! We just don’t know! The evidence is very thin either way.

    Honestly, I doubt skim/whole/raw makes a big difference. Maybe you’ll gain an ounce more muscle or something? I bet it’s more psychological than anything else – if you think you’re drinking the right one, you probably are!

  22. ws Says:

    “But it’s because we depend so much on animal foods for protein sources. They did a 12 + year study on individuals who were on their deathbed with cancers and heart disease. Here’s what they found: they were able to REVERSE breast cancer, prostate cancer, thyroid cancer, heart disease, etc., by eating a plant based diet. Geeeeeeee, it’s like DUH! Check it out!”

    As a cancer researcher, it hurts my eyes to see things like this. I read damn near every study that comes out, and there is nothing like that in the literature. I devote my life to trying to find ways to cure and prevent cancer, and I would love it if it were that easy – just eat plants and cancer will magically disappear! – but it is not the case. I’ve watched plenty of people try everything in their power to fight cancer – dietary change, every crazy theory they could possibly try – and it pains me to see smart people believe that simply eating plants is all it takes. Cancer is very complicated, and lots of people who are much, much, much smarter than I work tirelessly to find something that will help, even a little bit. It is not that simple.

  23. Markus Says:

    Fans of true grass-fed milk should keep in mind that there is very little of it available, simply because of the need to feed cows something else during the winter, when there is no grass pasture accessible to herds. Even if the winter feed is silage or dried fodder and not grain (which is rare), tests have shown that the small omega-3 and CLA contents of the milk are reduced. In short, milk that is labeled “grass fed” is not really going to add much of these two fatty acids.

    Another point that Brian mentions is the denaturation of whey proteins via heat pasteurization, yet this is also overstated. The typical HTST pasteurization process he mentioned has been shown in dairy science tests to cause less than 5% denaturation of whey proteins. (Ultrapasteurization, which can destroy a greater percentage of the bioactive fractions of milk, is used primarily to make the long-shelf-life boxed milk that fewer people drink.) Needless to say, denaturation causes no harm to the amino acids in whey, since they make those acids more easily digestible.

    In terms of whey powders, the cold-temperature microfiltration used in most whey isolate processing these days actually retains many of the healthy aspects of whey proteins.

    It should be noted that Jay Robb, whose product Brian recommends, has refused to give researchers (including me) the source of his whey. His claim of having a powder that comes from grass-fed cows is highly suspect, since there is no entity that certifies such claims. When you talk to whey wholesalers and distributors, purportedly true grass-fed whey is considered to be a very dubious product.

    In any event, thanks to the amount of processing that whey powder undergoes, there is no nutritional advantage to Robb’s product that any other cold microfiltered whey isolate wouldn’t have. Remember that claims about slightly greater omega-3 content in grass-fed milkfat are absolutely irrelevant for Robb’s powder, because there is none of that fat in the powder. Yet his product is at least twice as expensive as other whey isolates with the same profile.

  24. Jared Says:


    Once again, great series of articles. Definitely realizing how much I have to learn and apply to my own practices and teaching my clients on whole, grass-fed protein and milk sources. Expertise in the field can be hard to find and to take your information and present it logically to my client base is challenging. By attaching the link to the cornucopia institute, you bridged that gap. I can just to say to my clients, find one of these producers in the store and buy their product knowing the research has been done proving their products are superior. Thanks again.

  25. Markus Says:

    FYI, Jared: The Cornucopia list involves only self-reported information from the dairy companies. There is no inspection or independent validation of those company claims whatsoever. Some of the companies that choose not to spend the man-hours on answering all of the questions will have true organic products, and some of those responding positively will actually not be organic.

    In addition, the “organic” label has nothing to do with the products from such companies being grass-fed, yet this is the factor that accounts for some of the benefits mentioned in Brian’s article.

  26. Joanne tucker Says:

    I don’t really know, but l did here women who drank raw milk could miscarry , that’s if they were pregnant hey!

  27. Markus Says:

    Lindsay, I second ws’ disappointment in your unsourced claim that near-death cancer sufferers had complete health reversals by merely “eating a plant-based diet”. There is actually no proof of that at all. Moreover, it doesn’t even hold up anecdotally, either, considering the occurrence of cancer and heart disease among populations who eat mostly plant-based foods.

  28. Matt Stringer Says:

    Thanks, Brian, for the great articles. Have gleaned a lot of interesting tidbits from them to share with my clients.

    What are your thoughts on ws’s comment about the post-workout milk research, published by ACSM’s Med & Sci? I don’t have access to the research to review it.

  29. Matt Stringer Says:


    You seem to be very well versed on this topic, and you make some great counterpoints in your series of comments. Where do you get your information?

    It seems that you are in favor of milk consumption, even the conventional variety, since you dismiss the claims/evidence that raw milk is far superior. Is that the case?

  30. CRD Says:

    Great article Brian! I’m with you. Times change and so do needs!
    Grass/ pasture raised cows cold processed whey protein. Some of the best! Check the link and listen to the video and decide for yourself! http://proteinpowder.mercola.com/pure-protein.html

  31. Bob P Says:

    Interesting series. Re raw milk, I don’t think I want that when you consider the cows are probably standing in their own feces and mud in the CAFO pens that you mentioned in the earlier piece. Sure, some small dairy farms don’t have that but the big, commercial milk producers do and that’s what’s sold in the supermarkets.

    Lindsay, don’t believe that nonsense about reversing terminally ill cancer patients by ingesting plant-based foods. If it was that simple, no one would be dying from cancer.

    Ws, thanks for what you do. I’m retired military and I equate cancer researches with heroes similar to soldiers on the front lines.

  32. William G Says:

    Great set of articles. Any thoughts on homogenization. I’ve seen that made out to add some very unhealthy issues with whole and 2% milk.

  33. David O Says:

    Very interesting article. My family has been drinking raw milk from a local farmer for many years. We follow the nutritional advice of Westin A. Price which advocates for whole raw foods. I was not aware of the information provided in this series on the denaturization of protein and reduction of the whey protein and other things involved but it makes sense. The reason that we believe that whole raw milk is important for our health is primarily for the beneficial bacteria and nutritional benefits from animal fats. Everyone is aware of the benefits from proboitics in yogurt but the same is true for milk that is not pasteurized. And yes, fat is still a nutrient even though Americans consume too much of the wrong types of fat along with sugar (see a typical fast food meal) but doctors discover every day how important essential fatty acids and omega 3 fatty acids are for our health. Keep the cutting edge nutrition articles coming!

  34. Ellen Says:

    My husband and I also follow the Weston Price principles and purchase raw milk from our local farm here in PA. They grow hay which is fed to the cows through the winter to avoid needing to feed them grain. We have been on full fat diets for over a year now and our blood work is excellent and have never felt better physically or emotionally.

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