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Q. Is Raw Milk More Nutritious than Pasteurized Milk?

By Matthew G. Kadey, R.D., September/October 2008

Is Raw Milk More Nutritious than Pasteurized Milk?

A. It depends on who you ask. Raw milk—milk that is not pasteurized or homogenized—is making its way into more cereal bowls, with 29 states now allowing the sale of raw milk under varying restrictions. Raw-milk proponents will pay upwards of $10 a gallon, because they believe it is safe and healthier. A swell of testimonials about raw milk’s ability to relieve asthma, autism and allergies is further fueling the demand, though much of this praise remains anecdotal with few studies to back up these claims. Enthusiasts claim raw milk dishes out more flavor, vitamins, minerals and beneficial proteins, enzymes and bacteria than milk that has been “degraded” during pasteurization.

But the Centers for Disease Control and the FDA beg to differ, stating that pasteurized milk has all the same nutrients as raw milk and that raw milk comes with an added formidable risk of pathogen outbreaks. According to the CDC, these outbreaks accounted for more than 1,000 illnesses, more than 100 hospitalizations and two deaths between 1998 and 2005.

Catherine W. Donnelly, Ph.D., a food microbiologist at the University of Vermont, believes that the dangers cancel out any potential nutritional benefits. “Of particular concern is Listeria [a bacterium that results in a foodborne illness, listeriosis], which has a 30 percent mortality rate,” Donnelly warns. “If raw milk is your choice, it’s buyer beware.” When USDA scientists collected raw milk samples from 861 farms in 21 states, nearly a quarter of them contained bacteria linked to human illness, including 5 percent that tested positive for Listeria.

In short, it’s still too early to tell if raw milk lives up to its purported benefits, but the risks are real. We don’t recommend drinking raw milk or eating a raw-milk cheese that’s been aged less than the minimum of 60 days required for legal sale. (However, that caveat doesn’t apply to raw-milk cheeses aged 60 days or more, since the salt and acidity of the cheesemaking process make for a hostile environment to pathogens, says Donnelly.)

Deciding whether to take the risks associated with drinking raw milk is only one of the health-related choices you need to make when it comes to choosing the best milk for your family. When making a decision about which milk to buy, here are two other issues you may want to consider:

Fat content. Nutrition experts recommend drinking low-fat (a.k.a. 1%) or nonfat milk to limit intake of the saturated fats that boost risk of heart disease. Don’t be fooled: reduced-fat, or 2%, milk is not a low-fat food. One cup has 5 grams fat, 3 of them the saturated kind. Drink whole milk, which contains 5 grams of saturated fat per cup, only once in a while, if at all. The one exception to this rule is infants. Children under age 2 need extra fat in their diets to support their developing brains. Whole milk can help provide that fat.

Lactose. Up to 50 million Americans lack the enzyme lactase, which is needed to digest lactose, the sugar naturally found in milk. For these people, drinking most milks can cause digestive problems. Solution: Choosing lactose-free milk. This product is basically regular cow’s milk minus lactose. It provides all of the same healthful nutrients (e.g., protein and calcium), just not the sugar that stokes the digestive issues.

COMMENTS POSTEDsort icon

I love your homemade cracker jack recipe! I also love your weekend debrief on sports related things.

Anonymous

06/22/2016 - 1:37am

As a nutritionist, I believe raw milk, from clean, range free animals is the better way to get all the nutritional benefits that milk has to offer.

And as for the CDC, I'll just say that they are not the smartest people on the planet, after all they are the government, and what would you expect...

Anonymous

05/16/2016 - 8:31am

I grew up on a farm and we had milk cows. That we never had any illness that I can remember from drinking the milk, I do know that to ensure the safety of it, good hygiene is of paramount importance. Frankly, I would never drink raw milk as it would upset my stomach after not drinking it for years. Plus, much of the "cures asthma, autism, and black eyes" hasn't been proven and until it is, it is all hearsay IMO.

Anonymous

04/20/2016 - 7:02pm

raw milk could be the reason we dont see austism in the amish communities

Anonymous

03/27/2016 - 5:10pm

People don't realize the reason raw milk can have these bacterium is because of unclean farming practices, usually from large commercial companies. Pasteurization just gives these companies a way to AVOID having to treat the animals well and keep them healthy. If you have a health animal and you collect the milk in a clean and hygienic fashion as well as seal and properly cool it, then it will not have these harmful bacteria. Most small farms are good because they take good care of their animals.

Anonymous

03/26/2016 - 3:57pm

lol....2 deaths in 7 years.I bet more people died of falling out of bed,good thing cdc is keeping us safe from fresh milk

Anonymous

03/19/2016 - 7:23am

I think the fact that you are recommending "1%" or "2%" milk goes to show you have no idea what you are talking about. Whole milk is high in fat - so what? Fat does not make you fat. Fat satisfies you and, in the long run, you eat LESS. Adult human bodies and brains NEED fat, protein and some carbs (they do not need "sugar"). Modern, low-fat diets = obesity. Traditional, high-fat diets = health.

Anonymous

02/03/2016 - 7:03pm

I developed asthma in the last year and someone suggested trying raw milk. I found a wonderful farm and joined a co-op, so I don't get in trouble by the government. (Sounds Communistic), I know! I have been strictly on raw milk and cheese for 2 weeks and have seen an 80% decrease in symptoms of my asthma. At this rate I should be completely asthma free by the end of the month. I also feel more energetic and my digestive system feels amazing and is now working like a well oiled machine. It also keeps me full longer so that I don't feel the need to snack. How in the world did we allow the government dictate what and how we should eat? The answer is that we didn't. It is our right to eat what we want, when we want, and from who we want. The cow is on this earth and NO HUMAN let alone any government will tell me that I can not drink it's milk the way God made it.

Anonymous

01/03/2016 - 9:19pm

These are the very reasons why I do not trust raw milk, it has more chances of harming you than pasteurised milk ever will. Again the purity of milk does not just depend on whether it is raw or not. We have been consuming pasteurised milk which may be synthetically produced and that is none the better. So basically we need to make sure that the milk is coming from a trusted certified source. I have shifted to farm fresh milk which is pasteurised, while it isn’t easy to get milk which is delivered early morning to your homes, but thanks to Pride of cows after a little looking I found them and they deliver at my place in Mumbai. This is me sighing in relief over finding something I’ve been looking for.

Anonymous

12/29/2015 - 2:59am

Raw food vs Process food... Which is heather? Enough said.

Processed milk is GARBAGE. It's contaminated milk that needs to be boiled to destroy the bacteria and viruses swimming around in it. It's that dirty. Not only does boiling the milk destroy the bad bacteria, but it also destroys all the key nutrients, minerals and good bacteria.

Sames goes with Orange Juice. Boiled (pasteurized) juice is nothing but colored sugar water. After boiling the juice, man made Vitamin C, D, and Calcium is then added to replace the naturally occurring ones that was destroyed after processing.

What isn't replaced are the natural enzymes, fats, iodine, etc etc. that our Body Needs.

Anonymous

10/23/2015 - 3:11am

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