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Is Raw Milk Better Than Pasteurized Milk? Is Raw Milk Safe?

Raw food has aura of health. If it is raw, it is healthier than if it is cooked...right? Well, not necessarily, especially when it comes to milk. A more important question would be: Is raw milk safe? Let's talk about why.

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What is Pasteurization?

Pasteurization is the process of heating or cooking milk to kill bacteria. The goal of pasteurization is to make diseases caused by bacteria less likely. There are a few types of pasteurization, and the main differences between them are the temperature and the length of time needed to complete the process. The higher the temperature, the shorter the time is needed to kill bacteria. Pasteurization extends the shelf-life of foods because less bacteria means delayed food spoilage.

Why is Raw Milk Pasteurized?

One of the most commonly pasteurized foods is milk. Unpasteurized milk, more commonly called raw milk, has gotten social media and news attention over the years. Unpasteurized milk can be contaminated with bacteria that can cause serious illness. Although contaminated milk is fairly rare, it is not recommended due to the risk of disease from bacteria. The main concern about raw milk is if it is safe.

Proponents of raw milk cite the decrease in vitamin content due to pasteurization. While there are some vitamins that can be degraded by heat and pasteurization, the decrease in vitamins is minimal. Drinking raw milk would not be enough to have adequate intake of vitamins. A balanced diet would be necessary whether one drinks raw or pasteurized milk.

Promotion of Raw Milk

Unfortunately, raw milk is often promoted to the most vulnerable people. Some raw milk advocates encourage drinking raw milk to prevent and cure cancer. People with cancer are often immunocompromised, and are at even higher risk of getting very sick from raw milk contaminated with bacteria.

Raw milk is also promoted as better tolerated by those with lactose intolerance. Lactose is a sugar found in milk that many adults have some level of intolerance to. When this topic has been examined in research, raw milk was found to be equally poorly tolerated in those with lactose intolerance.

Sometimes raw milk is promoted for reasons that are not unique to raw milk--these factors exist in pasteurized milk also. Raw milk is promoted as hydrating, a good source of calcium, containing fatty acids, and as a good source of protein. Pasteurized milk has all of these benefits too.

Bottom Line: Is Raw Milk Better Than Pasteurized Milk? Is Raw Milk Safe?

Raw milk is not better than pasteurized milk. From a nutrient standpoint, raw milk and pasteurized milk are nearly identical. The more important question is if raw milk is safe. From a safety standpoint, pasteurized milk has an edge above raw milk. Raw milk can, although in rare cases, carry harmful disease-causing bacteria, and people who are immunocompromised are especially vulnerable to getting sick from raw milk.

Because it is easy and affordable to acquire pasteurized milk, and there is a risk with raw milk, I would not feel comfortable recommending it. Although in general I would not recommend it, I would specifically recommend against it to anyone who might be immunocompromised.

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