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Here’s the Shake on the Great Milk Debate: Raw vs. Pasteurized

Posted Jul 06 2010 9:24am

The Raw vs. Pasteurized Milk Debate: Is One Side Milking the Issue?

“Milk Does the Body Good” – so goes the saying, but in what form?  That is the question that leads to such heated discussions between opposing sides that blood curdles and relationships sour just as the very nature of the entity being debated.  Who is right?  And, how are you to know whether one side isn’t just “skimming” the top of the real truth in order to corral you into their corner?  How can you prevent yourself from getting milked? The Health and Food Forum’s Blog breaks down both sides of this issue to help you avoid “udder” confusion.

In Favor of Pateurized Milk:

Definition:  Pasteurization is a process that was developed by Louis Pasteur in 1864 which involves heating milk to a certain temperature for a determined period of time.  According to a publication by the Ohio State University Extension, there is a range for temperature-time combinations that can be used to pasteurize milk (e.g., 145 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes; 161 degress Fahrenheit for 15 seconds; 212 degress Fahrenheit for 0.01 seconds).  The purpose of pasteurization is to destroy bacteria that are harmful to the human body, such as Listeria, Salmonella, and E. coli.  It also kills organisms that cause diseases such as diptheria, typhoid fever, brucellosis, and turberculosis.

Does pasteurization affect the nutritional value of milk? Advocates of pasteurization claim that the minor changes to the nutritional content of pasteurized milk is minimal in comparison to the health risks posed by harmful organisms that may be present in raw milk.  Here is what happens to the natural components of milk from pasteurization:

  • Fat-soluble vitamins A and D are not affected.
  • B vitamins riboflavin, pantothenic acid, and niacin are not affected.
  • Biotin, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, folic acid, thaimin, Vitamin E, and Vitamin C are lost to varying degrees.
  • Enzymes are destroyed.
  • Milk proteins are denatured.
  • Alters lactose (milk sugar) making it more readily absorbed by the body.

What is the concern over drinking raw milk?

  • The possible presence of pathogens that cause foodborne illnesses which could be life-threatening.
  • There are a variety of ways in which milk can become contaminated, such as through feces, water and soil to which the cow is exposed, and organisms present on the udders or hands of the farmer.  Pasteurization “cleans” the milk making it safe to drink.

The FDA states that pasteurization saves lives and that it does not:

  • Significantly alter the nutritional value of the milk
  • Cause lactose intolerance
  • Promote allergic reactions

Advocates for drinking pasteurized milk and/or products made from pasteurized milk (e.g., cheese, yogurt, etc.,) claim that raw milk and/or products made from raw milk may contain dangerous bacteria that can have serious adverse health affects particularly for children, pregnant women, older adults, and those with compromised immune systems.  As a result, proponents of pasteurization conclude that the health risks associated with consuming raw milk products outweigh any potential health benefits.

In Favor of Raw Milk:

Definition:  Milk that has not undergone any heat treatment or pasteurization.  Raw milk is essentially “fresh from the cow” and contains all of its natural components.  Advocates for drinking raw milk contend that pasteurized milk has been stripped of essential enzymes, vitamins and minerals, and beneficial bacteria; therefore, significanlty altering the nutritional value of the milk.  Proponents for consuming raw milk and/or products made from raw milk claim the following about the nutritional value of  raw milk:

  • It contains beneficial bacteria that help with digestion and offer protection against disease.
  • It has several enzymes that offer numerous health benefits, such as aiding in digestion and building immunity.
  • Contains proteins that can be easily digested.
  • A source for many vitamins and minerals whose presence is diminished or lacking in pasteurized milk.

Advocates for consuming raw milk claim it offers these health benefits:

  • Improved digestive system.
  • Reduced risk for asthma and allergies.
  • Decreased risk for tooth decay.
  • Prevention against osteoporosis.

Advocates for drinking raw milk claim that it is safe to drink, especially when the cows are properly cared for (e.g., allowed to roam grass-pastures rather than crammed in cages) and safe handling practices are followed.

In light of the movement toward consuming foods in their natural state because of the numerous health benefits associated with eating whole foods, the question arises as to whether that applies to pasteurized vs. raw milk.  Does pasteurization alter the nutritional content of milk significantly to the point that it is of greater detriment to our health than is the potential harm caused by dangerous organisms present in raw milk?  Or, is the risk of life-threatening foodborne illness greater than the health benefits derived from drinking raw milk, even with proper care of the cows and safe handling practices?  You decide.

Which do you think is better for our health – raw or pasteurized milk?  Share with us, we want to know!

Sources for more information:

University of Minnesota Food and Safety Education and Research

The Ohio State University Extension

Global Healing Center




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