Despite many claims, the benefits of raw milk may not outweigh the risks. Raw milk boasts very small benefits and wins in sustainability, but only by a very small margin.
Whether from cows, goats, or sheep, milk is a staple in almost every diet found around the world. Milk is high in protein and calcium and rich in vitamins. It’s also used to help young children grow and develop strong minds and bodies.
Most of the milk that is used for human consumption is pasteurized and homogenized to increase safety and shelf life. Many people claim that this process reduces the amount of protein and vitamins in the milk. Is raw milk safe and more beneficial than traditionally pasteurized milk? Read on to find out.
What is Pasteurization?
To determine if raw milk is a valuable and safe source of vitamins and protein, we must first look at the pasteurization process. When milk gets pasteurized, it gets heated to high levels that kill dangerous bacteria that may be present in the raw milk. The pasteurization process can remove anything that comes directly from the cow that may be unsafe to consume. Heating the milk also makes it more shelf-stable, so it can be used for a longer period.
The Benefits of Raw Milk
Milk contains protein in two forms: Casein and Whey. Both forms of protein feed your body and your muscle function. During the heating process, a small portion of the whey protein is broken down. Raw milk has slightly more protein than its pasteurized counterpart.
Better For Those Who Are Lactose Intolerant:
Raw Milk contains Lactobacillus, a bacterium that creates lactase. Lactase can help break down and digest lactose in people with lactose intolerance. Lactobacillus is killed in the pasteurization process and is not found in pasteurized milk. Raw milk has been found to cause less discomfort in lactose-intolerant drinkers.
Raw milk is filled with antimicrobials that can help you maintain a healthier gut. Antimicrobials control harmful microbes that can cause sickness when ingested. These antimicrobials help keep your milk from going bad, and they help build your stomach’s defense against harmful bacteria. Although raw milk has higher levels of antimicrobials, it is because processed milk is often refrigerated for longer at temperatures that naturally occurring antimicrobials cannot survive in.
Smaller Carbon Footprint:
From the farm to your fridge, the milk-making process produces a large number of greenhouse gasses. Cows themselves produce a large amount of methane, and the pasteurization process requires burning a fuel source to heat the milk. Raw milk produces a smaller amount of greenhouse gas emissions because you do not need to heat the milk.
The Dangers of Raw Milk
The biggest and most apparent danger of consuming raw milk is that it contains many bacteria considered to be possibly harmful to the human body. Raw milk has higher levels of harmful bacteria that can cause anything from an upset stomach to serious issues.
Many believe raw milk to be safe to consume because it comes directly from the animal. However, the milk is only sterile when it is in the animal. As soon as raw milk leaves the animal’s body, it becomes an ideal breeding ground for dangerous bacteria. Raw milk has even been known to be a great host for dangerous disease-causing bacteria like tuberculosis.
Although raw milk itself is not inherently dangerous, you never can be sure what harmful bacteria is lurking in your unpasteurized milk. It can be a huge risk, especially if you are not gathering the milk directly from the cow.
Although raw milk may have a smaller carbon footprint, its poor shelf life makes it more likely to spoil and go to waste. Food waste is a huge contributor to climate change. If you are not drinking your raw milk when it is safe, you are wasting more milk and will require a higher demand from the animal. Without the pasteurization process, you can never be truly sure when your milk was collected and, therefore, may be more at risk for both sickness and waste.
Should you start Drinking Raw Milk?
Although it may contain a smaller number of vitamins and protein, the difference between raw and pasteurized milk is not that significant. The probiotics and bacteria found in raw milk can be valuable to your gut health, but they are unpredictable and may come with an unforeseen risk. Studies have shown that raw milk may be slightly easier for those who are lactose intolerant, but the difference is not conclusive. For many, the risk is too high and the benefits too low to start switching out pasteurized milk for the raw alternative.
- Raw Milk touts a variety of benefits, but it is not significantly more beneficial than pasteurized milk.
- The difference in sustainability between raw milk and processed milk is smaller than advertised if raw milk is wasted at a higher rate than processed milk.
- If you are going to try raw milk, be sure to get a local source that you trust.