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Raw Milk vs. Pasteurized Milk; Which is the best Milk to Choose?

Updated on May 7, 2015
Raw, pasteurized or homogenized milk, what is in your kitchen?
Raw, pasteurized or homogenized milk, what is in your kitchen? | Source

Many people don’t think twice about buying a carton of milk at the grocery store and consider it to be a kitchen staple. There is a long accepted belief that milk is “good for you” because it is rich in calcium and vitamin D, which in part, provide the building blocks for growing strong healthy bones in children as well as avoiding osteoporosis in the latter years. But lurking behind the perception of an innocent wonder-food is a battle being waged among consumers, farmers, the FDA, lawmakers, nutritional experts and doctors, about the safety and availability of raw milk (this is unprocessed milk straight from the cow). At the center of the battle sits an otherwise innocent looking cold frothy glass of milk…which serves to prove that things are not always what they seem.

Most of the milk sold in grocery stores in the United States has been pasteurized, or in other words, heated to a certain temperature to kill harmful bacteria, and homogenized, a process that stops the cream from separating from the milk. While these two processes seem innocent enough, raw milk advocates argue that these processes create "dead" milk, meaning it no longer provides the nutritional benefits that it did before processing.

Variations in Pasteurization and "Dead" Milk

The growing interest in legalizing raw milk in states and countries where it is illegal, is on trend with getting back to unprocessed whole foods, benefiting both the environment and our health. Raw milk advocates feel this way and have begun seeking sources of raw milk, even if it takes more work to locate them. Currently 4% of milk drinkers in the U.S. choose raw milk, offering these reasons:

A Dairy Farmer's Point of View

Benefits of Raw Milk

  • Homogenization restructures the fat molecules thereby deeming them more difficult to digest and even harmful to the human body.
  • Pasteurization removes some of the friendly bacteria, such as lactobacillus and a significant percentage of vitamins B-1, B-6, B-12 and C
  • The consumption of raw milk decreases the incidence of asthma and allergies
  • Raw milk tastes better and makes a more flavorful cheese
  • Consumers should have the right to choose

Some of the strongest advocates for Raw Milk include the controversial Westin Price Foundation and Dr. Mercola, an alternative medicine advocate, both of whom feel that raw milk gives superior nutrition, especially for growing children.

'Pasteurized only' milk sold in glass jugs is available in some markets.
'Pasteurized only' milk sold in glass jugs is available in some markets. | Source

The Need to Pasteurize

Up until the mid-1800’s milk was consumed as a raw product and was a good source of nutrition. The need to pasteurize milk came about during the industrial revolution when families moved from the country to the city. At the time, they brought their cows with them, but the cows could no longer graze on a natural diet of grass and were instead fed grain. The cows were also kept in tight quarters which made it more difficult to adhere to a safe standard of cleanliness. This unnatural diet along with the unsanitary, confined conditions, led to the spread of disease through the human consumption of this milk. Pasteurization became a simple way to rid the milk of many diseases and make it safe; higher standards of farm cleanliness were no longer necessary to produce a safe product. Pasteurized milk has been the standard since that time; however, raw milk has consistently been produced and consumed on country farms without reported incidences of disease.

The Argument for Pasturization

The FDA, along with some law makers and most doctors, feel that pasteurized milk is still a better and safer choice. The FDA states:

Raw milk can harbor dangerous microorganisms that can pose serious health risks to you and your family…symptoms of foodborne illness include: Vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain, Flulike symptoms such as fever, headache, and body ache. While most healthy people will recover from an illness…within a short period of time, some can develop symptoms that are chronic, severe, or even life-threatening.

Dr. Weil, founder, professor, and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, recommends only pasteurized milk. He believes that the health claims of raw milk are anecdotal and the scientific evidence for such benefits is sparse. He states that if you insist on drinking raw milk “make sure that it is from a grade A dairy and that the milk is tested frequently by state inspectors.”

Dairy cows on a pasture
Dairy cows on a pasture | Source

Dr. Oz, cardiothoracic surgeon, author and host of the television program “The Dr. Oz Show”, also feels that raw milk is unsafe, stating:

Drinking raw, unpasteurized milk is like playing Russian roulette. Somewhere down the line, you’re going to get a bellyful of bacteria, like salmonella, listeria and e.coli, which will put you in a world of hurt. And the elderly, small children and people with impaired immune systems could face life-threatening complications.”

Dr. Oz agrees that there are benefits from the bacteria ‘lactobacillus’, which is found in raw milk, but suggests that it can also be found through probiotic capsules such as Digestive Advantage, Sustinex or Affirm because they contain the “spore form” of the bacteria which survives in stomach acid. He also suggests looking for dairy products from grass fed cows because grass “improves the fatty acid ratio in their milk”

While raw milk may offer some great health benefits, they don’t seem to outweigh the possible safety concerns of raw milk. A safer alternative might be to look for pasteurized, grass fed milk that is not homogenized and look for an alternative probiotic source of the beneficial enzymes. If you still feel that raw milk is the best choice, make sure that it is from a grade A dairy and that the milk is tested frequently.

French Roquefort, a cheese made from raw milk, as required by European law.
French Roquefort, a cheese made from raw milk, as required by European law. | Source
Raw Milk Vending Machine
Raw Milk Vending Machine | Source

Facts About Milk

  • Human beings have consumed raw milk exclusively prior to the industrial revolution and the invention of the pasteurization process in 1864.
  • Many traditional French cheeses have solely been made from raw milk for hundreds of years.
  • In some Eastern European Countries, unprocessed raw milk is available by automatic vending machines known as "Mlekomat". A european Union program supports the farmers with 50% of their investments in vending machines.
  • The sale of raw milk is legal in 28 States.

Source: Wikipedia

The Moo Man, an independent film about the relationship between a farmer and his dairy cows

What is your Milk of Choice?

See results

© 2013 Tracy Lynn Conway


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    • GmaGoldie profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 2 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      I was wondering about this! Comprehensive answer! Thank you!

    • Tracy Lynn Conway profile image

      Tracy Lynn Conway 4 years ago from Virginia, USA

      Jackie - The availability of raw milk depends upon where you live. The sale of raw milk is legal in some states. You could do some online research and find out what is available in your area. You might also find milk that is less processed.

      So Many Paths - Coconut milk sounds like an interesting alternative, I will have to read more about it. I know of some people that have turned to goats milk due to cows milk allergies and have been happy with it. Thank you for your interesting comment.

      Best, Tracy

    • Tracy Lynn Conway profile image

      Tracy Lynn Conway 4 years ago from Virginia, USA

      Claudyobcn - It is great that you have found substitutes that you are happy with. Thank you for your comment!

      Best, Tracy

    • Tracy Lynn Conway profile image

      Tracy Lynn Conway 4 years ago from Virginia, USA

      Mike - It does seem that this issue has more to do with big corporations and profit than raw or pasteurized milk. When small farmers have little choice but to sell their milk to a larger distributor, there is a problem. This issue becomes more apparent when you consider the variation in laws from state to state and between countries. Thank you for your insightful comment!

      Best, Tracy

    • SoManyPaths profile image

      SoManyPaths 4 years ago from West Coast USA

      I done some intensive research and found that goat milk is better for you than cows milk. I don't practice that though. I actually drink coconut milk due to the abundant benefits over those two.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Thank you, wow, now where do I get raw milk? I didn't remember that being how cows milk tasted!

    • Tracy Lynn Conway profile image

      Tracy Lynn Conway 4 years ago from Virginia, USA

      @Glimmer Twin Fan - Your father's dream is a good one, many people dream of food that isn't processed and is fresh, these foods are healthier and taste far better. We hear these stories about food dangers and they work to terrorize us. It is always good to work from knowledge and logic rather than fear, but it is not always the easier path.

      Thank you for your great comment!

      Best, Tracy

      @East Europe Food - You are lucky to have enjoyed the health and taste of raw milk in Romania. The laws seem to vary widely from place to place, the issue is very political and confusing.

      Best, Tracy

      @Jackie Lynnley - Organic milk comes from cows that are allowed to graze, have been feed organic feed and have not be treated with most drugs, but this type of milk is usually ultra pasteurized. Ultra pasteurization involves flash heating milk to very high temperatures, these temperatures kill all bacteria, good and bad. This process allows milk to last for up to 6 months and it doesn't even need refrigeration. It is hard to imagine that milk that can last so long can maintain much of the original nutrient content that it had before being heated. I try to avoid drinking ultra pasteurized even though the organic label can seem to represent the best choice.

      Thank you for your comment and question!

      Best, Tracy

    • Mike Robbers profile image

      Mike Robbers 4 years ago from London

      Interesting and informative hub, Tracy about the difference of raw and pasteurized milk. Apart from some potential bacteria threats of raw milk, I think that the food industry is interested in manufactured and industrially processed products despite all the negative effects that has on nutritional and health benefits.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Is organic milk, raw milk? I have started drinking that and am amazed how much longer its shelf life is than pasteurized.

    • profile image

      Dorian 4 years ago from Ottawa Ontario

      I moved to Canada from Romania, and back there we drank raw milk all the time. Not here, it is illegal.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      Well this is interesting to me. My father dreams of "raw" milk or fresh from the cow. He grew up drinking it and thinks it is the best thing ever. My husband and daughter, on the other hand, have always had pasturized milk. There was a problem a couple of years ago in PA so any thoughts of trying it went out of the window.

      I do love cheeses made with raw milk and it's never hurt me yet. Interesting hub.