I love milk in all its delicious variations but I've never been excited about a cold glass of raw milk-milk that is not pasteurized or homogenized. One semester of food microbiology in college was enough to practically turn me into a food-safety police officer.
But raw milk is making its way into more cereal bowls (29 states now allow the sale of raw milk under varying restrictions), including those of a few of my co-workers.
This raw milk revival-of-sorts makes it a good time to explore the facts, nutritionally, on pasteurized and raw milk. So in the October issue of EatingWell Magazine, writer Matthew Kadey researched the question: Is raw milk more nutritious than pasteurized milk?
The answer: It depends on who you ask.
Let's take a look at both sides.
In support of raw milk: 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 it dishes out more flavor, vitamins, minerals and beneficial proteins, enzymes and bacteria than milk that has been "degraded" during pasteurization.
In opposition to raw milk: 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 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.
The bottom line: 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.
By Brierley Wright, M.S., R.D.
Brierley's interest in nutrition and food come together in her position as an associate editor at EatingWell. Brierley holds a master's degree in Nutrition Communication from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. A Registered Dietitian, she completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Vermont.
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