Raw Milk's 'Health Benefits' Are Mostly Imaginary

Raw Milk's

Maybe you like the taste of raw milk. (That's more likely because it's grass-fed than because it's raw, but OK.) But if you're chasing after health benefits in raw milk, think again.

Photo by woodleywonderworks.

Since unpasteurised milk comes with an increased risk of food poisoning, any health benefits would have to be pretty amazing to balance out that risk. And the science just doesn't support those benefits -- they either don't exist or are so minimal as to make no real difference in health, John Lucey writes in a review of the evidence in the journal Nutrition Today. Among the findings:

  • Pasteurisation affects protein structure. This may be relevant if you're making cheese, but it makes no difference in nutrition -- your digestive system is going to rip those proteins apart anyway.
  • Pasteurisation doesn't change milk's mineral content (minerals don't break down with heat).
  • Pasteurisation does lower vitamin content -- but only slightly:

    Pasteurisation may cause very minor losses (<10%) of vitamin C, folate (vitamin B9), vitamin B12, vitamin B6, and thiamine (vitamin B1). Of these vitamins, milk is an excellent source of only vitamin B12 ... Pasteurisation does not change the concentration of riboflavin (B2) (which is very heat stable) or fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A or E.

    Those slight losses aren't going to make a big difference in your diet. You weren't relying on milk for your vitamin C intake, for example, and milk still has a ton of vitamin B12 even after pasteurisation.

  • Advocates say that raw milk is better for people who are lactose-intolerant, but milk doesn't contain the enzyme that breaks down lactose. If you're mildly lactose intolerant and are looking for a dairy product you can stomach, try yoghurt, which does contain that enzyme.
  • Raw milk is sometimes recommended for children with a cow's milk allergy. Lucey writes that while this is a complicated subject and more research is needed, there is currently no evidence to support the idea that raw milk helps or prevents allergies. In mice, raw milk results in a stronger allergic reaction, not a weaker one.

If you're looking for something with less lactose and more pro-biotic ("good") bacteria than supermarket milk, you're better off buying yoghurt instead of taking on the extra risk and cost of raw milk. The choice is still yours (depending on local laws), but make it on the basis of science and not bogus health claims.

Raw Milk Consumption: Risks and Benefits [Nutrition Today]


Comments

    Why are the all natural crowd anti-pasteurisation? It's just heating and cooling. There are no chemicals, it makes food safer, and helps make food last longer which reduces waste. I will never understand why some of the most important advances we make are so stubbornly opposed.

    Maybe pasteurisation is a commie plot, like fluoride in the water supply . . . or vaccines! You got to watch those crafty Reds.

      I haven't had any but from what I've heard it changes the taste substantially. There're plenty of people who refuse to drink homogenized, pasteurized milk even though they recognize the benefits because they can't adapt to the change in flavour. Cheese made from it is supposed to be really good, too

      And I guess other people are just fans of more old-fashioned treatments of food, like the anti-pesticide crowd.

      Last edited 30/08/15 11:01 am

        I'd be interested to see a double-blind study of taste. I don't know of any. Taste is highly subjective. The problem is that raw milk advocates claim it has almost limitless curative properties with zero corroborative evidence.

        This is so often the cycle:

        •A new fad arises in health.

        •Proponents makes unsubstantiated claims about its benefits. (Raw milk seems to have attached itself to autism)

        •Studies are done that don't support the wild claims.

        •Proponents of fad scream conspiracy, claim that it is all about money-making from some greedy industry.

        •Continue selling useless or harmful product at exorbitant rate, making plenty of money for themselves.

        As far as old'fashioned treatments go: Pasteur developed his method in 1864. Heating wine for preservation can be traced back as far as 1117 in China. It seems silly to adopt something purely because it is old fashioned, especially if it plausibly dangerous or inefficient.

        I could go into a rant about pesticides, but I will spare you that.

        Last edited 30/08/15 9:53 pm

          You are welcome to come to my place and taste fresh milk and compare it to supermarket milk.
          I personally thinks it delicious although I can't stomach too much of it.
          If you are concerned about hygiene I'll even let you do the pre and post washing in the cow shed.

            Maybe if you own cows you can control the cows' hygiene, and you can milk and consume it in a short space of time it is fine but mass producing, shipping, and storing increases the risk.

              So you must agree that well managed grass fed cows milk sold locally would be a good thing. I am following the logic of your argument.

                No. I don't advocate selling foods that haven't undergone processes to eliminate or significantly reduce potentially dangerous pathogens.

                I also wonder if homogenisation is the real issue when discussing taste. Maybe it is the homogenisation process, not pasteurisation, which makes the milk taste blander.

                Ultimately, this is a fad that will go away. Hopefully replaced with one that doesn't have as serious safety concerns.

              'Mass producing' is an interesting point. If I am not mistaken, you are not far from understanding the 'mother nature laws' of soil/pasture/animal health/happiness are the foundation to the quality of the milk. There are TWO types of raw milk....one is destined for pasteurisation; the other is extremely wholesome. Store bought milk will go RANCID; fresh wholesome raw milk just SOURS (and eventually turns into cheesy curds and whey.....just ask Little Miss Muffet). For practical reasons, I won't place a cow in my urban backyard to milk but I do like the model of community-supported-agriculture, where my dollars spent goes directly to a 'certified' farmer (quality I can trust) and enjoy the 'food freedom' to buy fresh wholesome 'certified' fresh milk, rather than the multitudes of 'processed' stuff marketed as 'milk' through a supermarket. If we are to respect that drinking fresh milk is really an old-aged practice, still cherished and regulated with the safe-guards in Europe, NZ, and most states in USA where values like 'food freedom' are upheld, wholesome 'certified' raw milk is a CHOICE available. To the rest of the world, we are the 'odd man' out. Seeing what should be done here is not the hard bit. The hard bit is the politics, but the cracks are appearing.

            I don't think you're comparing like for like. Anything fresh is going to taste better than just about everything in a supermarket. Most produce in supermarkets is days/weeks/months old, and has travelled around the country a couple of times. Your comparison is the same as tasting an apple off my own tree in my own orchard, compared to a supermarket apple. Give me mine any day.

            I absolutely agreed raw milk tastes better, but generally because it's a hell of lot fresher. Try raw milk that's 10 days old (like supermarket milk) and let me know how that compares.

            However, it doesn't address the key point of the article about the raw-milk silverfoil-hat-wearing fanatics claiming its save-the-world properties, when there aren't any.

    well great journo here guys. says it offers no benefit. but if you read it talks about how it alters proteins, and takes away small amounts of vitamins

    this is why I no longer listen to the news. you cant help but lie.

    the milk thing is very close to me. because if I give my sister pasteurized milk. a2. a1 whatever lactose free. she breaks out in a rash. asthma flares up.
    give her raw milk 100 tolerated.

    milk pasteurization isnt as important as it once was. we didnt have very good sanitization back in the early days. Louis Pasteur. created it because of the terrible conditions at which cows were milked

      Not a farmer, but I'd hazard to speculate that if anything, conditions that dairy cows are raised and milked in are probably on the whole, more unhygienic.

        Our practices are better and more hygienic. But cows will still take dumps and stand in their filth.

          But we also tend to crowd them together a whole lot more

      Have you actually been to the farms?

      The cows literally stand in shit. That's why we need pasteurisation. It is still very much required. Plus in Victoria it's now against the dairy farmers dfsv licence to not treat the milk.

      I can't answer your sister's reaction, I suggest not drinking dairy, the risk of drinking raw milk is kinda huge.

        what are you even saying. have you ever been to a really good farm before?
        they are milked with suckers. no crap touches any part of the milk at all!

          You don't think that the cows standing in their own shit for days on end won't have any adverse affects on the milk they produce? It isn't about the sanitation of the milking process but of the cleanliness of the milk itself.

    Hey life hacker, just thought I'd share my Raw Milk experience. Whilst I was aware that there is no proven scientific benefit to drinking raw milk I also have a son with Autism and being a fairly new field of research there's lots of people claiming different things help. Of course we use proven therapies but beyond that we have decided to try things which were low risk and low cost. Drinking raw Milk was one of these experiments. Whilst it wasn't dramatic we did notice some significant changes. Of course that could have been because of something else we did unwittingly or part of my son's natural development that coincided with drinking raw milk. So, whilst there is no scientific evidence to prove any difference and I'm not going to claim some conspiracy, I won't be suprised if we eventually find some difference in the two milks which we initially thought was unimportant that does indeed make some small difference to some people.

      Not to be 'that guy', but how do you know it was just the change to raw milk that produces these changes? Jenny McCarthy once claimed that switching diets for her son 'cured' him of autism but has gone away from that after it was scientifically shown that a large number of children with autistic symptoms simply grow out of it. Autism is, after all, a developmental disorder.

      The thing with scientific studies is that they control for unrelated differences in ways that individual experiences can't. It would not suprise me one little bit that drinking of raw milk had zero affect on your child and it was other factors(like age) that were responsible.

      The risks of raw milk, particularly in children, are extremely high. A 3 year old child died in Victoria late last year after being fed raw milk.

      http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/victoria-to-introduce-tough-raw-milk-laws-20141228-12ekvl.html

        Had a terminal illness and died 2 months after having some raw milk to be precise. Sometimes you can't believe everything in the media.

      Anecdotal Evidence, always so scientifically accurate and reliable

      Also, Correlation =/= Causation

    I really enjoy a variety of plant based milks, and no cute little calves have to die.

      Rice and almond is nice. Soy is just yuck. But give me a cold glass of regular any day.

      you can't call plant-based extracts "milk", just because they're white

    Look, whether you like it nuked or you like it raw, just drink the milk that you like more.
    If it doesn't kill you it'll make you stronger, but it doesn't mean raw milk is err... wronger.

    Ok Beth I am just posting this link from the most prestigious journal in the field of immunology so that you can let them know they are wrong. http://www.jacionline.org/article/S0091-6749(11)01234-6/abstract

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