As a registered dietitian I hear a lot of inaccurate nutrition information from consumers. Often it’s a relatively harmless myth about the latest veggie that will “detoxify” your organs or the “must-have” new diet food. Occasionally though, I hear about a food fad that could have serious and lasting health implications. One of the fads that most concerns me is the push for raw, unpasteurized milk. I’m a fan of getting “back to nature” with less processed foods, but in the case of raw milk, going totally natural can be dangerous.
While many people will strongly defend the consumption of raw milk – offering testimonials about how their grandparents drank it for decades or how it cured them of allergies – there’s no question on this one: raw milk can put your health at risk.
There’s a good reason why pasteurization was invented. It kills bacteria that can make you sick! Raw, unpasteurized milk can carry harmful bacteria including salmonella, E. coli, and listeria, which can cause serious illness and, in some cases, can even be deadly. In fact, according to an analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 1993 and 2006 more than 1500 people in the United States fell ill from drinking raw milk or eating cheese made from raw milk. What’s more, CDC has found that unpasteurized milk is 150 times more likely to cause foodborne illness and results in 13 times more hospitalizations than illnesses involving pasteurized dairy products. It’s no wonder that in some states the sale of raw milk is illegal!
Still on the fence about raw milk? Aside from the considerable health risks of unpasteurized milk, there are few benefits to going “raw”. For instance, studies show that pasteurization does not reduce milk’s nutritional value, so you get the same nutrients in pasteurized milk without the health risk. Some people believe that pasteurization causes lactose intolerance. But the truth is that lactose is found in both raw and pasteurized milk: if you are sensitive to milk protein you may have a problem with milk/milk products in any form.
If you’re looking to eat fewer processed foods, go for it! It’s great to go with fresh veggies and home-cooked meals over highly processed fast food. But when it comes to milk, don’t go “raw”. Sometimes a little processing can be a good thing for your health.
Small changes can lead to big results. What healthy step can you take today?