In response to my Backwoods Home article Pasteurizing Milk, a reader asked a question about the nutritional differences between raw and pasteurized milk. I thought her question was worth answering on a blog post.
This is the reader's question:
Do you know the nutritional difference between home organic pasteurized milk and commercial pasteurized milk? We are getting raw milk from a friend and my husband has a concern with raw milk and the kids drinking it. I figure even if we get raw milk and I pasteurize it at home, it has to be better than commercial milk. Any insight would be great! Thanks so much.
One thing to remember is there has been such a "push" by the government over the last few decades about the benefits of pasteurized milk that people have grown to view raw milk as virtually poisonous. Many people bred on store-bought milk are just plain squeamish about consuming raw milk.
As an amusing side note: Once, many years ago, my younger brother and his wife came to visit us when we lived in Oregon. I had been extolling the virtues of fresh milk from our cow over store-bought milk, so my brother (who, let it be known, adores milk and chugs it by the gallon -- literally) bravely decided he would try drinking some of our raw milk.
I poured him a fresh cold glass and he held it up and looked at it, worried. "You sure it's safe to drink?" he asked.
"It's raw," I told him. "It's not poisonous."
Tentatively he took a sip. His eyes widened, and he drained the glass. He poured himself another glass and drained that. He poured himself a third and drained that. "I'd drink more," he gasped at last, "but I'm full!" That evening before heading to their hotel (our house was too small to accommodate overnight guests), he brought half a gallon of milk with him to last until morning.
Commercial dairies are by necessity dirty places. Take it from me, cows make a lot of mess, and the animals often live among the mud, feces, and urine of hundreds of other cows. This may or may not affect the quality of the resulting milk... but it might affect the quality of the cows.
But your average raw-milk producer generally has anywhere from one to a handful of cows, and those cows usually live in cleaner and less unsanitary conditions than a commercial dairy cow. I'm speaking in generalities, of course, and there are exceptions on both ends; but that's the usual scenario.
In my BWH article, I state the following:
The process of heating milk in order to kill pathogens will also naturally kill some of the beneficial bacteria, vitamins, and enzymes found in fresh milk. Nothing’s perfect, after all, and in the quest for “safe” milk, many of the benefits of raw milk are sacrificed.
There is some evidence that lactose intolerance (as well as a host of other conditions such as asthma, diabetes, allergies, arthritis, heart disease, etc.) is reduced or eliminated through drinking raw milk. However data on these claims vary, and are no doubt affected by the agenda of the researchers. Government dairy inspectors will seldom admit that raw milk can be healthy. Nor will raw-food advocates admit that pasteurization can be beneficial. People will always find data to support their pre-existing opinions.
Remember that: people will always find data to support their pre-existing opinions. Everyone has an agenda, on both sides of the raw/pasteurize debate.
So what are the actual nutritional differences between raw and pasteurized milk? I did a short search on the internet and came up with the following. These sources are by no means comprehensive; they're just the result of a fast search. Sources are linked.
There are small variations in the nutritional value of raw and pasteurized milk. Niacin, folic acid and vitamin D remain the same. In pasteurized milk there is a slight loss of thiamin, a 5 percent loss vitamin E and less than 10 percent loss of Biotin, vitamin B12. Pasteurization does destroy some of the enzymes in raw milk but these are not considered to be vital to human health. The health benefits of pasteurized milk are judged to far outweigh these slight nutritional losses, both in terms of making the milk safe to drink and extending its storage or shelf-life.
The government argument for the ban is based on the FDA’s belief that pasteurized milk protects consumers from deadly pathogens contained in raw milk. Given the filthy conditions that abound in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO), that’s true. CAFO cows are typically raised on high-protein, soy-based diets, instead of being grass-fed. They are raised in cramped, manure-filled quarters instead of free range environments. These conditions, perfect for the rampant spread of disease, create an environment in which milk MUST be pasteurized in order to be fit to drink. Because of these unsanitary conditions, the cows must also be injected with antibiotics to keep them healthy and many are injected with growth hormone to increase milk production; the hormones and antibiotics also find their way into the milk produced by these CAFO cows.
There is a big difference in the nutritional value of raw milk as compared to pasteurized milk. For instance, just the condition in which cows are raised can significantly alter the milk they produce. It has been demonstrated that hand raised, grass-fed, free range cows produce a milk richer in amino acids than their CAFO counterparts.
Additionally, the pasteurization process itself has problems:
• It transforms the physical structure of the milk proteins and alters the shape of the amino acid configuration of proteins which are now non-functional and in a shape that can be highly allergenic.
• It destroys the friendly bacteria naturally found in milk and reduces the micronutrient and vitamin content drastically.
• It encourages the growth of harmful bacteria and turns lactose (milk’s naturally occurring sugar) into beta-lactose. Beta-lactose is rapidly absorbed by the human body, resulting in the quick return of hunger after a glass of milk – particularly in children.
• It makes most of the calcium in raw milk insoluble, which can lead to health problems in children, like tooth decay and rickets.
• It destroys about 20% of the iodine available in raw milk, which can lead to constipation.
• When pasteurized milk is also homogenized, xanthine oxidase is created. Xanthine oxidase can act as a free radical in your body, causing oxidative stress.
Raw milk from clean, healthy, grass-fed, free range cows bears no resemblance to CAFO milk; it’s full of nutrients that your body needs, including:
• Beneficial bacteria.
• Enzymes like phosphatase, which aids the absorption of calcium in your bones, and lipase, which helps to hydrolyze and absorb fats.
• Natural butterfat, which allows your body to effectively utilize the vitamins and minerals in the milk. Butterfat is also your best source of pre-formed vitamin A and contains re-arranged acids with strong anti-carcinogenic properties.
• Cancer-fighting CLA (conjugated linoleic acid.)
• Healthy, unoxidized cholesterol.
• High omega-3 and low omega-6 rations, the most beneficial ration between these two essential fats.
This webpage has a table listing the nutritional differences between raw and pasteurized milk, which I can't reproduce here, so go take a look.
Pasteurization became a more profitable way to produce milk: Less work cleaning cows and cow droppings meant you could ship out dirty milk, and combine it with other dirty milk (the way it is done today), and simply boil it to death in one facility.
Oddly enough, pasteurized milk still greatly exceeds raw milk in cases of contamination and related illnesses and deaths. Contaminated vegetation and meats are increasingly making headlines with hundreds, if not thousands, of people being affected; yet, raw milk is still singled out as a favorite of authoritative harassment.
Pasteurization affects almost every aspect of the nutritional value of milk: Vitamins, minerals (especially calcium), fatty acids, and it even gets rid of a hormone like substance that wards off arthritis, cataracts, and hardening of the arteries called the "Wulzen Factor", or anti-stiffness factor. Also, all enzymes are destroyed by pasteurization, making it difficult for the body to utilize the bodybuilding factors of milk, especially calcium.
Bottom line, everyone must make up his own mind when it comes to raw vs. pasteurized milk. My personal philosophy is this: if I'm purchasing milk from the store, I will purchase pasteurized milk from a commercial dairy. But if I know the cow from which my milk comes -- say, my own cow or a trusted neighbor's cow -- then I'll keep the milk raw. I prefer fresh raw milk because I know exactly, precisely how I got it and where it came from -- something I'll never know about store-bought milk, raw or pasteurized.
While the health benefits of pasteurization for the population at large are indisputable, it is also indisputable that the process alters milk from its original form, namely the healthy drink that nature intended. Therefore if you can trust your milk sources, I'd say drink raw milk.
The government's heavy-handed treatment of people who sell raw milk is unconstitutional and just plain stupid. Whenever such government goons overreact like that, it's important to follow the money. Who benefits by cracking down on raw milk sellers? Just asking.
I believe people should be allowed to make up their own mind about the kind of milk they want to drink, and let the free market supply the products we want without government interference to (cough) "protect" us.