I wanted to touch on the idea of raw milk. As I am returning to fitness, I am starting to look at old resources that I used to reference as I plan my diet and determine what foods to eat and what to avoid.
Now, I have always loved milk. When I was 19 and started lifting weights for the first time, I followed a GOMAD (Gallon Of Milk A Day) approach while squatting 3x per week and I felt great and went from 112# to 185# in just a few years.
While I used pasteurized, whole milk from the grocery store, I always wondered about something talked about on health boards: raw milk.
This was in 2008-2009. I was a college student and fresh out of college and didn’t have much money, so driving to upstate New York or out of state just to get milk was insane. Now, however, raw milk seems to be one of those trendy health foods and is a little more available. I just need to get to a farm and buy it.
I did a little research and decided to share my findings on my blog, to save someone else the work. Just keep in mind, I am not a doctor or dietician so what follows are my opinions.
As you can tell from the blog title, its not looking good for the raw milk argument.
What is Pasteurization?
First, a little bit of background. Pasteurization is simply heating milk (or juice) in order to kill food borne illnesses, such as listeria, E. Coli, etc. In fact, before pasteurization, 25% of food borne illnesses came from milk. Since pasteurization began in 1938, less than 1% of food borne illnesses come from milk.
Note, this is different than homogenization. When milk is homogenized, the milk is agitated and then filtered so that the milk fat does not separate out to the top.
Pretty simple. This is really no different than cooking on a stove or boiling water to kill bacteria.
Proponents of raw milk note that pasteurization hurts the nutrition of the milk. They claim that raw milk contains probiotics, “better” protein, more vitamins, etc. Let’s take a look:
First, raw milk is not probiotic:
While raw milk is widely promoted by producers as a probiotic, there are no studies showing that it meets the definition of a probiotic. In fact, raw milk produced using good hygiene should have hardly any bacteria in it at all. Milk from a healthy animal (or human) is sterile when it leaves the mammary gland. As the milk moves through the skin/teat canal, it may pick up small numbers of bacteria from the skin (not enough to be a probiotic). Once the milk is outside the animal, any other bacteria or viruses that get into the milk would have to come from the environment (feces, flies, dust, equipment). Bacteria from the environment, especially feces and flies, are not likely to be probiotic, and may even be pathogenic.
Now, if you want the benefits of probiotics, you don’t have to rely on raw milk for that. You can simply consume fermented foods (sour pickles, kimchi, yogurt, etc) without risk of illness from raw milk (we’ll get to that later).
Additionally, there is no evidence that pasteurization affects milk in a significant way. While some enzymes are denatured, these enzymes are not known to be beneficial to humans. Vitamin C is lost during the heating process, but you should be getting Vitamin C from other sources any way, as a serving of raw milk only provides 4% of the daily value of Vitamin C.
What is significant, however, is Vitamin D or lack thereof. If you consume milk from the grocery store, it is fortified with Vitamin D. Vitamin D is really, really important and most people are deficient in it. Raw milk is not fortified with Vitamin D, which hurts calcium absorption.
This is a huge concern for me. After all, if you get food poisoning, it means you are going to lose a lot of strength. Oh, and you might die, too. In fact, the CDC warns strongly against consuming raw milk.
On www.realrawmilkfacts.com, there are two reports on food safety to look at. You can find them here:
These tables contain outbreak, illness and death information from 1998 to 2013 and use data from the CDC. Here are the numbers, side by side:
You might look at this and say “Well, not much difference. It seems like there are more raw outbreaks, but fewer people got sick and fewer died.” However, the CDC notes that only 1% of all milk sales in the United States are raw.
I found per capita consumption for cheese and milk in a downloadable Excel file on the US Department of Agriculture’s website, here.
Now, accounting for actual volumes of cheese and milk consumed, your chance of getting sick from either source is very low. Using the 99%/1% split from the CDC, between 1998 and 2013, Americans consumed 862,298,731,800 pounds of pasteurized milk and 8,710,088,200 pounds of raw milk. Per pound of milk you consume, you are looking at an illness rate of:
- .00000033% for pasteurized milk
- .00002833% for raw milk
- .000000407% for pasteurized cheese
- .000040569% for raw cheese
While this might seem low, each glass of milk you consume is a roll of the dice here.
This higher rate of illness is why more than half of the outbreaks caused by milk are caused by raw milk, despite accounting for only 1% of total milk consumption:
Raw milk is simply not worth the risk. You are much more likely to become sick from raw milk than you are from pasteurized milk and there are no benefits from raw milk that you can’t get from pasteurized milk or from somewhere else.
In fact, you are probably best off drinking pasteurized milk from grass fed cows. This gives you a better quality of fat and vitamins.
However, it seems like raw milk advocates are harping on one of the biggest myths about diet and fitness out there on the internet; that there is one miracle food that if you just start eating, you’ll be healthy. Raw milk isn’t the silver bullet you are looking for.