What Is Raw Milk?
Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurized. Pasteurization is a process where milk is heated to temperatures hot enough to kill all the bacteria present within it. However, that’s not all it does. The process also kills certain enzymes in the milk, and reduces the vitamin and mineral content. So, raw milk can also be described as milk in its most natural state, complete nutritional profile intact. Does that mean it is good for you? Let’s examine the positives and negatives in greater depth.
The Benefits of Raw Milk
Vitamins and minerals are naturally present. Straight from the cow, a serving of raw milk contains vitamin A, vitamin B1 (thiamine), calcium, magnesium, zinc, and iron. While the exact percentages will vary depending upon the diet of the cow in question, the fact remains that raw milk contains each of these automatically. Pasteurization lowers their amount. This why when the milk you buy from the grocery store says it has been “fortified” with vitamins and minerals. This means they have been added in artificially, to make up for what was lost during pasteurization.
Contains CLA and literally hundreds of beneficial fatty acids. CLA, or conjugated linoleic acid, is an omega-6 fatty acid that is being studied extensively for its effects on weight loss and control. Omega-3 fatty acids help to prevent heart disease. Raw milk contains all these, but so does the pasteurized variant. Research has shown that fatty acids are not significantly impacted by the process.
May reduce or eliminate lactose intolerance. This claim is due to the presence of a particular enzyme called Lactobacillus. This enzyme produces lactase, which is needed to properly digest the milk sugar lactose. There is much anecdotal evidence that the lactose intolerant can drink raw milk without experiencing the usual gas and cramping, but no comprehensive studies back this up yet.
Protects against asthma and allergic reactions. Multiple studies have shown a link between raw milk consumption during childhood and a significant reduction in the occurrence of both allergies and asthma later in life. This is thought to be because of the presence of healthy bacteria in raw milk. These bacteria become incorporated into the gut biome, allowing the body to properly process would-be allergens.
The Danger of Raw Milk
Harmful bacteria. The reason pasteurization is so universal is because the danger of infection from harmful bacteria in milk is very real. The conditions in which cows are raised do have an impact on the safety of their raw milk. If the milking procedures are not properly sanitary, the opportunities for milk being contaminated, for instance by exposure to animal feces, is high. The most common infectious bacteria found in milk include Campyblobacter, E. coli, and Salmonella. Drinking milk containing these can cause symptoms ranging from cramps and diarrhea, to kidney failure and death.
So is raw milk good for you, or not? The problem is that it can be either, depending on the vendor, the cow, even the individual container. While it’s inarguable that raw milk has some benefits over the pasteurized variant, weighing the possible risks inherent in its consumption against the rewards is something each person must do for themselves.
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