What Is Raw Milk? Benefits, Risks, and Alternatives to Raw Milk

Jun 7, 2021

The work we have done at Switch4Good—coupled by a boom in plant-based milk options and the rapid inclusion of oat milk—has led nearly half of US consumers to curtail their cow’s milk consumption. The plant-based milk market in the US grew 27 percent between 2018 and 2020, reflecting the changing consumer attitudes and growing skepticism toward dairy milk. However, raw milk remains a niche market. In lieu of opting for a non-dairy option, misinformed consumers may seek out this product under the belief that it is healthier than traditional pasteurized cow’s milk. Unfortunately, this misguided belief is a dangerous one. Here is what you need to know about raw milk. 

What Is Raw Milk

Raw milk is unpasteurized milk taken from a mammal—typically a cow, goat, or sheep. Pasteurization is the process of heating a substance to a certain temperature to destroy pathogens in food. While states have the authority to enforce their own laws regarding the sale of milk, the FDA mandates that all milk sold across state lines be pasteurized to avoid disease outbreaks. Currently, 11 states allow the sale of raw milk in retail stores, and a few others allow the sale of raw milk with certain stipulations. Twenty states forbid the sale of raw milk outright. 

The ‘Benefits’ of Raw Milk

As with all dairy milk, any nutritional benefits of consuming raw milk are exponentially outweighed by the health risks. Despite this, some consumers believe that unpasteurized milk is nutritionally superior because they are misinformed about the pasteurization process. Pasteurization does not diminish a food’s nutritional value—it only kills harmful bacteria that could make you sick. Raw milk enthusiasts also believe that raw milk has the power to reduce allergies and asthma in children, boost the immune system, improve skin, and increase digestive function.  

All of these claims are mere myths supported by industry-funded marketing and manipulated research. Raw milk is a dairy product—it is not exempt from the harmful compounds found in all mammal milk, pasteurized or otherwise. Cow’s milk is a highly inflammatory food that taxes the immune system and exacerbates skin issues. Many people also cannot properly digest dairy. Sixty-five percent of the global population is lactose intolerant, and raw milk is no easier on the stomach than pasteurized milk. For more information on the harms of dairy, visit our Improved Health page

The Risks of Raw Milk

Between 1993-2012, 1,909 people reported illness after consuming raw milk. While that number may seem low, the FDA asserts that with any outbreak, the actual number of affected individuals is higher than the reported number. Further, data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that the 3.2 percent of the US population who consumes raw milk are responsible for 96 percent of the foodborne illnesses caused by contaminated dairy products. 

When the FDA and nearly half the US states outlaw a specific food, there is good reason to avoid it. No matter the infinitesimal benefits one may believe unpasteurized milk has, they simply are not worth the risk. Those wary of commercially pasteurized dairy products should not look to raw milk as a healthy alternative. Not only is it equally detrimental to human health long-term, it also poses an immediate danger in the form of foodborne illness. 

Alternatives to Milk

There are a plethora of accessible plant-based milks on the market, and many are nutritionally equivalent or superior to dairy milk. Both pea and soy milk contain the same amount of protein per serving as dairy milk, and like dairy milk, many plant products are fortified with vitamin D. Yes, dairy milk is fortified with vitamin D—this vitamin does not naturally occur in food. Most plant milks also contain or fortify their beverages with a comparable amount of calcium. Plant milk alternatives can be swapped with raw or pasteurized milk in a one-for-one ratio. 

The issue with dairy milk isn’t with its pasteurization, and raw milk is not the solution. The issue with dairy milk is that it is a destructive product in terms of human health and the environment (more on the environment click here). Pasteurization cannot eliminate the IGF-1 growth hormone, estrogen, cholesterol, cortisol, saturated and trans fats, or lactose found in all dairy milk. 

The fact is—unless you’re a baby cow, raw or pasteurized milk won’t do you any good. 

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