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

May 22, 2023

The work we have done at Switch4Good, along with a plant-based market that’s constantly innovating, has led nearly half of US consumers to regularly purchase plant-based milks. Yet, raw milk is still touted as a superfood (incorrectly) by a niche subset of the population, thinking this food laden with health risks is somehow superior. 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 and minimize disease outbreak. Currently, there is a federal ban on raw milk for human consumption in interstate commerce, so each state has its own laws in place. Only 11 states allow the sale of raw milk in retail stores, and some additional states allow direct farm to consumer sales.

The Misguided Health Claims of Raw Milk

As with all dairy products, any nutritional “benefits” of consuming raw milk are exponentially outweighed by the inherent health risks. Despite this, some consumers believe that raw milk is nutritionally superior because they are misinformed about the pasteurization process. Pasteurization does not drastically alter 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.

Meanwhile, evidence shows how dairy is the number one cause of fatal anaphylaxis in children, can make asthma worse, weaken the immune system, cause acne and eczema, and lead to digestive distress. The health concerns raw milk is desperately trying to improve would be resolved by simply eliminating dairy entirely. 

These claims are wildly illogical. Would you heal a sunburn by laying out on a Caribbean beach? Or tame your heart burn by drinking bleach (please do not try this)? It is a myth that not pasteurizing milk will somehow erase, and even reverse, the symptoms caused by dairy consumption. For more information on the harms of dairy, visit our Health & Performance page

The Risks of Raw Milk

Between 1998 and 2018, raw milk consumption led to 202 outbreaks, causing 2,645 to become sick. If that number seems low, keep in mind that the FDA asserts that with any outbreak, the actual number of affected individuals is higher than the reported number. Compared to other dairy products, raw milk is 840 times more likely to make you sick, and 45 times more likely to land you in the hospital. 

When the FDA and nearly half the US states outlaw a specific food, there is good reason to avoid it. The distorted benefits one may believe raw milk has simply do not outweigh the much bigger risks. 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 Raw Milk

There are a myriad 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. Many plant products also contain similar, if not more, quantities of calcium and vitamin D. Plant-based milk alternatives can be swapped into any recipe in a one-to-one ratio. 

The issue with dairy milk isn’t in its pasteurization, therefore raw milk is not the solution. Pasteurization does not eliminate the IGF-1 growth hormone, estrogen, cholesterol, cortisol, saturated and trans fats, or lactose naturally found in dairy milk. 

What it comes down to? Unless you are a baby cow, raw milk will not benefit your health.

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