Raw Milk: Are There Health Benefits?

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on August 14, 2023
4 min read

In the U.S., most milk is pasteurized, meaning it's heated at a high enough temperature for a long enough time to kill bacteria, before being shipped to stores. Raw milk is milk in its unpasteurized form. 

The CDC and other health agencies don't recommend consuming raw milk, because it hasn't gone through a pasteurization process. Yet, many people believe raw milk offers benefits, like healthy bacteria and nutrients, which they say are lost during pasteurization.

But claims that raw milk is good for you have not been scientifically proven.

How long does raw milk last?

Raw milk lasts, on average, for 7-10 days, depending on how much bacteria is in it.

Milk can get bacteria and other germs many ways, including:

  • From an animal’s poop or skin
  • From a barn or milking equipment
  • From an animal that has an infection or disease

Pasteurization kills the germs in milk that can cause foodborne illness. It doesn't change the milk's nutritional value. 

Is raw milk illegal?

Raw milk is illegal in almost half the states in the U.S. Its legal status in each state depends on various things, like whether it's used to make a certain cheese or whether it's processed in ways other than by pasteurization.

State laws on raw milk can be put into several groups:

  • States that permit the sale of raw milk in retail stores
  • States that allow the sale of raw milk at farmers’ markets and in similar settings
  • States that allow the sale of raw milk from the farm where it was produced
  • States that allow “cow-share” programs
  • States that only allow the sale of raw goat milk

Although raw milk can't be sold to consumers in many states, it can be sold for consumption by animals. 

Raw goat milk and raw sheep milk are collected from goats and sheep and aren't pasteurized.

Raw goat milk

One cup of raw goat milk contains: 

  • Calories: 168
  • Protein: 9 grams
  • Fat: 10 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 11 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams
  • Sugar: 11 grams

Raw goat milk is a good source of: 

  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Vitamin C

Raw goat milk is also an excellent source of vitamin A.

Raw sheep milk

One cup of raw sheep milk contains: 

  • Calories: 264
  • Protein: 14 grams
  • Fat: 17 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 13 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams
  • Sugar: 10 grams

Raw sheep milk is a good source of: 

  • Riboflavin (vitamin B2)
  • Vitamin B12
  • Calcium

Like raw goat milk, raw sheep milk is also a great source of vitamin A.

One cup of pasteurized whole milk contains: 

  • Calories: 149
  • Protein: 8 grams
  • Fat: 8 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 12 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams
  • Sugar: 12 grams

Milk is a good source of: 

  • Calcium
  • Vitamin A
  • Potassium

This nutrition information is based on pasteurized milk that has been fortified with vitamin D, which is often added to the product before it's bottled.

Milk products, including raw milk, are good sources of protein, which supports many functions throughout the body, like bone health.

Even though it's getting more popular, there are no scientifically proven benefits to drinking raw milk. In fact, health agencies like the FDA recommend drinking only pasteurized milk.

But there's plenty of research supporting the health benefits of milk in general, including:

Organ health

The vitamin A in milk supports the structure and function of several organs, including your heart, lungs, and kidneys.

Lower blood pressure

Milk is an excellent source of potassium, a mineral that has been linked to lower blood pressure and overall heart health.

Eye health

Vitamin A, which is found in all forms of cow's milk, has been shown to support eye health and to reduce the risks of macular degeneration, a disease that can affect the eyesight of people as they age.

Bone health

People of all ages need calcium to maintain bone health. But the research is unclear about whether milk is the best source of calcium for this purpose. The vitamin A in milk may actually weaken bones.

Still, calcium is generally important for your health and is found in milk, including raw milk.

Keep in mind that pasteurized milk offers the same nutritional benefits as raw milk without the risk of contamination. While you might think raw milk promotes healthy digestion and soothes allergies linked to processed dairy, we need more research to support these claims.

The main risks and side effects of raw milk are related to its lack of pasteurization.

Bacterial infection

Experts say raw milk isn't safe to drink because it can carry many dangerous germs, such as brucella, campylobacter, cryptosporidium, E. coli, listeria, and salmonella. These bacteria can cause serious health problems, especially if you have an immune deficiency. Several outbreaks of bacterial infections have been traced to raw milk and raw milk products.

Those most at risk of serious foodborne illness caused by consuming raw milk include people over 65 and under 5. But anyone can get very sick if they drink raw milk that has been contaminated.

According to federal health agencies, many food scientists, and other medical and food safety professionals, the risks of consuming raw milk are much greater than its supposed benefits, which research doesn't support anyway.

For this reason, a healthier alternative to raw milk and raw milk products is pasteurized milk and milk products.

You can also try dairy alternatives like soy, oat, or almond milk. These types of milk are as safe as cow's milk but provide different types of nutrients, depending on which you choose.