Raw Milk: Are There Health Benefits?

Most animal milk produced for consumption in the United States is pasteurized — sterilized with heat to kill bacteria — before being shipped to stores for sale. Raw milk is milk in its unpasteurized form. 

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and other health agencies do not recommend consuming raw milk because it has not gone through a pasteurization process. However, many people believe raw milk offers benefits —  healthy bacteria and nutrients — they claim are eliminated during pasteurization.

However, the claims that raw milk is good for you have not been scientifically proven.

Because of the potential dangers of drinking raw milk, it’s illegal to sell or buy in 19 states. However, it’s legal in some states to sell and buy cheese made from raw milk if it has been aged for specific lengths of time.

State laws regarding raw milk can be classified 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 cannot be sold to consumers in many states, it can be sold for consumption by animals.

Nutrition Information

One cup of 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: 

Nutrition information is based on pasteurized milk that has been fortified with Vitamin D, which is often added to the product before bottling.

Whole milk products, including raw milk, are a good source of protein, which supports many functions throughout the body including bone health.

Potential Health Benefits of Raw Milk

Despite its growing popularity, there are no scientifically proven benefits to drinking raw milk. In fact, health agencies like the Federal Dairy Administration (FDA) recommend drinking only pasteurized milk.

However, there is plenty of research supporting the potential health benefits of milk, including:

Continued

Organ Health

The Vitamin A in milk supports the structure and the processes of several organs located throughout the body including the heart, lungs, and kidneys.

Lower  Blood Pressure

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

Eye Health

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

Bone Health

Calcium is necessary to maintain bone health in people of all ages, but 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 healthy, required by the body, and is found in milk, including raw milk. 

Potential Risks of Raw Milk

The primary risks and side effects of raw milk relate to the lack of pasteurization, which kills harmful bacteria:

Bacterial Infection

Experts state that raw milk is not safe to drink because it can carry many dangerous germs, such as Brucella, campylobacter, cryptosporidium, E. coli, listeria, and salmonella. These bacteria can pose serious health problems, especially if you have an immune deficiency. Several outbreaks of bacterial infections were traced back to raw milk and raw milk products.

Healthier Alternatives

According to federal health agencies, many food scientists, and other medical and food safety professionals, the risks of consuming raw milk far outweigh the supposed health benefits, which are not supported by research.

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

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 30, 2020

Sources

SOURCES: 

Centers for Disease Control: “Raw Milk Questions & Answers.”

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon: “Raw Milk.”

FDA: “Regulatory Actions by FDA Relating to Raw Milk and Raw Milk Products.”

Harvard Health Publishing: “The importance of potassium.”

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: “Calcium and Milk.”

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: “Protein.”

International Dairy Journal: “A review of the microbiological hazards of dairy products made from raw milk.”

National Conference of State Legislatures: “State Milk Laws.”

National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: “Vitamin A.”

University of Virginia Health System: “Calcium and Vitamin D.”

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