Raw Dairy is REALLY Scary!

The hype surrounding raw dairy is troubling. Prior to the advent of pasteurization, dairy was a common source of food-borne illness. Unfortunately, even today, outbreaks are often tied to raw dairy foods.

Fortunately, pasteurization has made dairy consumption less risky for the general population. So it’s startling that health “experts” – particularly those in the paleo community, such as Chris Kresser and doctors Mercola and Axe – encourage their followers to consume unpasteurized dairy products.

Medical science clearly demonstrates there are absolutely no benefits to raw dairy that cannot be obtained more safely by other means. Touting the benefits of raw dairy is simply irresponsible.

The Risks of Unpasteurized Dairy

Proponents argue that raw milk contains beneficial bacteria. But unfortunately, not all of the bacteria in raw dairy is helpful, and some is downright deadly. Raw dairy is linked to outbreaks of Campylobacter, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria.

According to the CDC, less than 1% of milk consumed in the United States is raw, yet it accounts for the majority of dairy related foodborne illness. Risk of disease from raw milk “is at least 150 times greater than the risk of outbreaks linked to pasteurized milk.” Nevertheless, these findings are belittled by the likes of Chris Kresser, who argues that research and claims about raw dairy from the CDC and FDA are “completely unwarranted.”

Finally, one other risk present in unpasteurized dairy is what’s absent: vitamin D. While pasteurized dairy and many plant milks are fortified with Vitamin D for calcium absorption, raw dairy is not.

The Supposed Benefits of Raw Dairy

Raw milk is highly praised by many in natural food circles, and particularly those in the paleo community. Dr. Mercola, for example, argues that “there are many reasons why you should drink raw, unpasteurized milk instead of the pasteurized variety.” Among the supposed benefits, he alleges raw dairy contains more probiotics (healthy bacteria), enzymes, and Omega-3s than pasteurized dairy.

You can read a very careful, evidence-based rebuttal of these benefits on the FDA website. The most damning is their refutation of the “probiotic” argument:

Bacteria found in raw milk are not probiotic.  Probiotic microorganisms must be non-pathogenic (Teitelbaum and Walker, 2000).  In contrast, raw milk can host various human pathogens, including E. coli O157:H7, SalmonellaStreptococcus sppYersinia enterocoliticaCampylobacter jejuniStaphylococcus aureusListeria monocytogenes, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and Coxiella burnetti to name a few (Oliver et al., 2005; Hayes and Boor, 2001).

Suffice to say, any nutritional benefits – like additional Omega 3s – present in raw dairy can be found in other foods as well. For example, an appropriate plant-based Omega-3 supplement  can provide far more Omega-3 fatty acids, without the risk.

No Dairy – Whether Raw or Pasteurized – is Essential for Human Health

Dairy is not essential for human health. Neither the World Health Organization nor the Harvard School of Public Health instruct consumers to drink milk. Whether organic or conventional, dairy is not necessary. Calcium, B12 and vitamin D can all be found in abundance in properly fortified plant milks.

Health Canada recommends that children under 6 months of age consume breast milk exclusively. Once children are old enough to consume beverages other than breast milk or an appropriate physician-recommended formula, fortified plant milk (preferably a higher protein source like pea or soy milk) can be a great choice. Unlike raw – or even pasteurized – dairy, plant milks are free from cholesterol. Plant milk is also generally lower in saturated fat, making it a healthier option.

If you simply like the flavour of raw dairy, take heart: Silicon Valley startup Perfect Day is already working to make real, clean milk without the cows. Perfect Day’s clean milk will be naturally lactose and cholesterol free. And since it’s also fat-free, the company can add Omega 3s to the finished product. And since no cows are involved, it is produced in a sterile environment. In this and many other ways, clean milk promises to offer genuine health benefits that raw milk cannot hope to provide.

Bottom Line

If you or someone you care for is drinks dairy, it must be pasteurized. The supposed health benefits of raw dairy are pure fantasy, and the risks are very real. For a variety of health benefits without the cholesterol and saturated fat found in animal products, consider choosing a fortified plant-based beverage instead.

While pasteurized dairy is a source of calcium, protein and is fortified with vitamin D, these benefits can be found in a variety of other foods. Silk soy milk, for example, contains 50% more calcium than dairy milk, (45% vs. 30% in cow’s milk). It’s also high in protein, low in fat and naturally cholesterol-free. And of course, cows aren’t harmed to make plant milk! It’s a win-win.

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