From increased immunity to beneficial milk enzymes, raw milk advocates turn to generally non-scientific data to base their claims. In a new study published in the journal Food Control, Belgian researchers from a variety of universities and organizations review data surrounding the risks and benefits of both raw and pasteurized milk.
The results: Pasteurization does not substantially change the nutritional value of raw milk or benefits associated with raw milk consumption.
Among the claims debunked, the researchers concluded that:
- There is no difference in the levels of minerals and trace elements between raw milk and pasteurized milk. “Milk is in particular a good source of calcium and phosphorus (with the other minerals and trace elements being less relevant). Heat treatment (and homogenization) appears to have no significant effect on the bioavailability of calcium, the major milk mineral,” the report said.
- The amount of probiotic bacteria in raw milk is too minuscule to have any beneficial effects. “In reality, the ingested amount required to have an effect, needs to be 1000 to 10,000 times higher than the amount actually present in raw milk,” the report said. “The destruction of these probiotics by pasteurization or sterilization has consequently no net health effects.”
- Early exposure to raw milk may not reduce the risk of developing asthma, allergic rhinitis, hay fever, pollen allergy and atopic sanitization. “Most studies alluding to a possible protective effect of raw milk consumption, do not contain any objective confirmation on the raw milk status ((home)cooked or not) or a direct comparison with heat-treated milk,” the researchers wrote. “Moreover, it seems that the observed increased resistance seems to be rather related to the exposure to a farm environment or to animals than to raw milk consumption.”
The only raw milk argument that was supported was in changes to the organoleptic profile of raw milk. Different sources, from chemicals to enzymetic or microbial in nature, can alter the flavor profile of milk. Some of these flavor “defects” can be reduced by heating while others induced by heating.
However, researchers note that new processing techniques and packaging materials can minimize off-flavors or produce pasteurized milk with a similar taste of raw milk.
After reviewing all of their data, the researchers concluded that raw milk’s benefits fall short of its risks.
“Almost all arguments put forward by raw milk proponents for not heating milk, can be refuted, and the only substantial disadvantage of heating is the change in the organoleptic profile of milk. It is clear that this ‘detrimental’ effect of heating does not countervail the risk posed by raw milk consumption, namely of a milk-borne pathogen infection, which can have serious health consequences,” the researchers confluded.
Earlier this year, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention found that most of the disease outbreaks linked to dairy involved raw milk. Last year, the CDC found that raw milk and dairy products were 150 times more likely to cause a disease outbreak than pasteurized milk. Read more here.