Up until the late 1800s, all milk was raw milk. When Louis Pasteur discovered that germs do not spontaneously appear in food, he later came up with his namesake process of pasteurization. Since then, the majority of milk available to consumers in America has been pasteurized. In recent years, many consumers have chosen to go back to raw milk because of health benefits. Meanwhile, the FDA and other agencies concerned with public health are standing by long-held scientific claims that drinking raw milk is dangerous. What are the benefits of raw milk?

Advantages of both

Pasteurized milk is raw milk that has been heated to a temperature high enough to kill germs. Pasteurized milk is almost always homogenized, and some raw milk is not homogenized. Aside from rare cases of contamination, the key benefit of drinking pasteurized milk is the assurance that there are not any bacteria lurking in the glass.

Raw milk has more nutrients and less of the types of fat often referred to as bad cholesterol than pasteurized milk. The enzymes in raw milk have been proven to reduce the incidence of allergies to milk. Children who drink raw milk also have less childhood respiratory problems, like asthma.

Disadvantages of both

In the process of sterilizing pasteurized milk through heat, all of the nutrients are also removed from the milk, which means pasteurized milk adds little more than calcium to the human diet. Most pasteurized milk is homogenized. Without human intervention, milk forms a layer of fat, or cream, on the top of it. Homogenization does not add any chemicals to milk. It is usually done by pushing the milk through a sieve. It merely takes the fat that could be scraped off of the milk and squeezes smaller chunks of it into the liquid portion of the milk. Homogenization adds a lot of bad fats for the milk.

For American consumers, homogenized milk is such an expected standard that many producers of raw milk also homogenize their product. Non-homogenized milk, rare as it may be, is more common in the raw milk industry than with pasteurized milk.

Milk is pasteurized because there is a risk of being sickened from bacteria. Since milk comes from a cow, there is an inherent risk of catching any cow-to-human transmissible diseases that the cow may have, but that’s probably the less concerning problem. Cows do not practice personal hygiene, so there is a risk that small traces of the cow’s fecal matter could end up in milk. Since there is no pasteurization, raw milk could contain raw fecal matter.

Factors to consider

The decision of whether to drink raw milk or pasteurized milk is a personal one. In addition to the purported risks and benefits of each type of milk, a person should consider personal health factors, such as a weak immune system, that would nullify the benefits of drinking raw milk. If a person wants pasteurized milk, it can be found in any grocery store. If a person wants raw milk, the process can be complicated.

In some states, raw milk can be purchased in stores. Even in these states, it is easier to find raw milk in organic stores, health food stores, and local farmer’s markets than in regular grocery stores. In other states, it is illegal for any store to sell raw milk. In these states, people can get involved with herd share programs. An individual can enter an agreement with a willing farmer to pay for all or a portion of the costs to raise and milk a cow. Then, that person is entitled to a portion of the milk that the cow produces. The consumer owns the cow and pays the farmer to take care of it.

Raw milk is more than milk with bacteria, and pasteurized milk is more than clean milk. Which kind will you drink?