In Food, Nutrition

ver wondered about the difference between raw milk and pasteurized milk? It’s a question I get asked all the time. And the differences may surprise you!

Raw milk has long been tied with the fear of milk-borne diseases like typhoid and scarlet fever, septic sore throat and diphtheria. And with good reason as these illnesses were very real, and very life threatening in the 1800’s.

Where did “pasteurization” come from? 

In 1862, Louise Pasteur came up with the process to prevent wine from becoming vinegar by killing off the microbes responsible for souring the alcohol. He named this process “Pasteurization” (clever!) and then thought to apply this same process to milk, killing off bacteria (beneficial or not) and prolonging the shelf-life. In 1891 the first milk pasteurization plant came to a New Jersey dairy. Now, more than 100 years later, commercial dairies are still using this process around the globe. But is this wise? Is it still needed?

If we could take a look at the living conditions of cows in commercial dairies in the late 1800’s, we wouldn’t see “happy cows” grazing on open fields. Rather, the typical dairy was riddled with filth and the sanitation practices were nil. In fact, it wasn’t until the early 1900’s that hand-washing became an important health practice taught to child care providers, so it would make sense that proper care and cleanliness was not thought crucial.

More recent arguments for pasteurization are said to be for the prevention of salmonella, however, “all outbreaks of salmonella from contaminated milk in recent decades–and there have been many–have occurred in pasteurized milk. This includes a 1985 outbreak in Illinois that struck 14,316 people, causing at least one death.” Sally Fallon

You’ve no doubt heard the saying “breast is best” when it comes to the highest quality nutrition for babies. Ya’ll do know that breast milk is raw…right? So it makes sense that raw cow’s milk would be best, too! People might label you crazy if you pumped breast milk and heated it to 145-150℉ for a minimum of 30 minutes, killing off vital nutrients and beneficial bacteria, then quickly cooling it down to no higher than 55℉ before feeding it to a baby, yet this is the exact process for pasteurization.

What happens during pasteurization?

  • Amino Acids: During this time, amino acids Lysine and Tyrosine are altered, making the “whole complex of proteins” less available. Pasteurization promotes rancidity of unsaturated fatty acids and destruction of vitamins. Raw milk that’s past its prime “sours” or “clabbers” which actually enhances the nutritional content, whereas pasteurized milk becomes putrid, even dangerous, once past its prime. You know what we do with our raw milk when it’s past drinkability? Make homemade yogurt or 60-minute mozzarella cheese…because although the taste may be altered, it’s still perfectly good. You would never try this with pasteurized milk, nor should you!
  • Vitamins & Minerals: More than 50% of vitamin C, and up to 80% of other water-soluble vitamins, are lost during heating. Mineral components (calcium, chlorine, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and sulphur) are altered as well as many trace minerals, making all of them less available. As if this weren’t bad enough, pasteurization also kills 20% of the iodine content which can lead to constipation. Sheesh!
  • Lactose: It’s said that pasteurization also turns lactose (milk sugar) into beta-lactose, which is absorbed much quicker than lactose (quick absorption is not always a good thing). Beyond that, because raw milk digests more slowly, a meal accompanied by a glass of raw milk will satisfy your kiddos (and you!), keeping them satisfied longer and less prone to snacking throughout the day.
  • Lactase: As we age, our bodies can lose the ability to create this enzyme, which is needed for properly digesting lactose. This enzyme, naturally present in raw milk and made from bacterial synthesis, is rendered inactivated during pasteurization. Possibly why so many people are “lactose intolerant”?
  • Calcium & Phosphorus: We all know that calcium is important for strong teeth and healthy bones, right? Even the “Got Milk?” campaign promoting the drinking of pasteurized milk knows this…but what they’re not telling you is that pasteurization makes the major part of the calcium insoluble. Translation? Your body doesn’t absorb it.(Ruh-roh!) Insufficient calcium in children can lead to bad teeth, nerve issues and even rickets. Because phosphorus (necessary for proper bone and brain growth) is associated with calcium, the lack of calcium absorption can lead to poor bone and brain formation.
  • Diabetes: Pasteurized milk puts unnecessary strain on the pancreas to produce the necessary digestive enzymes (enzymes that were destroyed when heated) needed for digestion. Possibly the reason why milk consumption has been linked with diabetes? The passing test for pasteurization is the absence of these enzymes.

Further benefits of raw milk

Because raw milk tends to come from cows grazing on green-grasses (I wouldn’t promote raw milk from grain-fed cows), there’s evidence that suggests they also have higher levels of fat-soluble vitamins and other nutrients due to adequate vitamin D absorption. Raw milk has shown higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and essential fatty-acids. Because cows are herbivores, they’re naturally healthiest when grazing freely on grasses and other shrubs. Grass fed cows also have healthier meat, read this article for a comparison of grass vs. grain-fed beef.

Because beta-lactoglobulin is a heat-sensitive protein, it’s still available in raw milk. This allows for greater intestinal absorption of vitamin A, which is a vitamin many of us are deficient in and one only found in animal products (synthetic vitamin A is known to be toxic, even at small levels, whereas naturally occurring vitamin A is not).

Sourcing Raw Milk

Do you want to buy raw milk but can’t find it in the grocery store? It’s true, we’re spoiled and have access to raw milk at our grocery store (#smalltownlife). But there are a couple options when it comes to sourcing raw milk near you:

  1. The best scenario would be to contact a local farmer (if you have any within driving distance willing to sell milk). Getting to know a farmer and being able to see their milking practices is a true gem. Buying raw milk from Joe Schmoe can be sketchy (and you’ll want to be sure of your states laws regarding the purchase of raw milk). It’s important to know proper health precautions were taken when milking and bottling up the goods. We happen to be friends with the owners of the cow we get our milk from and can drive over to help milk and feed the cows! Being part of the process from A-Z totally speaks to the wanna-be farmer in me!
  2. If option one isn’t possible, check out the Campain for Real Milk and search for raw milk by state.
  3. Find a local chapter leader for the Weston A. Price Foundation in or near your city. They should be able to help you out in your search for sourcing raw milk.
  4. For more tips check out our post on sourcing raw milk.

What to do if raw milk isn’t an option?

If buying raw milk just isn’t an option (and you promise you’ve tried your hardest to find it!), buy only organic, whole, non-homogenized milk. Although pasteurized, buying organic will ensure no hormones have been given to the cows and that the feed given them is non-GMO. Also, stay away from skim, 1% and 2% milk. These have added powdered skim milk which contains oxidized cholesterol, large amounts of cross-linked proteins and nitrate compounds (highly carcinogenic), as well as free glutamic acid, which is toxic to the nervous system.

As a last resort, skip the dairy altogether (although not ideal) you can easily make coconut milk or almond milk at home with a high-powered blender.

Financial Considerations

For families who drink a lot of milk, the switch to raw milk can create financial strain. I get it! But this doesn’t mean you can’t have your cake and eat it too (or your raw milk and ice cream too – snort)! I shared a post about how our family makes simple homemade dairy products from raw milk saving over $100 a month. Also, check out this post for 21 ways to save money in a real food kitchen.

“You can spend time, or you can spend money, but you have to spend one!”

Check out the following posts for easy DIY tutorials:

Sources: Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig, Ph. D, Weston A. Price, Raw Milk Facts, and Vivian Masters

Showing 10 comments
  • Joshua

    When did you first introduce raw milk to you children? Is there an age too early?

    I was told that Milk in general because it is made from a cow to turn a calf into a cow, that it is not the best for humans. Cows need much more protein than humans. Do you know if this is valid to any extent?

    • Kelsey Steffen
      Kelsey Steffen

      Great question, thanks Joshua! We didn’t know about the health benefits of raw milk when our first three kids were little, but Elias has been drinking raw milk since about 10 months (I would have given it to him at birth if I wasn’t nursing). Keep in mind the volume in which a calf is drinking milk and the volume we (or a baby) would consume. Nursing cows can drink upwards of 3-4 gallons a day! Check out this article to read about raw milk safety for babies.

  • Leslie

    Thank you for the good info. We love raw milk and now I feel even better about it. I’ve wondered about making sour cream from the “old” cream that I sometimes have left. I won’t be afraid of it now!!

    • Kelsey Steffen
      Kelsey Steffen

      That’s great Leslie! Cultured cream (traditionally prepared sour cream) has so many benefits! It’s tangier than store bought sour cream, but if you don’t mind the tang, you’ll be extremely happy with the results!

  • Tammy

    Thank you …. so raw goat’s milk or raw cow’s milk? Which is better? I’ve “heard” that one is better than the other? What are your thoughts?

    • Kelsey Steffen
      Kelsey Steffen

      Great question, from what I’ve “heard”, raw goat’s milk is in fact superior to raw cow’s milk. The reasons are because it’s less allergenic, easier to digest, causes less inflammation (for those who are sensitive to cow’s milk) and has the potential for greater nutrient absorption. If, however, you can get your hands on milk that comes from Jersey or Guernsey cows (called A2 casein), you’ll have similar benefits to goat’s milk. I can’t go into the differences in cost and ease of raising these animals…my expertise stops there! 😉

      • Tammy

        I was thinking, goats are so much easier to raise and maintain. Goats would eat less, and a smaller structure than cows. The cost of goats would be less, also. I was raised on raw milk, we had a fainting milk cow… sometime I’ll tell you the saga of the cow….. anyway, thank you for the answer. I was interested in your geeky science verses my old school family tradition.

        • Kelsey Steffen
          Kelsey Steffen

          Ha! A fainting milk cow? I take it that’s not a breed! 😉 I’m sure everyone will want to hear the story now that you’ve eluded to it! And I’m glad someone likes my geekiness!

  • Lauren Ellis

    Thanks for the great info! I’ve been waiting for you to post this 😉

    • Kelsey Steffen
      Kelsey Steffen

      You’re welcome, Lauren!

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