Today, society puts great emphasis on anything organic, natural, or non-modified. “Experts” claim the health benefits from such products are exponential, but is this really the case? One hot food topic up for debate is milk. While no one denounces the nutritional value of milk itself, the form in which the milk is consumed is highly disputed. Is raw, or unpasteurized, milk really better for us?
One common myth is that pasteurization reduces the nutritional value of milk. This statement is actually not accurate. Pasteurization is the process of heating the raw milk to temperatures (the temperatures may vary according to the method of pasteurization used) eliminating certain heat sensitive bacteria that can be harmful upon human consumption. The process of heating the raw milk does not eliminate any of the beneficial nutrients that make milk worth drinking.
Another common belief involving milk is that raw milk naturally contains properties that eliminate harmful bacteria. This is false, and these are a few examples of bacteria found in milk that cannot be eliminated without pasteurization. Brucella, a bacteria that can often contaminate cow’s milk and cause “undulant fever” causes periodic spikes in fever for affected humans. This bacteria can be found in unpasteurized products, but is not heat resistant so pasteurization clears the milk of this risk. Campylobacter jejuni is another bacteria found in unpasteurized milk and milk products. It is known to cause diarrhea. Raw milk on its own cannot clear itself of these two pathogens; not to mention the hundreds of others not referenced here.
Before I continue, I believe it is important to bring up the idea of “organic”. What makes a food organic and do these properties automatically make it better for us? Organically grown or prepared items are harvested without the use of conventional fertilizers or pest control methods. This leaves the products relatively chemical free, a desirable trait for many consumers. Yet the belief that organic foods are healthier is relatively unsubstantiated as of right now. Studies have found no major differences in nutritional content between organically grown foods and conventionally grown ones.
To get back to the topic at hand, the idea that organic milk is safe may be partially correct if one is only concerned about the chemicals found in common fertilizers. However, from a bacterial standpoint it simply is not safe. Organic milk may be “healthier” in that it lacks certain hormones or pesticides, but if it is not pasteurized the bacteria found in regular raw milk will still exist in organic milk.
Basically, it boils down to (no pun intended) whether or not the consumer is willing to take the risk. Pregnant women, young children, and those who are immuno-compromised may want to hedge their bets in other food related areas because they are more susceptible to milk borne bacterial diseases.
This “milk myth” is an important one because if the belief that pasteurization is “bad” or unnecessary persists, it could have detrimental effects. In one last example, listeria infection can be passed from mother to unborn child if the mother consumes raw milk. Symptoms of lysteria consist of fever, chills, vomiting, and other flu-like symptoms. If a pregnant women develops lysteria late in her pregnancy, she can experience premature labor, or miscarriage. The child can become infected or even be stillborn. Giving yourself a disease for the sake of all things “natural and raw” is one thing, but is it fair to pass a potentially life threatening illness to your child simply because your refused to heat your milk?
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