Raw milk is healthy, but can be a hazard: Nutritionist

Ron Bull/torstar news service


Raw Milk advocate dairy farmer Michael Schmidt, right, with restaurant owner Jamie Kennedy speak on virtues of raw milk.

When an Ontario dairy farmer had his equipment seized last week for supplying raw milk, it sparked a controversy across the province over the necessity of pasteurization.

Many choose to consume organic milk for its higher levels of nutrients, despite warnings from Health Canada and nutritionists that the risks outweigh the benefits, and strict regulations that ban it from the market.

Michael Schmidt, the dairy farmer at the centre of the debate, got around the prohibition by allowing customers to invest in cows, making them legally entitled to drink the milk in raw form. It is a practice that is increasingly sought out by consumers.

Ciara Foy, a registered nutritional consultant practitioner said while there are health benefits to drinking milk raw, it must be absolutely clean, and trusting a source can be a health hazard.

“People will generally be interested in a farmer, and will invest in his cattle, but there are risks involved,” she said. “I wouldn’t recommend it. You really have to get clean milk, and it’s a risky thing.”

Pasteurization kills organisms such as salmonella, E. coli and listeria, bacterias that are linked to food-related illness.

Paul Duchesne, media relations officer for Health Canada, said consuming raw milk could be fatal. “You could get a very severe fever, vomiting, diarrhea, kidney failure, miscarriage, and death,” he said. “Raw milk is generally just refrigerated on farms before it is collected for sale, so it is not the safest option.”

If a completely clean source can be found, there are several health benefits. When pasteurization kills off bacteria, it also diminishes many of the vitamins and proteins naturally found in milk.

“Pasteurization takes out the good bacteria, the lactobacillus acidolphilus, and destroys it. The good bacteria is beneficial for the balance of good and bad in the gut, which affects your immunity,” Foy said.

Raw milk is also easier to digest, as pasteurization denatures the natural proteins, changing their structure. It is also a better source of calcium.

“Calcium in raw milk is much more soluble, which means it is easily absorbed by the body,” Foy said. “There is 350 mg of calcium in a glass of pasteurized milk, but only 90 will be absorbed by the body.”

Duchesne said raw milk is far more likely to be harmful than healthy. “Some people might think there are benefits, but the risks outweigh those benefits.”

nutrients in milk

Milk contains nine essential nutrients, making it a very nutrient-rich beverage.

  • Calcium — helps build and maintain strong bones and teeth.

  • Vitamin D (when milk is fortified) — helps promote the calcium absorption and enhances bone mineralization.

  • Protein — builds and repairs muscle tissue.

  • Potassium — regulates the body’s fluid balance, helps maintain blood pressure.

  • Vitamin A — helps maintain normal vision and skin. Regulate cell growth and maintains the immune system.

  • Vitamin B12 — helps build red blood cells.

  • Riboflavin — helps convert food into energy.

  • Niacin — important for the function of many enzymes.

  • Phosphorus — helps strengthen bones and generates energy in your body’s cells.

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