In the last post, we covered hormones and antibiotics in milk. At this point, the science suggests that the synthetic hormones and antibiotics that are used with many milk-producing cows do not cause cancer or other health problems. If you choose to avoid those, there is no risk if you prefer to drink milk without added hormones or antibiotics.
It’s a different story when it comes to pasteurization!
There are a lot of people now who are proponents of drinking “raw”, unpasteurized milk. They say that pasteurization destroys enzymes and “healthy” bacteria. This may be somewhat true. However, the important thing to realize is that pasteurization also kills very harmful bacteria like E.coli, salmonella, and campylobacter, which are very dangerous pathogens. Unpasteurized milk can also contain mycobacterium bovis, which can cause tuberculosis.
The risks of drinking unpasteurized milk are even greater for certain groups including those undergoing cancer treatment and pregnant women. If your immune system is weakened, you’ll have even more trouble fighting off those harmful bacteria if they are present in the milk.
If you prefer the taste of unpasteurized milk or are concerned about the removal of good bacteria, you may consider looking into the methods used at your local dairy. Many small farms use alternative pasteurization techniques that use lower temperatures for longer times. This way, you can get the best of both worlds: safe milk free of harmful pathogens that is closer to the unpasteurized version. Plus, you’d be supporting a local farmer. Win-win!
If you like the taste of conventional milk or you don’t have access to a local dairy, there are plenty of healthful options!
If you are worried about not getting enough healthy bacteria, not to worry! See my posts on prebiotics and probiotics, and foods that contain healthy bacteria.
The definition of organic milk is hard to come by, but it basically means that the milk comes from a cow whose milk production was not prompted by an artificial growth hormone, whose feed was not grown with pesticides, was not treated with antibiotics, and which had access to pasture. It is important to know that organic farmers can use pesticides, they just have to be (mostly) non-synthetic. Because the organic certification requires that no antibiotics be used, any cows that get sick and need to be treated with antibiotics are removed from the herd and sent to a conventional farm.
Organic milk is still pasteurized, as the law requires all milk sold commercially to be pasteurized. A lot of people choose organic because it doesn’t have antibiotics or artificial hormones. Others choose it for animal welfare reasons or the fact that it may be better for the environment. While all of these are great reasons to choose organic, it is important to note that organic milk is not any more, or less, nutritious than conventional milk.
Personally, I choose conventional most of the time, organic some of the time, and a local dairy some of the time.
Another common term you may see around milk is grass-fed. There are no federal standards that regulate this term, though there are some independent organizations that set standards. The benefits of grass-fed milk are similar to those of organic milk.
For people who are unable to drink milk because of lactose intolerance, there are a few options. Lactose-free milk (enzymatic reduction) and ultra-filtered milk (reduction through filtration) are great alternatives to conventional milk. Fairlife milk is a brand of milk that is ultra-filtered. It results in being lactose-free, and also higher in protein.
The Bottom Line:
Any version of milk that you choose will be nutritious for you. Don’t stress over it.
Remember you can always drink soy milk as a substitute for cow’s milk if you don’t tolerate lactose or you just don’t want to deal with cow’s milk!
Kim Madsen says
Thank you for your straight forward non-nonsense approach to nutrition information! As a registered dietitian myself, I always appreciate you articles and sharing with my clients and or family/friends. Thank you!