TikTok creators are at it again with another weird health trend: advocating for raw milk. Without calling anyone out, we’ll just say they’re claiming it has more nutritional benefits and giving it to their kids.

When it comes to this trend, experts are concerned; they want to warn people of the dangers and why they recommend drinking pasteurized milk. Let’s get into it with a registered dietitian.

Wait, what is pasteurized milk?

For starters, it’s less complicated than it sounds. “Stated simply, pasteurization is a method of heating raw milk to a temperature that kills known harmful bacteria that could potentially make you sick,” says Tracy Mann, RD, founder of Everyday Nutrition.

Experts In This Article

  • Tracy Mann, RD, registered dietitian and founder of Everyday Nutrition  

Those types of bacteria can include Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, Campylobacter, and others—which can be especially dangerous for people with weakened immune systems, children, older adults, and pregnant women, according to the FDA.

Pasteurization hasn’t always been a thing, however. “This was developed as people moved further away from the source and milk had to travel longer distances and be kept stable longer,” Mann adds.

The developer in question: Louis Pasteur. Back in the 1860s, he found heating beer and wine killed harmful bacteria. Improving on his process, we now know that raw milk must be heated to 161 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds, or 280 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit for two to six seconds to kill off the aforementioned harmful bacteria.

More on the risks of raw milk

Drinking milk (without boiling it first) can lead to some rough side effects, to say the least. “Drinking raw milk can potentially cause foodborne illness,” Mann warns. That could look like vomiting, diarrhea, a fever, or stomach cramps, among a host of other symptoms. Because of this, over 20 states have outlawed selling raw milk.

Contracting an illness from unpasteurized milk isn’t necessarily super common—from 1998 to 2018, the CDC noted 202 outbreaks—but is it worth risking even the chance of hunching over the toilet for hours? Plus, the CDC adds those outbreaks led to 228 hospitalizations…yikes.

Further, it’s important to note that it doesn’t matter if the raw milk received a negative laboratory test, is organic, can be found at the farmer’s market, or comes from hygienic farms. Regardless, the risk is still there, according to the CDC. Mann adds that bacteria can “contaminate the milk through feces, germs on the cow’s skin, environmental conditions, and the conditions of the facilities where the milk is obtained and stored.” This is why the only solution when selling milk in grocery stores is—you guessed it—pasteurization.

But aren’t natural foods “better” than processed foods?

Whether from a friend or advertisement, you may have heard that food is healthier in its natural form. However, that’s not always the case. “Some types of processing are needed to protect health,” the CDC writes, explaining pasteurization kills disease-causing germs.

While some of that bacteria may be helpful, it acknowledges, the bigger concern is the risk you run of getting sick from the harmful bacteria. If you’re looking for foods packed with good bacteria, check out probiotic yogurt, miso, sauerkraut, wild salmon, and kimchi instead.

Also, you’re not losing much of the “good stuff” by opting for pasteurized milk products. The CDC adds that “most nutrients remain in milk after it is pasteurized.” (A win-win if I’ve ever heard of one.)

Clearing up other myths about pasteurized milk

Again—and to be clear—pasteurization does not reduce the milk’s nutrients, make it safe for people with dairy allergies, or mean it can be left unrefrigerated for long periods of time, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Also, dairy isn’t bad for your gut, despite what you may see on social media.

For her part, Mann has seen her fair share of mixed takes—many unsupported by research, she says—and adds this: “Other claims, like [raw milk] is better for lactose intolerance or has more antimicrobials than pasteurized milk, aren’t accurate or are an exaggeration of facts.”

In other words, this is one of those times when you may want to ignore what some TikTok creators are saying. The next time you’re buying a jug of milk—or yogurt, or ice cream, or another dairy product—take a quick second to ensure you see the word “pasteurized” on the label. Your body will thank you for it.

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