Pasteurization: Friend or Foe?

[Lowell: here is one from my personal blog in April, 2009]

Hint: the answer may surprise you.

When pasteurization was developed and instituted widely in the 1920s, tuberculosis, infant GI diseases, fevers, and all sorts of other illnesses were common—many stemming from poor production and transport processes, or poor animal nutrition.  There were many opportunities for contamination, and transporting raw goods to market introduced even more chances for exposure.  Pasteurization was a blessing, and made up for all the shortcomings—it killed off all the nasties and left milk (and cheese, and etc) that was safe to consume.

Times have changed.  We no longer need to treat the symptoms, as we can effectively treat the problem.  Decades of research and study have advanced human knowledge of how these diseases work, and we can attack the problem at every point.  Stainless steel tanks, milking machines, refrigerated trucks, strict government inspections and regulation, and a host of other informed methods make pasteurization absolutely unnecessary, and largely overkill… literally.

Pasteurization is, at a molecular level, the equivalent of a nuclear weapon.  It kills indiscriminately.  You can mitigate the effects somewhat via slow/low pasteurization methods (120 degrees for a long time, rather than 160 for a short time), but in the end they’re all like carpet bombing your food.  The harmful bacteria are killed off, certainly, but the good bacteria go with them, and damage is done to the nutrients in the food.  Proteins and fats are altered, and the healthful qualities of the food are irrevocably altered.

Steps are taken to try and make up for this.  Vitamins A and D are added back in to milk in order to make up for the original vitamins which have been wiped out.  But the type added back in is not the same as the original, they are far less effective and offer less benefit compared to the original forms of the vitamins.  And attempts are made to remedy only a few of the most obvious deficiencies, the remainder are left as-is with the damage and lack of nutrition intact; for example, vitamins C, B12 and B6 are also damaged, but rarely are those added back, and even if they were the synthetic replacements would be insufficient.

Raw products such as milk sour naturally, while pasteurized products go rancid and putrid—they have none of the natural qualities that allow them to age gracefully and prevent harmful agents from moving in.  Because all the positive qualities and bacteria are gone, the nasties can move right back in with no competition at all and go wild.

Raw products have a higher quality bar and therefore you’re getting a better quality product.  Due to the safety net of pasteurization, inspection and quality bars for dairy herds are far lower if the milk is to be pasteurized.  So you get lower quality milk that has been pasteurized, which can even include milk from sick animals… it’s no longer infected, but you have the end breakdown of those lower quality raw materials.

Humans consumed dairy products for thousands of years before pasteurization came along.  It became necessary due to the conditions at the time—dairy farms had to either be in the city to avoid long transport, and live next to sewage treatment and other industrial facilities, or off in the country, and products had to be transported long distances to get to customers.  And as these problems grew worse and cities grew bigger, dairy products became less and less safe.  Pasteurization solved a short-term problem until other better solutions could be developed.

Today’s raw products are incredibly safe, and incredibly nutritious (and delicious!).  There are very few cases of illness from eating raw products, and the few cases have been reported far out of proportion with the real rates.

Cailyn and I will still eat pasteurized products when absolutely necessary—they’re not poison by any means if consumed occasionally.  But I’m firmly convinced that when consumed regularly they’re bad for your health.  We’ve switched over 100% to original, unpasteurized products.  In many cases, I will opt for nothing rather than a pasteurized product.

So look for raw whole milk (never 2% or skim… without the fat many of the nutrients cannot be used by the body, and the fat is the good stuff anyhow—see my other posts or pages for more on macronutrient balance), raw cream, raw milk butter (cultured butter, not sweet cream butter like most modern butters), and raw milk cheeses.  Another benefit: when you get raw dairy products, you’re far more likely to get grass-fed and pasture-raised products, which have far greater nutritional qualities than grain fed or lot-raised animals.  Anyhow, avoid the other stuff… it’s best treated like it’s been nuked… which in a way, it has.

Beyond your local Whole Foods Market or other grocery stores, look for raw dairy products at farmers markets or directly from the producer.  For more locations, check here:

For more, please read:

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