It wouldn't be wrong to say that dairy milk is an important part of everyday diet for most people. Making the children have a glass of milk daily is an age-old custom that is prevalent in many households across the country. This is because milk plays an integral role in a child's overall development. Even for adults, regular intake of milk is considered to be of utmost importance for ensuring healthy bones as well as strong teeth.(Formula Milk vs Breast Milk: Which One is Better for Your Baby?)
Milk is one of the richest sources of calcium. Adequate level of calcium in the body wards off bone related ailments like osteoporosis, bone injuries and others. Many researches suggest that calcium when coupled with Vitamin D can not only benefit bones and teeth but can also protect against cancer, diabetes and hypertension. Calcium, Vitamin D and iron are some of the most important nutrients for women, especially those nearing their menopause.
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Regular milk consumption has also been linked to muscle growth, repair and strength. It is also enriched with choline and potassium.
With the many benefits of milk listed above, let us now talk about the types of milk that are available in the market. There has also been an ongoing debate over the benefits as well as disadvantages of raw milk consumption. In India, it has been a tradition to use raw milk for generations wherein the milk is boiled before consumption. But is it really safe to consume it that way?
I come from a small town in Uttar Pradesh where most people in our neighborhood would get up early in the morning and get fresh, raw milk from the local doodhwalla. In our house, a person would come early in the morning with a huge container filled with raw milk. He would measure the milk with a beaker, pour it in another vessel and hand it over to my mother. My mother would then boil the milk for quite some time, then let it cool before refrigerating it. She believed that though raw milk is highly nutritious, it contains certain bacteria that may be harmful for us.
I don't really remember when my family ditched the local doodhwalla but there came a time when we started picking pasteurized milk instead.
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Raw cow's milk
As the name suggests, raw milk is cow's milk in its most natural form. Honestly, my family used to consume raw milk (boiled) till almost a decade back and we never complained of any sickness or ailments. I once tried consuming raw milk - straight from what the milkman had got us - and ended up with an upset stomach and of course, my mom's thrashing.
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Raw milk doesn't enjoy good faith from many around the world, however those who are staunch believers of its goodness, swear by its health benefiting properties and like to consume it as is. According to many raw milk enthusiasts, pasteurization or cooking raw milk kills some very important and nutritive properties of milk. It also takes away its freshness and gives it a cooked flavour. Raw milk is also believed to be a source of Vitamin C which is lost after it is pasteurized or cooked.
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Despite this, unfortunately, there have been more instances and studies done in the recent past enumerating why one should skip consuming milk straight from the nature's bounty. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, United States (CDC), "Raw milk and products made from it (including soft cheese, ice cream, and yogurt) can pose severe health risks. That's because raw milk has not undergone a process called pasteurization that kills disease-causing germs, such as Campylobacter, E. coli, and Salmonella."
Experts believe that bacteria like E.coli - essentially found in cow's waste - can easily mix with milk. If cows are not cleaned properly, the remnants of waste can make its way to the freshly collected milk. The bacteria can then multiply and can cause serious harm if one consumes the same milk.
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According to Dr. Sunil Sharma, general physician and head of emergency, Madan Mohan Malviya Hopspital, New Delhi, raw milk should never be consumed. It may lead to infections and serious health issues. "We have come across cases of brucellosis in past which is triggered primarily because of indigestion of raw/unpasteurized milk or undercooked meat from infected animals. I would say it is always better to stick to pasteurized milk and be safe as raw milk consumption may also trigger milk-borne pathogen infections."
What is pasteurization?
Pasteurization is a process which is undertaken by dairy companies that sell pasteurized milk in packets or tetra packs. The process involves heating milk at a particular temperature for a stipulated time to ensure killing of harmful bacteria that can cause severe damage to human health. It has three variants -
- Milk is heated for at least thirty minutes at 145 degree Fahrenheit.
- High Temperature Short Term Pasteurization (HTST) which involves heating milk for 15 seconds at 161.1 Fahrenheit.
- Ultra Heat Treat, wherein milk is heated to 280 degree Fahrenheit for 2 seconds
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The U.S FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that "pasteurization does not reduce milk's nutritional value." CDC does acknowledge the fact that pasteurization inactivates certain enzymes and reduces few vitamins like Vitamin C, however it does argue that "milk is not a major source of Vitamin C" in the U.S. diet.
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Is raw milk really bad?
In simpler words, milk in its natural form - straight from the cow - has characteristics to get contaminated quite quickly. As explained above, even the slightest amount of carelessness during milking the cow can lead to milk contamination which if consumed can prove to be quite fatal for health. This is one of the reasons why pasteurized milk is preferred over raw milk. As far as United States is concerned, raw milk is a serious topic of debate. Most states have enforced a strict ban on the selling and distribution of raw milk.
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So, if raw milk is not desirable for consumption, is boiling an option? Is it then at par with the pasteurized versions sold by the leading dairy brands? Scientifically and technically, properly cooked food items are deemed fit for human consumption. The same is true with raw milk as well. It is only now that I understand why my mother would let the milk boil for a long time and emphasis on reheating whenever possible.
"I have had boiled raw milk all my life until I moved to Delhi and started consuming pasteurized milk. Boiling certainly lessens any chances of bacteria's presence in milk, however, pasteurized is better if you want to be 100% sure, " said Dr. Sharma.
On the other hand, a Delhi-based weight management expert, Dr. Gargi Sharma, strictly recommends not considering raw milk consumption. According to her, "Our lifestyle is such that we are now more prone to getting affected by bacterial and viral infections. One should not try risking oneself by drinking raw milk. Even after boiling, you can't rely on it being absolutely safe for consumption." She pointed out the fact that everyone can't handle raw milk, especially those with weaker immunity. Its consumption may therefore cause more trouble than any good. "I would certainly not recommend it to young kids, older people as well as pregnant women, " concluded Dr. Gargi.
Gone are those days when you could imagine cows grazing in lush greens and be assured of getting milk from healthy, well-fed animals. In a century where most things are being found adulterated or with excess of harmful chemicals, pesticides and what not, how can you trust your local doodhwallas with the safety standards? Isn't it better to rely on products that are under national food security standards and are duly tested for their quality?
It is just an observation, a question that crosses my mind more often now.
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