When raw foods aren’t necessarily better

December 16, 2008
Volume 05    |   Issue 48

Some people believe that the food they eat should be raw. They claim the food is healthier. One reason for this belief is that raw foods contain beneficial enzymes. And heat destroys these enzymes. But not all enzymes are good for you. Some are downright harmful. Take some of those in raw milk, for example.

Raw, unpasteurized milk does contain beneficial bacteria. And the heat from pasteurization does destroy these beneficial bacteria. So there are people who believe it’s healthier than pasteurized milk.

Not necessarily.

A group of Israeli researchers recently identified a bacterium that grows in raw milk at low temperatures. These bacteria can spoil the milk even while it’s refrigerated. This bacterium, called Chryseobacterium oranimense, not only multiplies in cold environments, it also secretes an enzyme that can cause raw milk to spoil.

C. oranimense is not the only culprit. One of the bacteria in raw milk can cause tuberculosis. And there are other species of bacteria that live in raw milk that scientists haven’t ever identified. So we don’t know whether or not they are harmful. In England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, they’re not taking any chances. Bottles of raw milk must display a warning that indicates the milk is unpasteurized and may contain harmful organisms, such as Salmonella.

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You may be able to tell by its taste whether or not raw milk has spoiled. Then again, it could taste just fine to you. The same goes for raw milk products like cheeses and yogurt.

Cold-tolerant bacteria can affect about 10% of dairy products. So if you have a suppressed immune system or lack sufficient beneficial bacteria to fight the pathogenic kinds, avoid raw dairy. If, on the other hand, you take probiotics to support your immune system and you trust the source of your raw dairy products, they may be fine.

There are enough health problems caused by foods that have been contaminated with pathogenic bacteria. So I’ll stick to pasteurized dairy.

Your voice of reason in Women's Health,


Hantsis-Zacharov et al. Chryseobacterium oranimense sp. nov., a psychrotolerant, proteolytic and lipolytic bacterium isolated from raw cow's milk. International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology, 2008; 58 (11):

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