In our society the prefix “ultra” has a primarily positive connotation.  Anything that’s extreme tends to be a good thing; we want bigger, better, maximum, most, and “ultra.”  In the case of pasteurization, however, “ultra” isn’t such a good thing.

Most dairy these days is simply pasteurized, which means that it undergoes the High Temperature Short Time method of pasteurization (HTST).  When milk is treated with HTST pasteurization,  it’s heated to about 160 °F for 15-30 seconds.  This amount of heating kills the majority of any potentially harmful bacteria, but it also damages some of milk’s vitamins and enzymes (causing about a 10% reduction in thiamin and vitamin B12, and a 20% decrease in vitamin C).  Nevertheless, while raw milk is more nutritious, pasteurized milk (if it’s organic and not homogenized), still offers a significant amount of digestible protein, enzymes, vitamins, and healthy fats.

Pasteurization was sort of a necessary evil that developed  as a result of the growth of industrial milk production and the unsanitary conditions that accompanied it.  Today, despite our increased knowledge of bacteria and sanitation, Big Milk producers rely on pasteurization to an even greater degree in order to increase the centralization of milk production, improve shelf-life, and aid long distance transportation.  Ultra-pasteurization takes the profit-seeking trend one step further, resulting in an even less nutritious milk.

Ultra-pasteurization or ultra-high temperature processing (UHT) involves heating milk at about 280°F for 1-2 seconds.  The main benefit of this method is that it drastically improves the shelf-life of the end dairy product, but it also negatively impacts the taste and nutritional quality.  While it’s true that ultra-pasteurized milk contains only slightly fewer vitamins than pasteurized milk, what’s more significant is that it contains significantly less digestible protein.

For a large percentage of the population, milk is one of the best sources of high quality protein.  Pasteurized milk, despite its loss in other nutrients, contains as many digestible proteins as raw milk, making it a great source of protein.  Ultra-pasteurized milk, by contrast, has 8% fewer digestible proteins (the proteins are damaged by the high temperature pasteurization), making ultra-pasteurized milk protein only as good as purified soy protein.

Couple the bad taste and nutrient loss with 8% fewer digestible proteins, and I have more than enough reasons to avoid ultra-pasteurized dairy products.  Shelf-stability is a commercial concern.  Real, living foods are not shelf-stable; they should be grown locally and consumed regularly!

The take away: If you can’t get high quality raw milk, avoid ultra-pasteurized milk, and look for organic pasteurized.

References: A Systematic Study of Pasteurization, Ultra-High Temperature Treatment, Dairy Farmers of Ontario

Originally posted 2013-06-25 22:22:04.


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