By Ellen

For years my family only drank low-fat milk.  It’s supposed to help us keep our weight down and reduce the risk of heart disease, right?  Wrong.  In fact, reduced-fat milk can harm our health.  We now steer clear of the stuff whenever possible.

Powdered milk is bad for our bodies

Did you know that almost all low-fat and some skim milk contain added skim milk powder to add body?  Unfortunately, the powdered milk is produced in such a way that it becomes a health hazard.  In order to make dried milk powder, milk is forced through tiny holes at a high pressure.  During this process, the cholesterol in the milk becomes oxidized, resulting in milk powder that damages arteries and that actually raises the risk of heart disease.

Ron Schmid, author of The Untold Story of Milk, explains:

Production of non-fat dried milk involves forcing skim milk out a tiny hole at high temperatures and pressures, a process that not only destroys nutrients but also causes the production of nitrates–which are potent carcinogens.  Furthermore, the process causes oxidation of the cholesterol in milk.  As I have discussed, cholesterol is an important nutrient, especially for the growing child.  However, oxidized cholesterol has been shown to initiate the process of injury and pathological plaque build-up in the arteries; in animal experiments in which large amounts of cholesterol induce atherosclerotic lesions, researchers use oxidized cholesterol, not the undamaged cholesterol that occurs normally in food.¹

Dr. Mary Enig and Sally Fallon agree:

Contrary to what you’ve heard, cholesterol is not the cause of heart disease, but rather a potent antioxidant weapon against free radicals in the blood.  Naturally produced in the body and naturally present in the foods we eat, it’s a repair substance that actually helps heal arterial damage.

However, heat and oxygen can damage cholesterol just as they do fats.  Damaged, or “oxidized” cholesterol can injure arterial walls and lead to a pathological plaque buildup in the arteries.  Both of these changes can result in heart disease.

The authors go on to suggest that we avoid sources of damaged cholesterol such as powdered eggs and powdered milk.²

You won’t always find skim milk powder listed in the ingredients of your milk.  Because it’s considered an industry standard to use milk powder, milk processors aren’t required to list it.  Some skim milk may be made completely of reconstituted skim milk powder.³  Of course, skim milk made from non-homogenized milk — where the cream is simply poured off the top, is perfectly fine.

Does reduced-fat milk hurt our livers, too?

A relative had something very interesting happen:  She had high liver enzymes for fifteen years, even though she stopped drinking alcohol.  Even weight loss didn’t have much of an effect on her liver numbers.  Then, last fall, her liver tests came back completely normal.  Her doctor asked her what she thought had made the difference and my relative said, “whole milk” –  She had been drinking skim or low-fat milk up until a year before her test, when she switched to whole milk.

Now this is just an anecdote, but I decided to look into the connection between skim milk consumption and liver health.  I found a couple of animal studies that support the idea that skim milk powder can be harmful to the liver.  These studies blame orotic acic, which is found in milk, but in higher amounts in milk powder:

Read more about orotic acid:

Powdered milk is added to many foods — even organic ones, including yogurt, cocoa mix, candy bars, infant formula, processed foods and baked goods.  And remember that anything with added skim milk may have used skim milk powder.  I was disappointed to learn that our local dairy that makes yummy organic, grass-fed, whole milk yogurt adds milk powder certain times of the year.

Reduced-fat milk might not even help with weight loss!

See my postabout a Swedish study that showed children who drank whole milk weighed less than those who didn’t drink whole milk.  In fact, the study found an association between lower body mass index (BMI) and higher saturated fat consumption for these children.  Drinking reduced fat milk did not lead to lower BMI in the children studied.

Whole Milk

We always drink whole milk and cream now (never ultra-pasteurized) from cows that eat grass.  Whole milk is a wonderful food that comes with the fat needed to use the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) it contains.

Nina Planck says this about milk:

Because it was made to be the only source of nutrients for growing babies, milk contains everything required to digest and use its nutrients.  The fats in milk, for example, enable the body to digest its protein and assimilate its calcium.  According to Mary Enig in Know Your Fats, the saturated fats in milk (such as butyric acid) are particularly easy to digest because they do not have to be emulsified first by the liver.  Unlike polyunsaturated fats, which the body tends to store, the saturated fats in milk are rapidly burned for energy.4

It’s interesting to watch the shift away from low-fat dairy in our community.  Often I stand in line at our town’s market behind someone else buying local whole milk from grass-fed cows.  The demand is increasing!

Read more:

  • For a fantastic discussion of the relative merits of different kinds of milks (raw, pasteurized, homogenized, hormone-free, organic, grass-fed), please see Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s post.
  • Real Milk

UPDATE 7/8/10: Head over to Kelly the Kitchen Kopfor a discussion about skim milk powder and labeling requirements.