Ah, the French know their fats. When my husband worked with a Frenchman, he reminisced about this time of year in France: “Fall is the best time of year because the food is so wonderful: the fish are fatter, the cream is plentiful, and the vegetables being harvested are some of my favorites.” Yep, he wanted more fat in his fish!
We’ve been talking about good fats and bad fats and how to find them, but milk is one area where we Americans simply cut the fat. I’m challenging you now to consider full-fat dairy for you and your family.
If you’ve read any good historical fiction from the era of the 1800s or so, you might have come across stories of mothers who used to sell the cream from their family cow’s milk. Their children were always the sickly ones because they were stuck with skim milk while the family’s pocketbook grew fatter because of the premium people were willing to pay for the cream. In most places, skim milk was fed to the pigs. This was simply common knowledge – skim milk was a byproduct.
When we started getting our milk from a farm, it brought up a lot of interesting conversation with my relatives…with and without my presence! (Ever heard the phrase “My ears were burning?”) My grandpa warned us that when the cows went out on pasture, they could get into garlic or something and make the milk taste awful. (This is true.) My in-laws worried that we’d get sick and wondered, “Why not just buy it at the store?” (This is not a big concern, and a post for another day.)
My dad, who is old enough that he rode on the back of a milk truck as a young boy, reminisced about working out on his uncle’s farm. He remembers separating the cream from the milk using a machine and taking it to other folks who then made butter with it. I had to ask him what they did with the skim milk. Without missing a beat, he said that skim milk was fed to the pigs. It was a matter of course. Nobody wanted the skim milk for their families.
And now? We often pay a premium for low-fat and fat-free novelties. Hmph.
The Issue with Dairy Fat
It’s saturated, mostly.
Since saturated fat is often linked to heart disease, that means dairy fats are out of fashion for the same reason butter and red meat are on the chopping block (or off of it, for health’s sake).
My Issues with Low-Fat Dairy
- Missing fat-soluble vitamins – they go out with the fat
- Saturated fats are good for you
- Powdered milk/Oxidized cholesterol – read on!
It used to be an industry standard to add powdered nonfat milk to reduced fat and skim milk, and I have emails from two milk companies and a professor at Michigan State assuring me that powdered milk is no longer added to skim or low-fat milk.
When I used to make skim milk homemade yogurt, I always added nonfat dry milk to the mix, both to add protein and thicken it up. This is what I was taught by the health books I was reading at the time.
Learn more: What kind of milk should I buy? Milk terms deciphered!
What’s Wrong with Powdered Milk?
“When they remove the fat to make reduced fat milks, they replace the fat with powdered milk concentrate, which is formed by high temperature spray drying. All reduced-fat milks have dried skim milk added to give them body, although this ingredient is not usually on the labels. The result is a very high-protein, lowfat product. Because the body uses up many nutrients to assimilate protein—especially the nutrients contained in animal fat—such doctored milk can quickly lead to nutrient deficiencies.”
“A note on the production of skim milk powder: liquid milk is forced through a tiny hole at high pressure, and then blown out into the air. This causes a lot of nitrates to form and the cholesterol in the milk is oxidized. …You do not want to eat oxidized cholesterol. Oxidized cholesterol contributes to the buildup of plaque in the arteries, to atherosclerosis. So when you drink reduced-fat milk thinking that it will help you avoid heart disease, you are actually consuming oxidized cholesterol, which initiates the process of heart disease.”
(My note: nitrates are pegged as carcinogens, cancer-causing agents.)
Oxidized Cholesterol and Heart Disease
Someone asked me once after I explained all this if skim milk would be exempt. Because it has no fat, how can it have cholesterol? I found my answer:
Ed Blonz of Chicago’s Daily Herald confirms that
- Powdered milk does contain oxidized cholesterol
- Skim milk also contains cholesterol, even though it doesn’t have any fat
- Skim and low-fat milks have powdered milk added to them
- Oxidized cholesterol is dangerous to your health
He also claims that the small amounts of oxidized cholesterol in skim milk should not have much of an impact on your health.
Note: Do see the comments for some contradiction and confirmation from an academic, farm-raised reader.
This 2003 study shows that oxidized cholesterol is real, a concern for heart disease and perhaps cancer, that it is formed in processed dairy powder, and that a small amount of it is in your supermarket milk. The authors recommend eating lots of antioxidants to combat this. (My interpretation: “Drink milk, but eat blueberries too.”)
Wiki also says that powdered milk contains oxidized cholesterol and that the free radicals may cause arterial plaque.
How Worried Should we be About Oxidized Cholesterol?
We probably (definitely?) consume oxidized foods all the time, unfortunately. I recently learned that when foods turn brown (picture a cut apple or banana), it is a sign of oxidation. Charred, grilled meat has a big problem with oxidation, as would the nice toast I just ate with raw honey on top. Anytime damaged cells come in contact with air, oxidation happens. (That’s why I cut my lettuce with a special lettuce knife, and grill red meat with dark beer.) When we eat cooked foods, chances are we’re consuming some oxidized free radicals.
So is the oxidized cholesterol in milk something to be concerned about? As usual, I’m going to buck the system and play the “better safe than sorry” card while sharing all the information with you. This way you, too, can stand in front of the milk at the store and think: “Aaaaaaaahhhhhhh! I don’t know what to do!!!!!!” make an informed decision.
An Unfortunate Hazard of Dairy Fat: Homogenization
“Milk straight from the cow contains cream, which rises to the top. Homogenization is a process that breaks up the fat globules and evenly distributes them throughout the milk so that they do not rise. This process unnaturally increases the surface area of fat exposing it to air, in which oxidation occurs and increases the susceptibility to spoilage. Homogenization has been linked to heart disease and atherosclerosis.”
Some say that homogenization is one of the top three causes of heart disease, which is a big deal for me because that little evil runs in my husband’s family in a big way. I could buy a milk (Moo-ville brand – what a great name!) that is unhomogenized for about $4 a gallon to make homemade yogurt. Other than the homogenization gig, though, it doesn’t have a lot of other benefits over conventional milk for $1.99 (it’s not organic, still at least partly grain-fed). I struggle with paying double.
I already pay double for so many other things, from eggs and our raw milk for drinking to organic lettuce. Most weeks, I just grab a gallon of store-brand milk and offer up the homogenization with a prayer for my husband’s health and safety. We love our yogurt, and I am banking on the hope that the benefits of the probiotics and the lack of powdered milk at least balance out the evils of homogenization. If I was a yogurt purchaser, Stonyfield Farms has a yogurt with a creamline. This is probably a nice, safe choice for probiotics and dairy!
UPDATE: I have a new method for my yogurt-making milk. See all the updates here.
BIG UPDATE: That email I mentioned above from the MSU professor also addresses homogenization. Again, there is little to fear: homogenization happens without allowing the fat globules to touch air. Within 10-20 seconds, a new protective membrane forms around the fat globules. There should be no oxidation fears with homogenized milk, either.
Why I don’t go for Organic Milk
Most organic milk (if it travels cross country or is in a cardboard container) is “ultra-high-temperature pasteurized (UHT)”, which means it’s been heated to 200 degrees instead of down somewhere around 150 for regular pasteurization. It could sit on your pantry shelf. Not only does that diminish the nutrients and make the food truly a “dead” one, but that’s just too much for me. Milk on a shelf. No, thank you. That’s definitely NOT natural! Photo from bexa
Our Family’s Story
I bet you’re wondering how our family’s weight is doing since we switched to full-fat dairy. It’s okay, you can ask if we’re fatter. We consume a fair amount of dairy products, so this is a very good question. In fact, I hope you’re curious because I’m about to tell you!
No one’s gained a pound.
I was still losing baby weight when we made the switch, and I still have that last nagging 5 pounds to go. Many people say that never leaves until baby is finished nursing, and Lovey Girl has no interest in quitting. But all my pants fit and I feel good.
My husband is slimmer and weighs less now than any time in our marriage. He started working out more seriously in June, but he didn’t gain any weight in the six months of full-fat dairy prior to that, either. Other than adding fat to our diets, we haven’t made any other changes that would change our total caloric intake, and he still drinks his pop like he always has.
My kids are so skinny they’re going to disappear. I have a certain amount of guilt about the two years I subjected my son’s little body to skim milk and dry-milk-enhanced skim yogurt. 🙁 I just have to offer that one up and rest in the fact that I did the best I knew then, and I’m doing the best I know now.
An Apology and Two Reassurances
Powdered milk, oxidized cholesterol, homogenization, UHT shelf-stable milk...so much you didn’t know you didn’t want to know!
I’m so sorry to do this to you. The more I learn, the more I wish I was ignorant…but I don’t want to be cancer-ridden, either!
- For those of you “in the know” already, I know there is much more to say on the subject of milk. I’m just talking fat here, after all: It’s a Fat Full Fall. I can talk about pasteurization, enzymes, cultured dairy, hormones, and what cows eat later.
- For those of you for whom this information is all new and you’re thinking, “Now what do I do with the gallon of skim milk in my fridge!?!” or “What will I buy on the next shopping trip???” don’t despair. You’re alive and healthy today, and you will be tomorrow, unless the Lord has other plans for you. Say your nighttime prayers. Say your morning prayers. Say your “What milk do I buy??” prayers. And then accept Baby Steps, pat yourself on the back for learning something new and being willing to make a change so that you’re a little healthier than you were yesterday. And always trust that God will take care of you, body and soul. Soul first.
If you need some food to make you feel better, try these pumpkin muffins (with healthier upgrades).