Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Modern Milk is Frankenfood

Sadly, what we consume today as "milk" is not your grandmother's milk. Like most of the other overly processed foods available on grocery shelves today, milk has been altered, stripped and reconstituted. There are so many additives and processes involved that buying a gallon of milk (or a cup of yogurt) at your grocery store guarantees that you'll get a mixture of substances from all over the country - possibly the world. When all is said and done, the product that you actually purchase is a far cry from what actually came from the cow.

Homogenization - John Bunting, a dairy farmer who researches and writes about dairy for The Milkweed, says "homogenization is not good". "The milk is pumped under high pressure which smashes the milk molecules so hard. Homogenization splits and exposes the molecules." The hard science goes like this: A raw milk molecule is surrounded by a membrane, which protects it from oxygen. Homogenization decreases the average diameter of each fat globule and significant;ly increases the surface area. Because there's now not enough membrane to cover all of this new surface area, the molecules are easily exposed to oxygen, and the fats  become oxidized.

Milk Solids - Critics believe that milk solids, which are sometimes added back into the milk, contain oxidized, or damaged, forms of fat and cholesterol. Nonfat milk solids are created through a process of evaporation and high heat drying which removes the moisture from skim milk. Exposure to high heat and oxygen causes fats to oxidize. And oxidized cholesterol has been shown in numerous studies to lead to atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, and to raise LDL, aka "bad" cholesterol. One study from 2004 found that oxidized dietary fats are a "major cause" in the development of atherosclerosis.

This phenomenon worries Nina Planck, author of Real Food. "This damaged cholesterol is much different than what I call "fresh cholesterol," which is found in egg yolks, whole milk, and butter," she said. "We know that fresh cholesterol has one main effect and that is to raise HDL [or ‘good' cholesterol]. On the other hand, oxidized cholesterol raises LDL." What's more, Planck says that the law does not require manufacturers to tell consumers when milk solids are in food or milk. "It's a [potential] scandal because it's unlabeled," she says.

Michael Pollan writes about this as well in In Defense of Food: "In the case of low-fat or skim milk, that usually means adding powdered milk. But powdered milk contains oxidized cholesterol which scientists believe is much worse for your arteries than ordinary cholesterol." In California, where the industry reports the ingredients on its website, all industrially produced milk contains nonfat milk solids. Even "whole milk" is a product of reconstitution; it contains at least 3.5 percent milk fat and 8.7 percent nonfat milk solids. This is also true for (industrially produced) organic milk.

Are these milk solids really as big of a problem as Planck and others in her camp believe them to be?  Lloyd Metzger is doubtful. He says there's virtually no fat left in the milk to oxidize. Bunting agrees, "If it's skim milk, there might be small amounts - but that's not a real concern. If you're worried about oxidized fat, it's homogenization that is the real culprit." Has Bunting seen evidence of the health impacts associated with oxidized fats in milk? "No," he says. "But who's going to fund it? The USDA is the largest funder of dairy research in this country and they're not going to fund a study they don't want to hear about."

Milk Protein Concentrates (MPCs) - MPCs are made using ultra-filtration - milk is forced through a membrane to remove some of the lactose. MPCs have less carbohydrates and more protein than other milk solids and are often used in protein bars and drinks as well as in some processed cheeses Nonfat milk solids are approved for food use, but MPCs are not considered GRAS (generally regarded as safe) by the FDA. "MPCs have undergone a change," says Bunting. "They cannot be reconstituted into anything called milk." He suspects that the protein in MPCs is not as digestible as that in milk, but it has never been tested. He says Kraft, in particular, uses a lot of MPCs.

Lorraine Lewandrowski, a fourth-generation dairy farmer in Newport, N.Y., is also concerned about MPCs. "MPCs are derived from milk, but they're not really milk," she said. "There have been a lot of complaints by farmers concerned about MPCs being added to cheese to boost production." She says that typically around 10 pounds of milk yields one pound of cheese. MPCs - many of which come from overseas - can increase yields considerably. The MPC's are being imported from countries such as New Zealand, Mexico and China and "we cannot trust foreign governments with the safety of these ingredients", says Planck.

Milk doesn't have to contain nonfat milk solids, MPCs, or any other additives. Mark McAfee, founder of Organic Pastures, offers an alternative in California. "What is in our bottle comes straight from grass-fed, pasture-grazed cows. All we do is chill it and test it," he said.

In the New York region, where the sale of raw milk is illegal, small dairies leave their milk unhomogenized and pasteurize it at low temperatures to avoid damaging the milk molecules. "The real issue is trust," Bunting said. "If people could buy from someone they trusted, we wouldn't even need pasteurization. It extends shelf life, but it's not a safer product."

I don't know about you, but I want my milk (butter, cream, cheese, yogurt, etc.) to come from that cow right there...

Why Modern Milk is Bad for You

This post was shared at Real Food Wednesday.


  1. We are so lucky - we can buy raw milk from a farming couple that reads/follows Weston A. Price, sends out articles about Joel Salatin, etc. - and the milk is only $2.50/half gallon! If I could only get all of my kids to drink it. That is the battle I fight - they think since it comes from a farm that something is wrong with it. I waited too late to start this food conversion, but I just tell myself that it's better late than never!

  2. Hi Kim! You are very fortunate! What a great price!!!! We can get raw milk, but "legally" it is only approved for pet consumption. I have yet to buy any as I am one of those people who wants to go to the farm, see the cows, etc. Call me crazy, but I need to see that the cows are out to pasture, being treated humanely, etc. before I would consider buying the milk. Meanwhile, I am getting by with the pasturized, homogenized, organic versions.

    I have a feeling, that I am going to get some pushback at my house, as well. And, it's not like I can put some Nestle's Quik in there to cover the taste. LOL!

    You are correct - for all of us latecomers to the Real Food movement - better late then never! Keep up the great work!