Worth a Closer Look: Low-Fat Milk

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 post about 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 Kop for a discussion about skim milk powder and labeling requirements.

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Photo Credit:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidcjones/ / CC BY 2.0


1) The Untold Story of Milk, Revised and Updated: The History, Politics and Science of Nature’s Perfect Food: Raw Milk from Pasture-Fed Cows, by Ron Schmid, ND., New Trends Publishing, 2009.

2) Eat Fat, Lose Fat: The Healthy Alternative to Trans Fats, by Dr. Mary Enig and Sally Fallon. Plume, April, 2006.

3,4) Real Food: What to Eat and Why, by Nina Planck. Bloomsbury, USA, 2006.

Fatty livers induction by orotic acid contained in skim milk powder: Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences, Volume 30, Number 9 / September, 1974

Early effects of dietary orotic acid upon liver lipid synthesis and bile cholesterol secretion in rats , Journal of Lipid Research, Vol 26, 478-486, Copyright © 1985 by Lipid Research, Inc.

Orotic Acid Found in Food Milk Powders, by P. O. Okonkwo and J. E. Kinsella.  The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 22, No. 5, May 1969, pp. 532-534.

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Betsy March 26, 2010 at 5:23 pm

Thanks for confirming with data what I have believed to be true about whole milk. I actually have lost weight since switching to all whole dairy products. Now that I think of it, my doctor did not talk about my bad liver numbers this time. Maybe the whole milk products reversed my problematic numbers.

Jim March 26, 2010 at 7:10 pm

Thanks for this informative message. Since I switched to whole milk, farm fresh free range eggs, whole milk yogurt, butter and cheese as part of my daily diet, not only has my body become more toned and muscular, I have found my daily runs to be much easier and I can push myself much harder than was the case when my diet was supposedly more healthful!

Natural Health Goodies April 1, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Thank you for the great info, I had switched to whole milk awhile back but when ever asked why it was better I couldn’t remember what to tell people, other than it has something to do with the fats actually being healthy fats. I didn’t know that about milk powder.

I sure wish more people knew about the benefits of whole milk, I was just reading a handout from our daughters school and they mentioned something about make sure your kids drink plenty of low-fat milk – even health care professionals need to be educated!

BodyEarth April 2, 2010 at 6:28 am

Thanks for your comment, Natural Health Goodies. Yes, low-fat dairy is still pushed as the healthier alternative by so many health care professionals. We have low-fat milk in our schools, too. Times may be changing, though. More and more studies are coming out showing that fat should not be to blame for ill health the way it has been for the last several decades.

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