When you’re at the grocery store buying your low-fat milk, yogurt, granola and cookies, have you ever wondered why you’re buying the low-fat versions? Well, in the 1970s, the government issued a recommendation, based on scientific evidence at the time, telling people to reduce the amount of saturated fat in their diets, as it was believed to lead to obesity and heart disease, as this study on obesity at HMHB shows. At this point, the food industry started pushing the low-fat concept HARD, making us think the reason we were gaining weight was from the saturated fat in things like cow’s milk.
In reality, what this prompted was an increase in food products that had the satiating, vitamin-absorbing fat removed and replace with synthetic, factory made ingredients and then, they added sugar so that it still tasted delicious. YIKES!!
Whether I’m feeding myself, Ashton, or family and friends, it’s super important to me to be as natural as possible. I want to be able to know how every food product got to be on my countertop, what’s in it, how it was manufactured… and when it comes to skim milk and whole milk, there’s a difference.
DISCLAIMER: While there are A TON of sugar-laden, flavored dairy products out there, to keep it simple, I’m not even going to get into the added sugar dairy. I’ll only talk about the plain, low-fat and full fat dairy and what the major difference is.
How is Milk Manufactured?
To keep it all really simple, you start with raw milk. It’s separated into two things: cream and skim milk. For whole milk, some of the cream is added back into the skim milk until it’s just over 3% milk fat. All milks then get pasteurized (heated to destroy harmful bacteria) and homogenized (breaks down fat molecules in milk to avoid separation).
The whole milk is ready to be bottled, but not the skim milk. At this point it’s a nasty, blueish color with a watery texture that doesn’t resemble milk at all.
Additives to Skim Milk
The first thing they do with skim milk to make it more like actual milk is fortify it, which means adding vitamins (primarily A and D) since those vitamins are stored in the fat of milk (fat-soluble). Since all the fat has been stripped, the natural vitamins are gone and need to be added back in. So in goes synthetic vitamin A and D.
Since the skim milk is also really watery in texture, they need to thicken it up. So they do this by adding non-fat milk solids (dry milk powder). This also makes up for the protein and calcium that are lost in the process of separating out the milk fat.
What are Non-Fat Milk Solids?
The dried powder left after all the water is removed from skim, liquid milk. The reason it’s used in the production of skim milk is because it gives low-fat dairy products a richer ‘mouth feel’ without adding any fat. Since at this point skim milk is basically murky water, they add it so it more closely resembles the texture of whole milk.
However, the production of milk solids is questionable. Many critics and health professionals believe that the way milk solids are created causes fat to oxidize, increasing levels of LDL (aka: bad) cholesterol. World-renowned author Michael Pollan says in his famous book In Defense of Food, “Powdered milk contains oxidized cholesterol which scientists believe is much worse for your arteries than ordinary cholesterol.”
While not enough studies have been done on this to prove it 100%, I think the point is made. Why do we have to mess around with our food in factories?
So Whole Milk is Healthier?
Not only is whole milk processed less, fat is required for nutrient absorption, so you’ll better absorb all the vitamins and minerals naturally occurring in the milk. Also, since fat is rich and satisfying to eat, you’ll feel full and satiated for a lot longer and less likely to eat additional calories from other high fat or sugar foods. This is why products like low-fat yogurts and skim milks contain flavorings (chocolate skim milk), because the plain taste of them just isn’t good.
But, Beware the Processing!
With all of that said, full fat dairy can be very highly processed too, and all dairy products can contain high amounts of added steroids and hormones. Please be aware of where your dairy is coming from, look for organic, rBST/rBGH free labels, buy from local farmers who explain their process to you, or try something totally different all together like raw sheep or goat milk, or plant based options like coconut, almond or cashew milk. My favorite kind of almond milk is Califia Farms, Unsweetened Almondmilk, 48 oz
The Bottom Line
I’m not saying you should start consuming large amounts of high fat dairy products, but when you do consume them, choose a milk, yogurt, cream cheese or sour cream that’s a full fat, natural version. It’s about getting the least processed product possible.