Blog Post

One question I often get asked is “why no dairy”? I’m sure the look on my face has people wondering. The perplexed look from this question and actually many questions is because the answer isn’t the simple “one-liner” that people are looking for. Nutritional questions are rarely black and white.

I came across this write up on a blog sent to me by a fellow CrossFit Gym owner. Once you read it you’ll understand why those of us who have the “inside scoop” can’t give a direct answer to a respectable direct question.

Milk is truly one of the oldest, simplest whole foods – and we certainly drink a lot of it. According to the USDA, Americans consumed an average of 1.8 cups of dairy per person, per day in 2005.

But is the milk Americans are drinking today the same milk our ancestors drank thousands of years ago? Is it even the same milk our great-grandparents were drinking a hundred years ago? By and large, the answer is no.

Like many other modern foods, most of the milk sold today has been altered, stripped, and reconstituted. Once minimally processed, milk now undergoes a complicated and energy-intensive process before it ends up bottled and shipped to grocery store shelves. There are so many additives and processes involved that buying a gallon of milk or a cup of yogurt at your grocery store essentially guarantees that you’ll get a mixture of substances from all over the country — and possibly the world.  But that’s not where it ends; milk by-products also now appear in a wide variety of other processed foods.

Lloyd Metzger, director of the Midwest Dairy Foods Research Center and Alfred Chair of the Dairy Department at South Dakota State, outlined the process: Milk is received at the processing facilities and is tested for off-flavors and antibiotics. Several tanker trunks worth (from multiple different farms) get combined and placed in holding silos. Then the milk goes through a cream separator to create two products: cream and skim milk. At this point, various percentages of cream are added back into the skim milk in order to create whole and low fat milk. Milk is then homogenized, which is the process of passing it at high speeds through very small holes to create a uniform texture and prevent the cream from separating and rising to the top. It’s then pasteurized, or heated to at least 145 degrees. In some states, non-fat milk solids are added to the milk in order to thicken it and give it a better mouth feel. Then synthetic vitamins A and D are added.

When all is said and done, the product is a far cry from the milk that actually comes out of a cow. And, depending on whom you ask, each step along the way might carry its own risks.

Homogenization

“Homogenization is not good,” says John Bunting, a dairy farmer who researches and writes about dairy for The Milkweed. “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. Homogenizationdecreases the average diameter of each fat globule and significantly 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. Onestudy 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.

Nonfat milk solids are also found in low-fat and fat-free yogurt and cheese, infant formula, baked goods, cocoa mix, and candy bars.

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.”

Regardless, says Plank, “[Industrial] milk is transformed by heat. Why would you consume an adulterated product?”

 

Yet another product that ends up in industrial dairy products is milk protein concentrates. MPCs, as they’re called, are made by 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, according to Metzger. Nonfat milk solids are approved for food use but MPCs are not considered GRAS, or 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.

Planck is troubled that most MPCs are being imported from countries such as New Zealand, Mexico, and China. “We cannot trust foreign governments with the safety of these ingredients,” she says. According to Metzger, MPCs must appear in ingredient lists, but the country of origin doesn’t have to be labeled.

An alternative

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. Unfortunately, most Americans don’t have access to real milk from a local dairy farmer whose operations are transparent. “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.”

Even when milk is produced regionally, farmers still encounter processing hurdles. Lewandrowski raises 60 cows on pasture and knows them each by name. But since she can’t afford her own bottling facility, her grass-fed milk gets mixed with that from farms across the region (many of them large-scale dairies that feed their cattle grain and keep them in confinement) and gets shipped off for use in a myriad of dairy products. “People tell me I should bottle my own milk,” she says. “But I don’t have the $50,000 it would cost.”

Meanwhile, industrial milk production is being shaped to increase profits in counter-intuitive ways. “Americans are drinking more skim milk, while they’re consuming more milk fat, in the form of ice cream and half and half,” says Bunting. In some areas, he points out, school districts have banned whole milk and are serving students skim milk.

“Part of the idea is to take that fat and use it somewhere else more profitable,” he says. McAfee agrees, “They have butchered milk into its parts and now make more money because of the low fat craze.”

So how can Americans gain access to real, unadulterated milk? This would require a re-localization of dairy production, which would mean more dairy farmers. “Look,” Bunting says, “if you don’t want industrial processes, then we need more people producing food.” Of course, in order to make that work, we’ll also need a much more robust support system for dairy farmers, and a larger base of consumers willing to pay more for milk produced on a smaller scale.

Source – Kristin Wartman,  Certified Nutrition Educator and holds a Master’s degree in Literature from UC Santa Cruz.

  • Justin Hignight

    This brings up a lot of the same issues (other than cost) that I’ve been going back and forth with ever since I’ve been a CrossFitter. That being said, do you or Joey know of any local dairy or general livestock farms anywhere near here that sell their own dairy or grass fed beef? I know they sell it at the Granary, but let’s be honest with ourselves here…how do I have any way of knowing for sure that what I’m buying in a health food store is what is claims to be? For all I know I could be getting the same meat that you get in WalMart or Albertson’s and being sold at a higher price under the “grass fed” label. I hate to sound paranoid but if I’m going to pay a higher price to take care of my health then I’d better be dern sure I know what I’m getting. This is one of the reasons I rarely eat fish anymore is because it’s coming from countries like Thailand, China, and Vietnam where I think they must catch the fish from the same water they empty their sewage in (some people may think that’s an exaggeration but you’d be surprised!)(and no offense if you’re from any of those countries) It seems the only way to know what you’re buying is to actually know the farmer and visit the farm to actually see what the animals are being fed and then research for yourself on the type of grass they’re being fed! You’re so right Jaremy…the food industry isn’t EVEN the same as it was 100 years ago…so back to my question…do you know of any farms anywhere NEAR here where this might be possible? If not then out of total honesty I really don’t feel any better off than if I just kept buying conventional meats and as far as dairy goes I guess I should just do as CrossFit recommends and just forget it altogether…hope this stimulates some discussion:-)

    • Jaremylynn

      Well I do Know that Slanker’s grass fed beef has a good reputation. I would think that if you wanted to visit the farm you could probably arrange that. I don’t think you’re being too paranoid, paranoid yes, but maybe not too much. If you read the timeline from a previous blog, you’ll see that business is business. I feel that there are other reasons not to do dairy and maybe CrossFit agrees which would be why it’s not in the prescribed nutrition. Our reasons may or may not vary. In general, if for no other reason than that of the article, I would just stay away from it.

  • Sandy A.

    I’m a little late on this thread since I am new to the group, but I raise dairy goats, milk them and drink (raw) milk and make cheese and yogurt. There would be no point in me raising dairy goats if I did not consume their products. Goat’s milk is different in molecular structure than cow’s milk. That is why many people who are lactose intolerant can drink goat’s milk. This is not a plug for Circle A Farm (our farm)! I’m just saying what my particular situation is.
    We also butcher the bucklings for our freezer, and for sale.