Buying fat free milk in the past, unlike other fat free things, I have never really wondered how it was made. It obviously didn't come out of the cow fat free, yet I most certainly didn't think of it as a processed food. With some research on the subject, I have found things that shocked and surprised me and I wanted to share them with you. Here we go.
Things to know before you drink fat free milk:
1) It used to be considered an industrial waste product (left after obtaining cream from whole milk). Yes you read correctly, a waste product that grew to a rank of a health food, a major money maker and a staple product in your kid’s lunch bag.
2) It's highly processed:
"Fat free milk goes through a fairly complicated manufacturing process of being forced through a centrifuge that outputs two streams, one cream and one fat-free milk. The fat-free milk is pasteurized then condensed in a vacuum evaporator to remove water and increase the concentration of solids. It’s then sent to a spray dryer, think industrial, high-pressure milk atomizer. The sprayer shoots a fine spray of milk into a warm, air-filled chamber that removes more moisture, turning the milk into powdery spherical particles, aka milk solids. They pop up in various low-fat and fat-free dairy products". Source: here.
You may ask why those milk solids that are found in so many products in your fridge (fat free yogurt, fat free half and half I’m guessing) may be bad for you?
The process of obtaining them happens under a very high pressure which causes the cholesterol in milk to oxidize and form toxic nitrates. Oxidized cholesterol actually contributes to buildup of plaque in the arteries, while unoxidized cholesterol from unprocessed foods is actually an antioxidant to help fight inflammation in the body. The proteins found in powdered milk are so denatured that they are unrecognizable by the body and contribute to inflammation. Shockingly, dairy manufacturers are not required by the FDA to label the powdered milk as a separate ingredient, because it’s still technically just “milk,” the single ingredient found on the list.
3) What's left after processing it's not all that nutritious therefore fat free milk gets fortified with vitamins that were lost during processing. Not so fast though. Those added vitamins are fat soluble (A, D, E) therefore unless you’re having a spoon of oil with your milk, you’re actually not absorbing them at all.
4) Horrible taste – watery texture and flavor, bluish cast and very little appeal – sounds familiar? In order to replace the flavor that fat gives to milk, you have to add sugar, salt and/or other additives, to make it remotely palatable. Now, you know how flavored (especially chocolate) fat free milks and other flavored dairy products gained so much popularity.
5) It's totally unnatural. You don't see farmers skimming fat out of almonds or avocados, do you? Or fishermen getting their fish on a treadmill so it's less fatty before they sell it to you. Fatty fish is good for you, they say. How come fatty milk, isn't?? They all have naturally occurring saturated fat, just like coconut oil, that once banned, have been announced to be the new super food. It's an absolute madness to see how whole milk, that nutritionally presents a perfect balance of macro (fats, carbs, protein) and micro nutrients (A, D, E vitamins) has been diminished to a highly sweetened watery juice that we give our kids to school.
6) Research suggests that actually drinking skimmed and fat free milk leads to weight gain in children but intake of dairy fat does not - academic study can be found here.
7) Fat is not making us fat. As Walter Willet, an epidemiologist and department chair in nutrition at Harvard’s School of Public Health wrote in the American Journal of Medicine, “Diets high in fat do not appear to be the primary cause of the high prevalence of excess body fat in our society, and reductions in fat will not be a solution.” More on the study can be found here.
Okay, so after reading this you should be fairly convinced never to drink fat free or skimmed milk again, but what should you drink. Not all whole milk products are created equal. Unless you buy raw milk (which you probably won’t have access to), your store-bought milk will be homogenized, pasteurized, or most likely both. It's useful to know what each one means. Homogenization is a mechanical process of mixing milks from different herds in order to level up the flavor and fat concentration in milk that you buy. Pasteurization is a process of heating up the milk in order to prolong it’s shelf life and kill any bacteria or viruses that may have been transferred to milk from cows.
Your best bet on the highest quality whole milk would be to buy local (if possible), organic milk from grass fed cows. Visit your local market or any health food store.
One more thing before you go.
Even though you probably didn't grow up drinking fat free milk and you may not even be a milk drinker now, there is a significant chance that your kids or grandkids will be having fat free milk somewhere along the way at home or school.
With that being said, I have a request for all the parents out there: please stop giving your kids store bought chocolate milk - it's not a healthy drink, it's never been and never will be. Unless your kids are athletes training 5-7 times a week and in need of a lot of energy pre or post training, don't give it to them. Small container (1 cup or 240 ml) of your average fat free chocolate milk has, get ready!, 5-6 teaspoons of sugar in it. Still wondering why kids these days may be so hyper? If they really can't stand the flavor of regular unsweetened whole milk, which I doubt they will have a problem with, mix in raw cacao yourself and sweetened it with raw honey.