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Is Powdered Milk Bad For You?

Online sources claim that dry milk is dangerous because it contains oxidized cholesterol. What’s the truth?

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS,
November 22, 2010
Episode #115

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Is Powdered Milk Bad for You?

Recently, a listener posted a question about powdered milk on my Facebook page. She was wondering whether it’s OK to use dried or powdered milk in place of fresh milk.

Powdered milk is, of course, less expensive than fresh milk and it’s relatively non-perishable. And in terms of nutrients like calcium and protein, dried milk is comparable to fresh milk.

But if you research this question on the Internet, you’ll quickly come across a lot of sources who claim that powdered milk is extremely bad for you because it contains oxidized cholesterol, which is supposedly the most dangerous type of cholesterol.  (Well, in truth, it’s just one source, but it’s a source that’s widely repeated.) They also claim that powdered milk is added to all lowfat and fat-free milk in order to give it more body. And they say that there’s no way for you to tell whether or not your milk contains added dry milk because the packagers are not required to list powdered milk in the ingredient list. Pretty scary stuff.

As is typical of the nutrition information that you find on the Internet, the claims about powdered milk are a jumble of fact, half-truths, and outright fallacies. So, let’s take a closer look at the potential dangers of powdered milk.

Does Powdered Milk Contain Oxidized Cholesterol?

It is true that in the process of turning fresh milk into a powder, the cholesterol in the milk is likely to get oxidized. And it is true that oxidized cholesterol appears to be a particularly dangerous form of cholesterol of all.

What is Oxidized Cholesterol?

Oxidized cholesterol is cholesterol that’s been sort of roughed up around the edges, which makes it particularly irritating to your blood vessels. To make a long story short, that irritation is what triggers the formation of plaques, which are the beginning of heart disease. What’s worse, oxidized cholesterol molecules can in turn oxidize other cholesterol molecules, setting off a sort of chain reaction. 

Is Dried Milk Added to Skim and Lowfat Milk?

As is typical of the nutrition information that you find on the internet, the claims about powdered milk are a jumble of fact, half-truths, and outright fallacies.

It’s also true that a packager could add dried milk to fresh milk and, because of the way the FDA labeling regulations define “milk,” they would not be required to list powdered milk in the ingredient list. However, it is absolutely not true that all skim and lowfat milk has dried milk added to it In fact, you might have to work pretty hard to find some that does have dried milk added to it.

I spoke with representatives for half a dozen brands of milk, including national brands like Stonyfield Farms and Horizon, as well as my local store brand, organic as well as conventional. None of them add any dried milk to their fresh milk products.

The only exception was a product called Farmland Dairies Special Request Skim Plus. This is a skim milk that’s marketed as being creamier than regular skim milk. They do this by adding dried milk powder to the fresh milk. And, sure enough, the dried milk is not listed separately in the ingredient list.

However, you can easily tell if dry milk has been added to fresh milk by looking at the Nutrition Facts label. If the milk contains more than 9 grams of protein per one-cup serving, you can be pretty sure that they’ve added dry milk powder to it. If it doesn’t, you can be sure that they didn’t.

Should You Avoid Powdered Milk and Eggs?

It’s probably a good idea to avoid eating foods that contain oxidized cholesterol. But nonfat dried milk is not going to be a significant source of oxidized cholesterol because nonfat milk contains almost no cholesterol to begin with.  So, I don’t think that you need to go out of your way to avoid nonfat dry milk or products made with it.

Whole milk is somewhat higher in cholesterol and powdered whole milk would therefore pose more of a concern. But perhaps the biggest concern with oxidized cholesterol is powdered eggs. Eggs, of course, contain a whole lot of cholesterol—and that means that powdered eggs are going to contain a whole lot of oxidized cholesterol.   For that reason, I think it’s a good idea to avoid eating powdered eggs.

Now, most of us don’t have a box of powdered eggs sitting on the kitchen shelf. This is an ingredient that you’re most likely to encounter in packaged foods such as pancake or muffin mix and commercial baked goods like cookies. Check the ingredient list and avoid products containing “powdered whole eggs.” 

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