Is Powdered Milk Bad For You?

Online sources claim that powdered milk is dangerous because it contains oxidized cholesterol. Should you keep this relatively non-perishable staple in your emergency food stores?

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
5-minute read
Episode #575
The Quick And Dirty

Powdered milk is nutritionally equivalent to fresh milk and is relatively non-perishable. It can be added to recipes to increase the protein content and nutritional value.

Whole milk powder is likely to contain oxidized cholesterol, which may damage blood vessels and promote heart disease. Nonfat dried milk, however, is virtually cholesterol-free.

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

Powdered milk is, of course, less expensive than fresh milk. It’s relatively non-perishable, lightweight, and portable. Many include powdered milk in their emergency food stores.

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In terms of nutrients like calcium, protein, and potassium, dried milk is comparable to fresh milk. Like fresh milk, dried milk is usually fortified with Vitamin A and D. You can add dried milk to powder to breads and other baked goods, soups, sauces, smoothies, or other recipes to add protein and other nutrients.

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

But if you research this question on the Internet, you’ll quickly come across a lot of sources claiming that powdered milk is extremely bad for you because it contains oxidized cholesterol, which is supposedly the most dangerous type. They also claim that powdered milk is added to all low-fat 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 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 properties and potential dangers of powdered milk.

How is powdered milk made?

In order to make powdered milk, pasteurized milk is first concentrated through evaporation. Then, it’s usually sprayed into a heated tank, which causes the remaining water to quickly evaporate, leaving dried milk solids. Milk can also be freeze-dried—and because of the lower processing temperatures, freeze-dried may taste more like fresh milk when it’s reconstituted. But this is a more expensive process and, therefore, far less common.

Is dried milk added to skim and low-fat milk?

It's 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 low-fat milk has dried milk added to it. In fact, you might have to work pretty hard to find some that do have dried milk added.

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.

There is a brand called Skim Plus, which is marketed as being creamier than regular skim milk. They create the creamy texture by adding dried milk powder to fresh milk. And, sure enough, the dried milk is not listed separately in the ingredient list.

If the milk contains more than nine grams of protein per one-cup serving, they may have added dry milk powder to it.

However, adding dried milk to fresh milk also increases the protein content. So, you can always take a look at the Nutrition Facts label. If the milk contains more than nine grams of protein per one-cup serving, they may have added dry milk powder to it. If it doesn’t, you can be pretty sure that they didn’t.

While you’re checking those Nutrition Facts labels, you may come across Fairlife milk, which is 50 percent higher in protein than normal milk. However, in this case, it’s not because they’ve added dried milk. Instead, they pass fresh milk through a series of specialized filters that removes some of the lactose and concentrates the protein.

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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.

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. 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 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, so powdered whole milk would pose more of a concern. But perhaps the biggest concern with oxidized cholesterol is powdered eggs.

Should you avoid 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.

This is an ingredient you’re most likely to encounter in packaged foods such as pancake or muffin mix and commercial baked goods like cookies.

Now, most of us don’t have a box of powdered eggs sitting on the kitchen shelf. This is an ingredient 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.”

What about protein powders made from eggs or milk?

You don’t need to worry about protein powders made from eggs, however. These are made from egg whites, which are cholesterol-free. By the same token, baked goods or other products containing powdered egg whites are not a concern. Whey protein powders, on the other hand, are usually not cholesterol-free and the cholesterol they contain will probably be oxidized.

As you probably remember, I’m not a huge fan of protein powders because, as a general rule, I prefer to get my nutrition from foods rather than supplements. However, if you use protein powders and you’re keen to avoid oxidized cholesterol, you’ll be best off with an egg-white based powder or a vegetarian protein powder from peas, rice, or hemp.


How can you protect yourself from oxidized cholesterol?

Finally, even if you eliminate all sources of oxidized cholesterol from your diet, you’re still not completely protected. Remember that cholesterol also gets oxidized in your body. Perhaps the most important thing you can do to protect yourself is to eat your veggies.

I know, I know—that’s my answer to everything. But here’s why: Fresh fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants and antioxidants are your best defense against oxidized cholesterol.

Exercise also enhances the ability of blood vessels to resist oxidative damage, so if you’re not already a regular reader, be sure to check out Get-Fit Guy’s Quick and Dirty Tips to Shape Up and Slim Down.

The bottom line on powdered milk

Most people vastly prefer the taste of fresh milk to powdered. But in situations where fresh milk is not available or practical, or in recipes where you wouldn’t notice the difference, powdered milk is a perfectly acceptable, nutritious, and cost-effective alternative. Selecting nonfat powdered milk will largely eliminate any concerns over oxidized cholesterol.

About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.