By: Dr. John Bagnulo, Director of Nutrition
Over the past decade there has been a dramatic increase in the amount of milk protein concentrate found in products. With greater concern around the carbohydrate content of foods and more consumers looking for food with a higher amount of protein, milk protein concentrate has been an inexpensive addition to everything from yogurt and energy bars to protein powders and meal replacement formulas. Yet, although milk protein concentrate is a more complete protein than casein alone (it does at least contain some whey whereas casein does not) there are many reasons why we should look to another, cleaner source of protein as an ingredient or source of supplemental protein.
Much of the milk protein concentrate is sourced outside of the US. It is produced in China and other areas of the world, where differences in agricultural standards are sometimes significant. There are also no standards currently in place with what milk protein concentrate should look like nutritionally. Because of this, its composition and percentage of "other" contents can vary widely depending upon how it is being dried and processed. Milk protein concentrate has been given a GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) classification by the FDA, but there are no other criteria required with respect to the standards of production.
To produce milk protein concentrate, heat and spray drying are almost always required. This is part of what ultimately makes milk a powder and therefore gives it shelf life and reduces transportation costs. However, the heat and highly oxygenated drying process creates oxidized cholesterol products known to food chemists as oxysterols. In fact, spray dried dairy products are among the richest sources of oxysterols in the food supply. They have been shown to be highly atherogenic and cause arterial plaque or lesions when present in the diet, even at very low levels, when compared to normal, non-oxidized cholesterol. To avoid oxysterols, it is advisable to avoid not only milk protein concentrates, but also products that are fortified with ingredients such as skim milk powder, dried milk powder, and powdered eggs.
It is also important to consider the ingredients in your yogurt. Unfortunately, too many yogurts today have higher protein contents simply because of the addition of milk powders or concentrates. However, true Greek yogurts are made by hanging yogurt in cheesecloth for extended periods of time to drain off some of the whey…not by adding some spray-dried milk concentrate powder as a thickener.
There are other reasons why avoiding milk protein concentrates are better for us all as well, as milk protein concentrates are undermining small dairy farms. Economy of scale and other factors drive prices down to a point where a small to moderate size dairy herd-based company cannot compete with the massive industrial farms or those in China. This is written about in the following 3 sites:
Because there are no standards of production for milk protein concentrates, because heat and spray drying methods may produce oxysterols, and because milk protein concentrates are undermining small dairy farms, we all need to think twice before eating food that contains them.
Dr. John Bagnulo is the Director of Nutrition at Functional Formularies and leads nutrition research and development initiatives. Learn more about Dr. Bagnulo here.