Learning about Milk Fat

I learned something new today, thanks to a debate with a friend.

The other day, a friend and I were discussing milk.

I told her I preferred 2% milk but was trying to get to like 1% milk. To me, it was about reducing unnecessary fat and calories in my diet. I’ve been drinking 2% milk for years and actually now prefer its flavor and consistency over whole milk. Whole milk, to me, had become too rich, almost like a light cream. I wanted to start liking 1% milk in an effort to further reduce fat and calories for a healthy diet. I already enjoy fat-free yogurt; indeed, I don’t think I’ve had whole milk yogurt in years, if ever. (Do they even make it? I guess I could make my own.)

My friend was adamantly opposed to reduced fat milk. I gathered from our conversation that she thought they added things to the milk that made it less healthy when they removed the fat. Or that something about the actual process of making reduced fat milk caused it to be less healthy. In any case, she thought reduced fat milk was bad and didn’t want to hear anything else about it.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, especially in the past three or four years, is that when someone is stuck with an idea in their head it’s no use debating the point. At least not without facts. And although I suspected there was nothing unhealthy about reduced fat milk, I had no evidence to prove my point. So I let the subject drop and we chatted about other things.

But this morning, when I sat down with my coffee and some time to kill before dawn, I set about finding some evidence to support my point of view.

How Reduced Fat Milk is Made

I Googled “How do they make reduced fat milk?” I got a number of search results. The first, from The Kitchn website, had the answer I was looking for: “How is Skim Milk Made?“. Here’s the pertinent info:

So how is skim milk made? Traditionally, the fat was removed naturally from milk due to gravity. If fresh milk is left to sit and settle, the cream — which is where most of the fat is — rises to the top, leaving behind milk with much less fat.

The quicker, modernized way of making low-fat and skim milks is to place the whole milk into a machine called a centrifugal separator, which spins some or all of the fat globules out of the milk. This occurs before the milk is homogenized, a process which reduces all the milk particles to the same size so that natural separation doesn’t occur anymore.

The article goes on to provide some other interesting information about milk and fat free milk. Among that information was a note about additives:

Federal law mandates that most skim milk has to be fortified with vitamin A and sometimes vitamin D. This is due to the fact that even though whole milk naturally has a fair amount of both, the vitamins are fat soluble and thus lost when the milk fat is removed during the skimming process.

Milk solids in the form of dried milk are also added since they contain proteins that help thicken the watery consistency of skim milk.

Not only was this likely the additives that worried my friend, but it also explained how some brands of skim milk were far more palatable than others: they likely added back more dried milk to thicken it up.

2% Milk
The only thing that creeps me out about Shamrock Foods milk is its extraordinarily long shelf life: the quart I bought last week is supposedly good until March. Could it be the plastic packaging?

Now I don’t know if the 2% milk I normally consume has a lot of vitamins or any milk fat added back in. The milk in my camper’s refrigerator now — remember, I’m on the road this winter — is from Shamrock Farms and says it contains “reduced fat milk, Vitamins A & D.” Nothing about milk solids.

So nothing I learned about the production of reduced fat milk has scared me away from drinking it.

Benefits of Whole vs. Reduced Fat Milk

Scrolling down in the same search results, however, brought up links to two different articles in TIME Magazine. I read them both. After all, I wanted to learn the truth — a truth that would either support or even change my own opinions.

  • The Case Against Low-fat Milk Is Stronger Than Ever from April 4, 2016 cites a study of people whose health had been tracked for 15 years. The conclusion was that, if anything, people who consumed whole fat dairy products were less likely to be obese or suffer from type 2 diabetes.
  • Why Full-Fat Dairy May Be Healthier Than Low-Fat from March 5, 2015 cites the results of over 25 studies that concluded that “people who eat full-fat dairy are no more likely to develop cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes than people who stick to low-fat dairy. When it comes to weight gain, full-fat dairy may actually be better for you.”

Huh.

Both articles suggested that there might be something special about the fat in dairy that works with our bodies to help them process the foods we eat and help us feel full. Dairy fat could actually be preventing us from eating less healthy sugars and carbs to feel sated. And these articles maintained that it was foolhardy for diets to recommend cutting (or eating) just one kind of nutrient — for example, low fat or fat-free diets — when the body naturally works with all consumed nutrients together.

I understand how these studies could have gotten these results. Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s when the fat-free diet craze was in full swing, stores were full of fat-free processed foods. I know because I still lived at home (or at least visited regularly) and saw that my mother bought them. She, like so many other people, thought that the answer to keeping weight under control was to keep as much fat out of their diets as possible. But rather than do this by eating naturally low fat foods like fruits and vegetables and whole grains, they did it by buying processed foods labeled “fat free.” They then consumed as much as they wanted, not paying attention to the ingredients that made this food taste good despite the lack of fat: mostly sugar. Calorie counts were sky high. It was around this time that I started reading labels and making food choices based on what I read. While I don’t have a perfect diet, I’ve learned to minimize my time in a supermarket’s middle aisles where all the processed foods reside.

The Calorie Argument

Okay, so what about calories? The articles both confirmed that one of the benefits of reduced fat dairy products was the accompanying reduction in calories. So I decided to see just how many calories I was saving by switching between whole, 2%, and 1% milk. (I really detest fat-free milk and generally only have it in lattes because I think it froths better. Fat free yogurt tastes fine to me.)

So I Googled “What is the calorie count for whole, 2%, 1%, and fat free milk?” The PopSugar website had the answer I sought: “Whole vs. Reduced vs. Low-Fat vs. Nonfat Milk.” Here’s the nutritional information that interests me for one 8-ounce cup of milk:

  Whole 2% 1% Fat-free
Calories 150 130 110 90
Total Fat (g / %) 8 / 3 5 / 2 2.5 / 1 ~0 / 0

What’s interesting when you read data in the article’s table is that they all the same fiber, carbs, and protein but 1% and fat-free milks actually have more sugar — although admittedly it isn’t much more: 11g vs. 12g.

Now I don’t drink a lot of milk, although I probably do drink more than the average adult. I’ll go through a half gallon in about a week. Every cup of 2% is saving me only 20 calories over whole milk and a switch down to 1% milk would only save another 20 calories. Is it worth it? I don’t think so.

At this point, I sort of regret getting so used to 2% milk.

An Exercise in Critical Thinking

So what did I learn?

In a way, my friend was right: reduced fat milk isn’t any better for you than whole milk. And if she believed that there were additives, she’s right — although I’m not sure those additives make reduced fat milk any less healthy.

But in a way, she was also wrong: reduced fat milk isn’t really bad for you. It just doesn’t give the health benefits we’ve been led to believe.

As for me, I was wrong. There’s no real reason to switch to reduced fat milk. I have no evidence to show her. I have nothing to stand on for pressing my original point of view.

Will I change the way I buy milk? Probably not — at least for now. I really do like 2% milk. I’m used to it. To me, drinking whole milk is almost like drinking cream. I’m not so picky, however, that I’ll turn down whole milk if that’s the only thing available. I’m not worried about 2% milk hurting my health.

But 1% and fat-free milk have definitely become a little bit less attractive. No real calorie benefit and what’s with the added sugar? And what if milk fat really is good for you? Should I really be minimizing it?

And that’s what critical thinking is all about, folks. Gathering information and forming your own opinions after thinking about what you’ve learned. Even if you begin researching with a preconceived notion, you need to be ready to change your mind when the evidence clearly tells you your notion is wrong. You shouldn’t just look for evidence that supports your view. You should look for evidence that tells the whole story, the true story, or at least the story that properly conducted research and established facts support.

I sure wish more people would learn to think critically in today’s world.

Low-Fat, Low-Calorie Raisin Bran Muffins

A variation of a Martha Stewart recipe.

This summer, after cleaning out my RV for the last time, I found myself with an unopened box of raisin bran cereal. I like raisin bran, but there are other cereals I like better. So I searched for a way to use up the cereal and remembered how I used to occasionally make raisin bran muffins. So I went in search of a good recipe that called for the ingredients I had on hand. I found this one on MarthaStewart.com.

I made them with just one substitution: I didn’t have whole wheat flour so I used just unbleached flour. They came out amazing: moist and tender. I stored the leftover muffins in the fridge and reheated them one at a time with a 30-second zap in my microwave.

Of course, the big drawback to the recipe is also what makes it moist: it contains oil, which is high in fat (duh) and also high in calories. Although the folks at MarthaStewart.com seem to think this is a “low-fat” recipe, it could be better. I decided to try again with a substitution that could make it better: using unsweetened applesauce instead of oil.

This isn’t something I dreamed up. I’d read it in other places and figured this recipe would give me a good opportunity to try it. Here’s my version of the recipe — not only did it come out great, but it’s about 80 calories less per muffin than the Martha version. Like the other version, this makes 6 largish muffins.

Ingredients:

  • Nutritional Info
    Nutritional information with the ingredients here. As you might expect, it’s pretty high in fiber.

    1 1/2 cups raisin bran. I used Kellogs, but you can use any brand. If you can get it without sugar-coated raisins (ick), go for it.

  • 3/4 cup 2% milk. You could probably substitute fat-free milk for even less fat and a lower calorie count.
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour. If I had whole wheat flour — it’s on my shopping list now — I’d do 1/2 cup of each.
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar. You could probably reduce the amount of sugar if you wanted to since the unsweetened applesauce is still sweeter than oil. That would further reduce the calorie count.
  • 1/4 cup sauce unsweetened applesauce. If you use sweetened applesauce, you might be able to completely omit the brown sugar. I don’t know; I haven’t tried it. I don’t buy sweetened applesauce.

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly grease a 6-cup muffin tin.
  2. In medium bowl, combine cereal and milk. Let stand until softened, about 5 minutes.
  3. Stir applesauce, egg, and sugar into cereal mixture and mix well.
  4. In a small bowl, thoroughly combine remaining ingredients. Fold into cereal mixture.
  5. Raisin Bran Muffin
    One of the drawbacks of substituting applesauce for oil is that the muffin sticks to the paper liner. The next time I make this, I’ll put the batter in the individual lightly oiled tin cups.

    Divide batter into prepared muffin cups. Bake 20-25 minutes, until toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

  6. Cool in pan 5 minutes, then move to a wire rack. Store in a sealed container in refrigerator.

If you do make this, let me know what you think. I’m also interested in any substitution ideas you might have.

A Customer Service Story

Did I do something wrong? I don’t think so.

Yesterday, for the fifth or sixth time, I offered helicopter rides at an airport event in Arizona. (I’m being vague on purpose here; it really doesn’t matter which event.) Because I’ve been outrageously busy every other year, this year I had a friend join me with his helicopter, a beautiful Bell 47.

Helicopter Rides

Despite the fact that the two of us were running mostly nonstop with a total of five passenger seats between us and the $35 rides weren’t very long, a line soon built. Near the end, folks were waiting about 2 hours to fly with one of us. Not a single person complained to me or the other pilot about the wait.

Sometime during the day, a loader came up to me and asked if I could take a passenger weighing 350 pounds. I said no. My legal seat limit is 300 pounds, but in many cases, the seatbelt simply won’t fit around someone that big, so I set a practical weight limit of 275 pounds. I hate to see people get embarrassed when the seatbelt won’t fit. The scale I’d brought along to weigh passengers — who always lie about their weight — only went up to 250 pounds.

That was the last I heard about it.

Until I got home. In my email inbox was a message from the 350-pound man. I’ve redacted some of the information here; I don’t want to embarrass him by leaving in anything that could identify him, including his profession which really doesn’t relate to the story anyway. Please note that the break he refers to was because the airport shut down for a full hour for an RC aircraft demonstration that we had no control over.

Good Afternoon-

I visited the XXX Air Fair today, February 23, 2013. I purchased my ticket at approximately 11:30am and I didn’t get to the front of the line until approximately 1:45pm, in part due to a one hour break between noon and 1pm. I came to the air fair for the sole purpose of getting a ride in a helicopter, because it’s something I’ve never done before.

However, it wasn’t until I was literally the next person to get onto the next helicopter, that I was told that I was too heavy to fly. I weigh 350 lbs. and they said the seat limit was 275 lbs. This is absolutely understandable. I respect safety just as much as the next person, especially considering I am a XXX. But I waited, as did my wife and XXX month old son, for over 2 hours before being informed that I would not be able to fly. This is unacceptable. I was only at the fair for little over three hours, and I spent a little over two of those hours waiting to fly in the helicopter. My son was getting fussy and my wife was getting frustrated but I was willing to wait so that I could do something that is/was probably a once in a lifetime experience for me, and it never came to be.

Now at the booth, there was nothing whatsoever that explained the requirements for flying. I was never verbally explained any of the requirements either.

Immediately after finding out that I couldn’t fly, I left because I was very upset. Going up in that helicopter was all I wanted to do since finding out about the air fair a few weeks ago.

I did receive my money back, excluding taxes, but I feel that I deserve better than that. I waited for quite a long time, in the sun, with my fussy 15 month old. I don’t know what you can offer me, but it needs to be more than just my money back.

Thank for your time.

XXX XXX

I spoke to the woman selling the tickets, who is a very good friend of mine. She remembered the man and how upset he was. She told me she apologized repeatedly but it wasn’t enough to satisfy him. She told me she thought he wanted something beyond a refund — which was clear in the last paragraph of his email message to me. She also confirmed that he never told her his weight and that although he looked big, there had been someone who looked bigger than him earlier in the day and we’d flown him. I remembered that guy — he hadn’t been anywhere near 350 pounds.

I read and re-read his message and two sentences stood out from the second paragraph: I weigh 350 lbs. and they said the seat limit was 275 lbs. This is absolutely understandable.

I prepared my response:

Mr. XXX,

I’m sorry you had to wait and not get your ride. However, I spoke to the person selling the tickets and got her side of the story, too. She remembers you well, primarily because you were so upset.

In your message, quoted verbatim below, you said, “I weigh 350 lbs. and they said the seat limit was 275 lbs. This is absolutely understandable.”

Okay, so if you understand that your weight could be an issue when flying in a helicopter, why didn’t you tell the ticket seller your weight when you bought your ticket? If you had, she would have told you then that you could not fly with us. YOU know how much you weigh. Do you think that she did? You never told her what you weighed. It wasn’t until the passenger loaders saw you that they realized there could have been a problem.

Let’s face it, as a very large person you must often run into situations where your size is an issue. Both of the aircraft we were flying are considered small. I don’t see how you thought that someone your size could fit into or safely fly in either one. I don’t know any aircraft flying rides at an event like this that could accommodate someone your size. And I honestly don’t think that this should’ve been a surprise to you.

Again, I’m sorry you were disappointed. But to expect me to compensate you for your disappointment — when you could have prevented it by simply telling the ticket seller your weight up front to confirm we could accommodate you — is not reasonable. Take this as a lesson learned. When in doubt, present all the facts up front.

Maria Langer
Owner and Chief Pilot
Flying M Air

Please note that I did not use the words fat or obese in my message. I didn’t see the guy — for all I know, he could have been 7 feet tall and built like a healthy football player. I did not want to insult him and I was very careful about the way I phrased my response. But honestly: 350 pounds? That’s more than twice my size and no one considers me small. How could he not expect problems in a helicopter as small as the two we were operating?

His response came quickly and was incredibly rude:

Wow. Just wow. I wasn’t expecting a response as cruel as this. I don’t know anything about helicopters so why would I know anything about their weight limits?

And for you to be so harsh is unacceptable. So you all can go fuck yourselves. How about that? I will work very hard to get the word out that your company is a cold hearted bitch. How does that sound?

You could have just offered me a fucking t-shirt, something. But instead you belittle me about my weight. Do you know my circumstances at home? No you don’t.

I hope your helicopter crashes!

Wow. Just wow.

What is this guy’s problem? Was my response “cruel” or “harsh”? And did I “belittle” him about his weight? Am I the only person on the planet who thinks 350 pounds is large? I don’t even personally know anyone that size.

He’ll work very hard to get the word out that my “company is a cold-hearted bitch”? What the hell does that even mean?

And how should I know his circumstances at home? Why should they matter?

Do you think this guy gave himself a stroke just writing that email message? I can almost see the veins in his neck pulsating from the blood pressure rise.

Any thoughts on this? Did I mishandle it? What should I have done? In hindsight, I think ignoring the original message might have been a better solution. What do you think?

And, for the record, the few T-shirts we had on hand would not have fit him — we only had sizes Medium and Small.