Be Kind To Your Proteins. . . And Your Proteins Will Be Kind To You!

Years ago I wrote an article called “Be Kind to Your Grains. . . and Your Grains will be Kind to You,” noting that grains are very difficult to digest without proper preparation such as soaking and sourdough fermentation.

Spray Dryer

One of the ways that we are cruel to our grains is the extrusion process, whereby grains—both whole and refined–are transformed into breakfast cereal. Extrusion involves high heat (120-140 degrees C) and pressure to force a slurry of grains out a tiny hole to make corn flakes, Cheerios, shredded wheat, puffed grains, etc.  Unpublished research indicates that in the extrusion process, the proteins in grains become warped and distorted, with very toxic effects. Rats fed extruded grains die within a few weeks, and in a corn flake experiment, rats fed corn flakes died sooner than rats fed the box they came in! The corn-flake-fed rats suffered seizures and died of convulsions, indicating extreme toxicity to the nervous system. And a recent study found that extruded grains can cause undesirable changes to gut flora.

I recently came across a study on the effects of various types of processing on milk proteins.  The researchers looked at four processing methods: boiling (presumably to imitate the pasteurization process), microwave heating, spray drying and freeze drying.  Not surprisingly, the heat-intensive processing methods caused oxidative damage to the proteins. Interestingly, microwaving caused more damage to the milk proteins than boiling!

The real surprise was the finding that freeze-drying caused as much damage as heat-intensive spray drying (150-175 degrees C). When spray-dried and freeze-dried milk powder were fed to rats, both groups developed oxidative damage in plasma, liver and brain tissues. Further, “hippocampal inflammatory and apoptosis genes were significantly up-regulated. . . while learning and memory genes were significantly down-regulated.  Eventually, varying degrees of spatial learning and memory impairment were demonstrated. . .

Where do we encounter spray-dried and freeze-dried milk powders? Number one is low-fat and especially non-fat milk.  Manufacturers routinely add spray-dried skim milk to nonfat and low-fat milks to give them body—to keep them from looking blue.  They don’t have to label this additive because the FDA allows manufacturers to call spray-dried milk powder “milk” on the label. That means that the non-fat and low-fat milks that so many people dutifully consume—and give to their children on government recommendations—contains oxidative protein products that can damage the blood, the liver and the brain.

Spray-dried milk is the first ingredient in chocolate milk fed to children in school lunch programs. (The second ingredient is sugar.) Just think, the main beverage that our children are drinking in school causes damage to the blood, the liver and the brain! The children also get extruded cereal in school breakfast programs and they often put chocolate milk on their cereal!  Is there any wonder that we have such a tragic health crisis in our children today?

Chocolate Fat Free Milk Label

The distribution of whole fluid milk is actually something of an inconvenience to the dairy industry, especially in Third World countries—it’s heavy and wet and requires refrigeration. Plus, they can get so much more money for the valuable butterfat by putting it into ice cream. Why waste the butterfat on growing children when we can get the government to forbid whole milk in school lunches? The long-term plan is to ship bags of skim milk powder to impoverished areas of the world, where it can sit in warehouses for years, and then reconstitute it with vegetable oils for sale on supermarket shelves. All this will happen in far-away places before reconstituted milk “rich in polyunsaturates” will come to the U.S.

What about whey leftover from the production of cheese?  Up to 88 percent of milk is whey, so disposal of the liquid whey poses quite a problem for the cheese industry. You can’t put whey in the sewers because it rapidly becomes very acidic and will etch holes in the concrete pipes. A lot of very acid whey is a by-product of Greek yogurt production and someone recently told me that in Greece, they dump this whey into the Mediterranean Sea, causing acidification of the Mediterranean waters.

Here in the U.S., they solve the whey problem by spray-drying it.  As you can imagine, in a nation of cheese eaters, this is a huge industry.  Whey powder serves as an ingredient—often labeled as “natural”–in baked goods, including crackers, muffins and bread, salad dressings, emulsifiers, infant formulas and medical nutritional formulas.  It’s also foisted on the public as whey protein powder for use by athletes and in smoothies. Whey protein is more fragile than casein proteins in the milk solids, so damage by spray-drying is likely to be higher.  Doctors routinely warn kidney patients to avoid it. The irony is that the last thing westerners need in the diet is more protein!

Then there are all the plant-based proteins out there—soy protein, pea protein, rice protein, etc.  These proteins must first undergo separation from the plant matrix—a process that involves a lot of chemicals—and then high heat to make the powders. They are likely to abound in toxins—the toxins originally in the seed (especially high in soybeans) and the toxins formed during processing.

What about freeze-dried proteins, where do we encounter them? These often show up in foods for the health-conscious consumer as freeze-dried milk powder, freeze-dried whey and freeze-dried colostrum. Buyer beware!

As you can see, we need to treat our proteins with care. Fragile milk proteins should not be heated, as even the relatively low heat of pasteurization denatures them.  Tightly bound meat proteins actually benefit from gentle heating, such as braising and stewing, which opens them up to expose more surface area for digestive enzymes. Collagen proteins may be the toughest of the lot, as they can be heated to the boiling point and cooled many times—even boiled rapidly for a long time–without losing functionality. But what happens when you take collagen proteins over the boiling point to make collagen powders—or even by making broth in a pressure cooker–is anyone’s guess. Low temperature home dehydration of vegetables, soups and even meat is probably OK—many traditional cultures dried various foods in the sun and then pounded them to make a powder.

The bottom line: avoid industrially processed proteins and powdered foods and stick to traditional methods of food preparation and processing.

The Weston A. Price Foundation is your source for accurate nutrition information. Become a member and support the work we do.

Author: Sally Fallon Morell

Sally Fallon Morell is best known as the author of Nourishing Traditions®: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats. This well-researched, thought-provoking guide to traditional foods contains a startling message: animal fats and cholesterol are not villains but vital factors in the diet, necessary for normal growth, proper function of the brain and nervous system, protection from disease and optimum energy levels.

14 thoughts on “Be Kind To Your Proteins. . . And Your Proteins Will Be Kind To You!”

  1. I don’t know quite where to write this, but as it looks like you see the comments: What would/do you say to those people who maintain that they believe that autism is like the next stage in human evolution; a la Childhood’s End? Yes they really do exist. Takes all kinds, I suppose.

    1. Autism is the biggest tragedy to hit the human race–it is a lifelong living death for the victims and the families that must care for them. It’s definitely a backwards step in human evolution!

      1. Hi Sally,
        I have a child on the autism spectrum and wanted to respond to the above comments. There is hope for those on the spectrum and it begins with nutrition and gut health!
        The growing body of research into the gut-brain axis shows the strong ties between the health of our body’s microbiome and our brain health. Most of this discussion is happening outside the field of conventional medicine. Instead, look to the field of functional medicine (a.k.a. functional wellness) for groundbreaking research and writing on this topic. Functional wellness considers four main areas that affect gut health: what we eat, toxins in our daily lives, stress, and conventional medicine. There are positive and negative influences in each of these areas.
        My adult child on the spectrum is highly intelligent, humorous with his observations which he expresses with an economy of words, and endlessly a joy as a companion. As I am a hypoglycemic and was diagnosed over 30 years ago, he had the advantage of a parent who has been laser-focused on nutrition all of his life. By the way, did you know that the character of Spock in the Star Trek series was based on someone most likely on the autism spectrum? Creator Gene Roddenberry had a highly intelligent, yet quirky, friend upon who he modeled the character. There are papers in the autism arena on the similarities. As far as I could find, though, Roddenberry only gave one interview in which he named the friend. I was able to research that individual who had been a public official in Los Angeles in the 1950s-60s. I think Spock stands as the ideal role model for all on the spectrum.
        Hope this gives hope to many!

      2. I guess it’s like blind people getting more acute hearing. When some part of your brain has a brownout you have to compensate, and these particular New Age progressive types see the idiot-savantism and conclude in a hurry that this is the Inigo Children they’re into. Some of them do. Others take the sensitive, clairvoyant kids they’ve already got and are happy with it, haha. Yep, the Inigo Montoya Children. Excuse me, tis keyboard is acting up. Can’t type without deleting the next thing. INDIGO Children, thankuvreymuch.

  2. Good afternoon Sally, Really liked this article! I am unclear about your comment in regards to using a pressure cooker to make bone broth. Do you feel that the high degree of pressure (albeit lower temperature) is causing some problem in the process of creating collagen? Thank you!

    1. I am always suspicious of new-fangled ways of cooking, and the pressure cooker is one of them. You get a gelatinous broth very quickly with the pressure cooker, but we have no idea what the pressure does to the collagen peptides.


  3. There are some good quality protein powders out there. Ones that are from grass-fed cows and not heat treated. “Cross Flow Microfiltration utilizes a cold filtering process and minimal processing which produces a whey protein product that is 100% undenatured and a whey protein that is much higher in immunoglobulins (also known as antibodies)”

  4. Sally, after reading this, “But what happens when you take collagen proteins over the boiling point to make collagen powders—or even by making broth in a pressure cooker–is anyone’s guess.” Does this mean using the Instant Pot to make bone broths from whole birds, or roast beef left-overs, is damaging the proteins? Thereby, the only safe way would be stove-top slow boil for hours, adding more water when needed?

  5. anti protienites ? as we age we need more protein? and muscle being the organ of longevity, I think we should up our clean protein!

    Dr. Donald K. Layman

  6. Dear Sally , don’t know where to
    Ask for this question but I hope you can read it and maybe leave your wise reply . Do you think sprouted grains bread like ezechiel ones are empty of toxins ? And /or are more or less beneficial Than surdough process ? It seems surdough breads are harder to digest although and I would appreciate your view on the WGA content left in sprouted grains after sprouting . If you advise sprouted bread made from grains . Which one would you recommend between elnkorn , rye or wheat ? Huge thanks in advance , best . Penelope

    1. I do not have any studies to point to, but I believe that the sourdough process–which is a true fermentation–is better at getting rid of toxins. And be careful of Ezekial bread, as it contains soy.
      Best, Sally

  7. Hello Sally, I see freeze dried is bad. Does the same denaturing of the milk protein occur when we freeze breast milk? If so… YIKES

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