State Doctors Group Backs Legislation to Reduce Fat Content in Milk

Times Staff Writer

The California Medical Assn. has launched a campaign to significantly reduce the fat content in milk. The effort is being pursued as a means of lowering dietary cholesterol levels, considered a factor in heart disease.

At present, the group's primary focus is to encourage the Legislature to require dairymen to cut whole milk's fat content by 50%.

At the associations's annual meeting last month, a resolution to halve the butterfat content in whole milk, from its current 4% level, was adopted "virtually without dissent." A similar measure will also be introduced at the American Medical Assn.'s national convention later in the year.

Richard F. Corlin M.D., a Santa Monica gastroenterologist, spearheaded the movement as a means of reducing consumers' calorie intake and cholesterol levels. Of particular concern, he said, are school-age children who are generally overweight and less fit than were their counterparts two decades ago. Students also represent milk's primary consumers.

"First of all, this is not an anti-dairy issue. It is, however, aimed at increasing (the public's) awareness of calories and cholesterol," Corlin said. "Milk is a superb source of protein and calcium, but an unnecessary source of fat and cholesterol in the diet."

The resolution also calls for reducing low-fat milk's butterfat content to 1% from its current 2% level.

The California Medical Assn., whose 34,000 members represent 50% of the state's physicians, hopes to enlist the dairy industry's support in the movement.

Such assistance, though, is not likely.

A dairy industry representative, who had not seen the resolution, said that the measure didn't make much sense considering consumers already have an opportunity to purchase low-fat milk, with 2% butterfat, or nonfat milk, which is fat free.

Animal Comparison--Goat's milk is not the nutritionally superior dairy product that some proponents have claimed, according to a public health newsletter.

In a regular review of dietary "myths," the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter stated recently that goat milk's image is based more on folklore than fact.

A staple in health food stores and farmers' markets for decades, goat's milk is actually deficient in Vitamin B-12 and folic acid, two common milk compounds essential for red blood cell formation, according to the newsletter, a publication of the University's School of Public Health.

Furthermore, goat's milk is higher in fat than regular milk. One cup of goat's milk contains 165 calories and 10 grams of fat while a similar amount of cow's whole milk has 150 calories and 7.75 grams of fat. And while low-fat or nonfat cow's milk is available to those wanting substantially lower fat and calorie totals, goat's milk is not available in any reduced fat formulations.

Favored for its tangy taste, advocates also claim that goat's milk is easier to digest than other milks.

"Goat's milk contains a higher percentage of small fat globules, which in theory are more easily broken down by digestive enzymes . . . But homogenization reduces the size of the fat globules in cow's milk, too. No human studies have shown that either homogenized cow's milk or goat's milk is more quickly digested than other kinds of milk," the newsletter stated.

Goat's milk does contain slightly more calcium than cow's milk, as well as more Vitamin A, but these advantages were not considered "significant," in the report.

The Wellness Letter also warns consumers who are concerned about their cholesterol intake to avoid goat cheese, which is considered a "high-fat food."

"Goat's milk and the cheeses made from it are not more nutritious than other dairy products," the article stated.

Fiber Shortfall--Americans manage to consume only about 33% to 50% of the recommended daily intake for fiber. According to the National Cancer Institute, adults should eat foods totaling 20 to 30 grams of fiber each day, but on average most people are getting only about 10 grams.

One reason for the shortfall is that high-fiber breads such as wheat and rye, are being routinely overlooked in favor of white bread, the Center for Science in the Public Interest claims.

Fiber in foods has become an increasingly important health issue. Medical research continues to associate high-fiber diets with a reduced risk of illnesses such as colon cancer and diverticulosis.

"Bread has great potential as a fiber supplier because we eat so much of it, according to a report in the Washington-based consumer advocacy group's newsletter. "Unfortunately, it's really white bread that's so popular."

The Center for Science estimates that, on any given day, 75% of all the bread consumed in this country is white, with the remainder composed of whole wheat, rye and others.

The disparity, in light of the fiber and health issue, is striking.

For instance, two slices of white bread contains 1/2 gram of dietary fiber while a similar serving of whole wheat bread has 4 grams, or 87% more.

"Presidential candidates may argue over whether our nation is losing its moral fiber," the report states. "But there's little doubt that we're falling short on dietary fiber."

Pest Issue--A recent change in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's cleanliness standards for wheat flour seems out of place at a time when public awareness of food safety is keen.

The agency, through an announcement in the Federal Register, increased the allowable number of insect parts in 50 gram measurements of raw flour from 50 to 75 fragments.

Any number in excess of the new level would precipitate FDA regulatory action such as product seizures or embargoes. The increase is being allowed in order to "place more realistic restrictions on the milling industry and is based on current acceptable sanitation practices," according to a report of the action in FDA Consumer magazine.

In disclosing the decision, the agency reassured consumers that the increase in insect fragments poses no contamination threat.

"FDA establishes these action levels only for natural and unavoidable defects that present no known health hazard, but are aesthetically unpleasant to consumers," the report stated.

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