Milk Guide: Don’t Get the Wrong Milk

Milk is full of calcium, an essential bone and muscle-building mineral, but not all milk is made the same. When choosing the best milk to buy for you and your family, you will need to consider many things. There are several different sources of milk, with varying percentages of fat content. There is also lactose-free milk, which is a good choice for those who have trouble digesting lactose-based products but still need the nutritional benefits of milk. When looking at how to choose milk, be sure to consider the consumer, different types of cow's milk, alternatives to cow's milk, fortification and packaging.

>> Consider the consumer

The best milk to buy will depend heavily on the person consuming the milk. If you're buying milk for a toddler between the ages of two and three, whole milk or another high-fat milk is best. If you're buying milk for someone who cannot process lactose, your options are limited to lactose-free milk or cow milk alternatives, such as goat milk. Finally, if you follow a vegan diet, you'll want to have milk that is made from non-animal sources, such as nuts, rice, hemp or soy.

>> Consider cow's milk

While there are many different types of milk, cow's milk is the most common. When you buy cow's milk, you will still have dozens of options to choose from. The first step in figuring out which milk to buy is to assess the product's fat content. Cow's milk comes in whole milk, 2% milk fat, 1% milk fat and finally skim milk. The reason why doctors suggest that toddlers drink whole milk is that the extra fat in the milk benefits the growth of the brain, which is a very important focus of development for this age group.

While most gallons of milk sold in the store are plain milk, you can find chocolate flavored milk as well. Different milk brands sell smaller containers of flavored milk, such as strawberry, banana and vanilla.

Flavor isn't the only choice you have when deciding how to choose milk. How the milk-producing cows are raised is another factor. Organic milk often has more nutrients than regular milk, because the nutrient content in the grass that is fed to the dairy cows is higher than standard cattle feed. However, not all organic milk comes from grass-fed cows, so reading the label is necessary.

If a consumer is intolerant to lactose, lactose-free options, such as Lactaid milk, are good alternatives. Lactose is the sugar present in cow's milk and it is known for causing multiple digestive issues. Lactose-free milk is simply cow's milk without the sugar, but it still has the other beneficial nutrients in it.

Growth hormones are another thing to consider when looking for the best milk to buy. The FDA maintains that treating cows with the growth hormone, rbST does not cause harm to the cattle. However, some consumers feel that it is an inhumane practice towards the cow and also an unsafe additive for humans to consume. For these reasons, you can find milk that is marked rbST-free.

Finally, when looking at various types of milk from cow sources, you will find homogenized, pasteurized and ultra-pasteurized available. These options denote the tiered levels of processing that are performed on the milk, since the selling of unprocessed raw milk is not currently allowed by law. Homogenized milk is milk that is shaken to distribute the fat throughout the milk, which allows oxidation to take place. Pasteurized milk is milk that has been heated to kill bacteria and elongate the milk's shelf life. When you purchase pasteurized milk, you will want to make sure it is fortified, to accommodate for the nutrients lost through the heating process. Finally, ultra-pasteurized milk has been cooked at higher temperatures for a longer amount of time. This milk is often shelf stable until opened, and can last for up to four weeks.

>> Consider cow's milk alternatives

Type Description Benefits Flavors Goat's milk Milk from a goat Lower in lactose Plain Soy "Milk" from soybeans that have been soaked in water High in protein, low in carbs Vanilla, Plain Rice "Milk" from boiled rice Low in fat, option for those with nut allergies Vanilla, Plain Almond "Milk" from pressed almond flesh that has been soaked in water Low in fat, high in calcium and Vitamin E -unsweetened almond milk has no sugar Chocolate, Vanilla, Plain Hemp "Milk" from hemp seeds that have been soaked in water High in Omega-3, low in sugar Vanilla, Gluten-Free Coconut "Milk" from pressed coconut flesh that has been soaked in water High in healthy fat, low in sugar Vanilla, Plain >> Consider fortification

When you purchase an alternative or pasteurized milk, be sure to look at the different levels of fortification that are available. Milk that has been fortified with probiotics has had the good bacteria put back in the milk to help break down the milk fats. Vitamin D fortification is when extra Vitamin D is added to the milk.

>> Consider the packaging

When researching the best milk to buy, you'll notice you have different packaging options. Various milk brands can be found in pint sizes or quart sizes in a paper carton. Shelf stable milk is also sold in paper boxes. Perhaps the most familiar milk packaging is the plastic jug-like containers offered in gallon and half-gallon sizes. Finally, milk can be found in glass containers. Most stores that sell milk in glass containers also require a deposit to be paid for the container in addition to the milk cost However, many consumers who purchase milk in glass containers claim that the nutritional benefits are greater and the flavor more enjoyable.

No matter your dietary requirements, there's milk that's right for you. With just a little bit of research, you're sure to find milk that satisfies your nutritional needs as well as your palate.

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