The Skinny on Milk: Does Milk Type Matter?
The dairy aisle is not usually a place where tough decisions are made, or where we go when we want to try something new. If you’re like most people, you probably drink the same kind of milk that you did when you were growing up – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that!
If you’re interested in trying something new, though, milk offers a variety of choices to satisfy your thirst for change. Whether you’re making the switch out of curiosity, or because your nutritional needs have changed, milk offers something to suit every taste.
Whole milk is about as close to the cow as you can get. It contains at least 3.5% milk fat (MF) by weight, with nothing added or removed. In some places, whole milk may be further categorized as either natural whole milk or whole standardized milk – where the only difference is that standardized milk is set to contain a fat content of 3.5% specifically, whereas natural whole milk may contain slightly more. Homogenized whole milk is nutritionally identical to whole standardized milk, but the fat globules have been physically broken up to spread the fat evenly throughout the milk, producing an even, creamy consistency and preventing the creamier parts from settling on top.
In many countries, whole is the milk-type of choice because it involves less processing and is believed to have more vitamins and nutrients than lower-fat milks. And don’t be swayed away simply because it’s higher in fat – some studies have shown that drinking whole milk is not necessarily linked to weight gain, and “kids who drank lower-fat milks were actually more likely to be overweight later on.”
Partly Skimmed – 2% and 1% Milk
These kinds of milk have been skimmed to physically remove some of the fat content, leaving the milk slightly lighter in both taste and consistency (with 2% or 1% MF by weight). There are several different ways of doing this, but they all involve either letting the milk settle and physically skimming off the higher-fat cream that settles to the top (e.g., with a large spoon or bowl), or using centrifugal force to separate the thicker cream from the lighter milk – no chemicals or additives are needed.
In some cases, Vitamins such as A and D are added after the skimming process, to fortify the milk, since many of the vitamins in milk are fat-soluble and some may be removed with the fat. Most varieties of partly skimmed milk are also homogenized, to give them even consistency and creaminess.
Skim / Fat-Free / Non-fat Milk
It may go by different names, but in each case this milk is virtually fat-free, containing only trace amounts (0.1% – 0.3% MF by weight) of fat. The milk is skimmed of all of its fat, leaving behind the lightest available form of milk. This is the best choice for those on restricted-calorie diets, but keep in mind that with the loss of fat you also lose many nutrients, so you may want to look for a skim milk that has been fortified with added vitamins, or make sure to get plenty of vitamins from the rest of your diet.
Extra Credit: Lactose-Free
Some people have difficulty digesting lactose, the natural sugar found in milk. If you’re allergic to lactose, you can still enjoy lactose-free milk. This milk contains lactase, a natural enzyme that helps break down lactose to make it more easily digestible.
Extra Credit: Buttermilk
Finally, there’s buttermilk: natural milk to which bacterial culture has been added (just like yogurt). Buttermilk is most often used in baking and cooking, because it adds a nice richness to baked goods, but many people also enjoy it straight out of the carton. It has a slightly tangy flavour and a rich, thick consistency.
Flavored milks (e.g., chocolate and strawberry milk) are not the same as regular milk! While they can be a great treat, flavoured milks contain about 13g more sugar (sucrose and fructose, in addition to milk’s natural sugar – lactose) than the same sized glass of whole milk. They can be a nice choice in moderation, but think of flavoured milk as being closer to sweetened fruit juice than regular milk in terms of your nutritional needs.
How to Choose?
Choose the milk that fits most closely with your lifestyle, nutritional needs, activity level, and the rest of your diet. If you’re a big milk drinker, a lower-fat milk like 2% or 1% may be a good option to give you all of the vitamins and calcium your body needs with less fat. If you drink less milk and dairy products, whole milk may be a better choice to give you the full benefits of the drink. If you find that milk sometimes upsets your stomach, try switching to lactose-free to see if the added lactase eases your digestion. When in doubt, ask a physician or nutritionist which milk is right for you!
However you enjoy it, milk is a healthy and nutritious choice to satisfy your thirst and to fuel your body. With necessary vitamins, healthy natural fats, and high-quality protein, milk is a great choice for all lifestyles and diets. And with all those options there’s definitely a milk out there that’s just right for you!