Q: With so many options for milk and “milk alternatives” in the grocery store, I’m not sure which to buy for my family. What’s the best choice?
A: When it comes to food choices, most of us want to choose foods that are safe, wholesome and nutritious. When throwing items into my grocery cart, I try to include foods as close to their natural state as possible. And there’s nothing more natural than good, old-fashioned milk. Milk contains an irreplaceable package of nutrients such as calcium, protein, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium and vitamins A and D that you can’t get in any other beverage. Milk’s role in helping develop strong bones is pretty well known. But, do you know all of its benefits beyond bone health? The research around milk continues to show its role in reducing the risk of certain cancers, boosting immunity, improving high blood pressure and reducing the risk of common chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes. It’s no wonder the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourages us to consume 3 cups of low-fat milk and milk products each day.
Milk is not only nutritious it’s also affordable and versatile too. I like to get the most ‘bang for my buck’ and milk is one of the best nutritional buys in the grocery store. For about 25 cents per cup, milk can fit into anyone’s healthy eating plan. It’s also important that the food I buy doesn’t go to waste. I use milk when making oatmeal in the morning for a nutritional boost, pour glasses to make our meal balanced at dinner and often use it when making smoothies and soups. My 2-year-old son drinks milk with every meal and I feel good knowing he’s getting important nutrients he needs for growth and development. My husband is a football coach and with all of the strong research around chocolate milk being an optimal post-exercise recovery beverage, he often encourages his athletes to refuel with chocolate milk. I love that there are so many great ways to use milk everyday!
When you browse the dairy aisle, you’ll find a variety of options to make the best choice based on your individual needs and preferences. Although there is a range in fat levels offered, all milk contains the same unique package of nutrients. If you have a young child between the ages of 1 and 2, whole milk is a great choice. Little ones need the extra fat for healthy brain development. But if you are looking for ways to cut calories and fat from your diet, choosing reduced-fat (2%), low-fat (1%) or fat-free milk are great options. They have the same great taste, same nutrients, and the only difference is that the fat and calories have been reduced or removed.
Have you ever wondered whether there is a difference in milk labeled organic? From a nutrition perspective, there is no difference between organic and regular milk. Both offer the same important nutrients and they are both equally safe and wholesome. But, if organic production is important to you, then choose organic milk. Many people also have questions about rBST in milk, and whether or not it’s safe. All milk contains small amounts of naturally occurring hormones, including BST. rBST, a synthetic copy of this hormone, is sometimes given to cows by dairy farmers to make milk production more efficient. BST, whether natural or synthetic, does not have any impact on human health. In addition, studies have shown that milk from rBST-treated cows is identical to milk from untreated cows. Some people prefer to consume milk and milk products that were not produced with rBST. To meet their needs, many dairy farmers do not use it and label their milk as rBST free. However, you can feel confident that all milk is safe, pure and nutritious. Lastly, for those who have lactose intolerance, lactose-free milk is a great option because you still get the health benefits of milk. It’s simply regular milk where the lactose, the natural sugar found in milk, has already been broken down. With so many options to fit your lifestyle, it’s easy to make incorporate real milk into your everyday healthy eating pattern.
In many grocery stores, you are likely to see other products called milk, but in fact they’re made from plant foods like soybeans, rice or almonds. Imitation milk beverages are just that, imitations trying to replicate the real thing. In order to make these items a beverage, you have to process them heavily and add in nutrients. In my opinion, it’s better to eat these foods just as they are. For example, enjoy a handful of almonds for a nutrient packed snack and have some brown rice with your dinner, but stick to regular milk.
So, the next time you’re shopping in the dairy aisle, remember that choosing real milk is the best way to provide you and your family with the important nutrients they need, all in a tasty, versatile and affordable carton. —Ashley Rosales, R.D.