Got Confusion?

Making Your Way Through the Milk Maze

by NatureBox Nutritionist Kat Brown, MS RD RYT

Americans love their milk and dairy products, that’s for sure. But did you know that the average American still doesn’t meet their recommended needs for Calcium and Vitamin D, two of the most important nutrients in dairy products? The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) highlighted these two nutrients for Americans to increase in their daily diets, and dairy is the number one most absorbable source of Calcium and vitamin D in our diets. Dairy products are also a good source of:

  • Potassium
  • Phosphorus
  • Vitamin A
  • B Vitamins
  • High-quality protein

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These nutrients are involved in all the body’s systems. Daily recommendations from the DGA are :

  • Adults: 3 cups per day of fat free or low-fat milk and dairy products
  • Children ages 4-8 years: 2 ½ cups
  • Children ages 2-3 years: 2 cups

Are you often stumbled at the dairy case? No wonder- milk products vary by fat content, flavorings, lactose content, and other features. Read on and learn how to decipher the moo madness.

Fat Content

Since the 1950’s, processed cow’s milk has been prepared to have different amounts of fat, mainly for health and flavor reasons. You’ll see whole, reduced fat, lowfat, and skim milk products on the shelves. These milks contain virtually the same amount of calcium, vitamin D and protein, but varying amounts of fat and calories. The DGA recommends choosing low fat or skim milk for heart health. Here’s a tip- the types of milk are usually color-coded in the dairy case so they’re easier to distinguish. See the table below for a comparison of key nutrients per 8 ounce serving. 

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{Source: USDA’s Nutrient Data Library: http://www.ars.usda.gov/ba/bhnrc/ndl}

Flavored Milks- The Great Debate

The flavored milk issue is one that incites strong feelings. On one hand, most Americans get too much added sugar from other foods that they eat. On the other hand, you may know all too well that it is much easier to get your kids to drink chocolate or other flavors of milk and both flavored or plain milk meets nutrient targets. Research also indicates that children who drink flavored milk don’t have higher body mass index scores. However, if you are concerned with sugar intake, but you or your children don’t like plain milk, here’s a new idea to help ease the flavored milk debate. It is a worthwhile compromise to add a flavored syrup or powder to the plain milk at home, which if used in moderation (about a tablespoon) will end up with less added sugar than a commercially prepared flavored milk. 

What is Lactose?

Lactose is a sugar found in milk and dairy products, mainly in milk and softer, fresh cheeses. As we age, we lose the ability to break it down, and as a result some people may have gastrointestinal side effects when eating dairy. If you suffer from these symptoms after having dairy, many options are available. Some people choose to avoid dairy altogether or instead use lactose free milk in its place. Most people tolerate lactose better if it is had with a mixed meal, and in smaller quantities such as less than a cup of milk, yogurt, or ice cream.

Whether you like your milk whole or skim, chocolate or plain, hopefully this post has helped you make an informed decision about your choices. Are traditional dairy products not right for your family? Stay tuned to the blog later this week as we explore a variety of non-dairy milk alternatives!

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Kat Brown MS RD RYT is a San Francisco Bay Area based Registered Dietitian and Yoga Teacher. As a nutrition counselor, writer, cook, and yogini she seeks to inspire others to nourish themselves and live balanced, fulfilled lives.