Whether we are pouring it into our cereal bowl, adding it to our coffee, or drinking it straight from the glass, we all have preferences in the type of milk we drink.
Perusing the dairy aisle at the supermarket shows just how many choices we have when it comes to cow’s milk. The percentages on milk can be confusing – so I wanted to answer this question: How much fat is in a cold, frothy glass of milk, and what do milk fat percentages mean.
Milk contains many vitamins and minerals including the six bone-building nutrients: calcium, protein, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin A, and vitamin D. A cup of cow’s milk is a complete protein source. Milk proteins contain all nine essential amino acids that need to be obtained from the food we eat. There are eight grams of protein and 12 grams of carbohydrates per cup of milk. In addition, without fortification, milk has 300 milligrams of calcium, which is 30 percent of the recommended daily allowance for most adults.
Dairy is an essential piece in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and a key player on MyPlate. These guidelines recommend three servings of dairy each day to help address the nutrient shortfall many Americans have including three nutrients of concern: calcium, vitamin D, and potassium.
Types of Milk
The primary types of milk sold in stores are whole milk, reduced-fat milk (2%), low-fat milk (1%), and fat-free milk. The percentages included in the names of the milk indicate how much fat is in the milk by weight. Whole milk (3.25% fat) is what comes from the cow before processing, while reduced-fat milk (2% fat), low-fat milk (1% fat), and fat-free or skim milk (0% fat) undergo processing to remove extra fat that comes from the cream. Besides the noticeable difference in taste, whole milk, low-fat, or skim milks differ in their fat, nutrient, and calorie content. Of the four options, whole milk has the highest amount of saturated fat and calories, with around 150 calories, compared to skim milk’s 90 calories, and four grams of saturated fat per eight-ounce serving.
Choosing between whole, skim, or low-fat milk is largely a matter of personal choice in terms of diet, use, and preference. Skim or low-fat milk might be a better choice for people who are trying to hit specific daily caloric goals or those who already obtain a lot of fat from other foods in their diet. For people trying to gain weight, build muscle, or acquire more natural nutrients, whole milk makes a lot more sense. Each option has both benefits and drawbacks, so picking “the best milk” is more about balance than one right or wrong choice—a little skim milk with cereal, some whole milk in a protein shake, and a dash of 2% in a cup of coffee seems like a good compromise.
There are three steps to processing all types of milk for consumers to buy:
- First, the raw milk is pasteurized, where it is heated to kill microorganisms and extend the shelf life. Normal pasteurization keeps milk safer while maintaining its valuable nutrients.
- Homogenization is the next step. This process mixes and disperses the milk fat throughout milk, to create a uniform mixture. This prevents the cream from separating from the milk.
- Finally, the cream is separated from the milk. As part of the standardization process, the cream and remaining milk are remixed to provide the desired fat content for the different types of milk being produced.
- While at the store, pick up milk last so it stays as cool as possible.
- When buying milk, check the sell-by date stamped at the container. Make sure the date has not already passed and then decide whether you will be able to finish the milk within a few days following the sell-by date.
- Refrigerate promptly after you get home. Refrigerate milk at 40ºF or less as soon as possible after purchase and store in the original container.
- Store your milk in the coldest part of the refrigerator, not in the door where it will be exposed to outside air every time someone opens it.
- Closing the milk container prevents contamination and absorption of flavors from other foods in the fridge.
- Milk should not be left out on the counter or table for extended periods of time. Leaving it out of refrigeration for too long will make it warm, allowing bacteria to grow and spoil the milk.
- Return milk to the refrigerator immediately after pouring out the amount needed. Never return unused milk to the original container. If milk has been handled well since your purchase, and it passes a quick sniff test, you can confidently drink it past its sell-by date.
- If the milk is nearing its expiration date, plan some recipes like pudding, cream soup, or oatmeal to use it up or consider freezing Milk will expand when it’s frozen, so be sure to leave room in the container so it won’t burst!
- Frozen milk should be thawed in the refrigerator. However, be aware that the flavor and texture of the milk may be affected.
Consider milk your refrigerator’s secret weapon! Each serving is affordable and provides an irreplaceable package of nutrients. Milk and milk products can build strong bones, lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of diabetes and some cancers, and may help you maintain a healthy weight.