Dietitian Vanessa Furlong decodes the milk aisle.
Picking up a carton of milk used to be a fairly pedestrian task. How times have changed! With an ever-expanding variety to choose from, you may feel more like a ‘deer in the headlights’ than a savvy shopper. Luckily, with a few pointers, you’ll be able to peruse the dairy aisle with confidence once again.
Full of goodness
Milk is considered one of nature’s most nutritionally complete foods, with one glass (250ml) delivering almost 40 per cent of your daily calcium requirements, as well as protein and a number of other essential vitamins and minerals. While it’s traditionally been revered for its bone-building calcium, milk is about much more than just calcium these days, which can be confusing.
The skinny on fat
The most important thing to consider when choosing milk is the fat content. Dietitians recommend choosing a reduced-fat milk to help limit saturated fat intake – for both adults and kids. A recent survey released by the National Heart Foundation found that full-fat dairy products are the main reason Australian children have too much saturated fat in their diets, so if your child is over the age of two, reduced-fat milk is the best choice. Lower-fat milks also have fewer kilojoules; an added bonus if you are watching your energy intake.
How does the fat content vary?
There are four milk classifications based on fat content:
- Regular milk, also known as full-cream, full-fat or whole milk, contains on average 3.4% fat, which translates to 8.5g fat and 5.5g saturated fat per 250ml.
- Reduced-fat milk has had some of the cream removed. Under Australian regulations, ‘reduced-fat’ milk must have at least 25% less fat than the ‘regular’ varieties of milk.
- Low-fat milk has also had some of the cream removed, and by law must contain less than 1.5% fat.
- Skim milk has had all of the cream removed. By law, it must contain no more than 0.15% fat.
|Typical milk values per 250ml||% fat||kJ||Total fat (g)||Sat fat (g)|
What about ‘lite white’?
This is not a specific milk classification, but rather a type of branding. It is a lower-fat milk, but check the nutrition information panel or the front label to determine the actual fat content.
What are modified milks?
Modified milks are milks that have had their nutritional profile altered or ‘modified’, to cater for a range of dietary requirements. The primary modifications focus on weight management, heart health, cholesterol management, bone health and lactose intolerance. If you do choose a modified milk, keep in mind that it is still best to opt for one that is lower in fat. Modified milks generally add ingredients not ‘native’ to milk, but that add health benefits.
- Vitamin D: Increases calcium absorption for strong bones and teeth.
- Omega-3: Promotes both heart and brain health. Look for milk that contains EPA and/or DHA omega-3 fatty acids on the nutrition panel.
- Plant sterols: Consuming 2–3g plant sterols each day has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels by up to 15 per cent.
- Calcium: Essential for bone health. Men require 1000mg calcium per day; women aged 50 and under require 1000mg per day; and women aged 50+ require 1300mg each day.
- Vitamin A: Essential for healthy eyesight, vitamin A is almost entirely lost from milk during the process to create lower fat milks, so manufacturers often add it back in.