Milk still tops most of our shopping lists, but when did choosing what to buy get so confusing? Rose Carr has pored over the facts so you can pour with confidence.
When you’re standing in the milk aisle, do you ever feel bewildered by the wide range on offer? Milk manufacturers seem to be adding nutrients and removing permeate faster than we can keep up. And with each milk promising a new or different and often unfamiliar health benefit, how do you know what’s right for you?
Milk the nutrition
We love our milk. In fact, each of us drinks about two litres per week — no wonder we’re always running out! Brimming with 10 essential nutrients, cow’s milk contains calcium and protein along with vitamins A, B12 and E, which our bodies need for eye health; nerve health and energy; and healthy skin, hair and nails respectively. As a rich source of calcium, milk helps build strong, healthy bones, while its protein content makes a glass of milk a truly hunger-busting snack that keeps you feeling satisfied.
Find the fat
Whole milk (full-cream or regular milk) is 3.2 to 3.8 per cent fat; reduced-fat, or ‘lite’, milk is about 2 per cent fat; and low-fat milk is less than 1.5 per cent fat. Skim milk consists of no more than 0.15 per cent fat, but its added milk solids enhance the flavour. A glass of whole milk provides about 680kJ (163cal), whereas a glass of skim milk has a lower energy content of 400kJ (96cal).
Reduce the fat
The fat content of cow’s milks differs significantly. A whopping 60 per cent of the fat in cow’s milk is saturated fat, so choose reduced-fat milk. It’s a smart, simple way to lower your intake of unhealthy sat fat — a great step towards better health. And there’s more good news: Experts link drinking low-fat milk with a reduced risk of developing high blood pressure. They think that the calcium and magnesium in milk, among other minerals, play a protective role, and that the saturated fat in milks with higher levels of fat negates the same positive effects on your health.
Know your milk
Lactose-free milk is helpful for people who live with lactose intolerance. Although lactose is the natural sugar in cow’s milk, some people lack the enzyme lactase, which the body needs to digest lactose. Liddells Lactose Free high-calcium skim milk contains more calcium than any other lactose-free milk on the market, providing 100 per cent of your recommended daily intake (RDI) for calcium in just two glasses.
Modified or fortified milk is nutrient enriched to cater for several dietary requirements and conditions, such as high cholesterol and osteoporosis. Devondale Smart Plus is fortified with iron and vitamins C and D, while Pauls PhysiCAL offers 40 per cent more calcium than regular milk does, as well as vitamin D, which improves calcium absorption. Both Dairy Farmers HeartActive and Devondale Our Reduce One contain plant sterols to lower cholesterol.
A2 milk comes from cows that produce a specific version of major milk protein beta-casein, which is the A2 version (as opposed to A1). Some people believe A2 is the same as the original protein that cows produced thousands of years ago. A2-milk manufacturers are claiming that people who suffer from milk sensitivity can better tolerate this type of milk.
Ultra-heat-treated (UHT) milk is processed at about 140°C (for just two seconds!) to sterilise milk. This means you can store the packet without refrigeration, unopened, for up to 12 months. (Remember to refrigerate open tetrapacks.) Although UHT milk is cheaper than fresh milk, its processing does remove a small amount of heat-sensitive vitamins, such as folate and vitamin B1.
Raw milk is unpasteurised, which makes it a risky choice. It has the potential to carry illness-causing bacteria, the sort that pasteurisation eliminates.
Discover other milks
Soy milk is the most widely available dairy-milk alternative. Like cow’s milk, both regular and reduced-fat varieties are high in protein, but opt for a soy milk that’s fortified with calcium.
Rice milk is an appropriate choice for vegans and people who can’t tolerate lactose, but it contains little protein and calcium, and few minerals.
Almond milk offers more nutrients than rice milk does, and it’s also rich in vitamin E. However, this nut-based milk tends to have less protein and calcium than regular milk does.
Give kids the right milk
Young children’s needs are very different from those of adults. Follow these guidelines to pour them the right white stuff.
Cow’s milk is unsuitable for infants younger than 12 months, as they can’t digest its higher volume of protein and minerals.
Pasteurised full-cream milk is all right for infants below 2 years.
Reduced-fat or low-fat milk is suitable for toddlers over 2 years.
Rice milk and oat milk are acceptable options for infants older than 12 months, as long as you choose full-fat varieties that are calcium fortified, and include alternative forms of protein and vitamin B12 in their diet.
Permeate – the facts
Milk permeate is a result of ultrafiltration, a process in which lactose, vitamins and minerals separate from the milk protein. Permeate is simply the technical term for these natural lactose, vitamin and mineral components, which some manufacturers use to standardise milk so that it tastes the same from season to season. Permeate is harmless — you consume it whenever you drink milk.
Buy the healthiest milk
Check nutrition panels for:
Fewer than 240kJ (57cal) per 100ml
Fewer than 1.5g fat per 100ml
More than 120mg calcium per 100ml
Calcium-fortified alternatives to cow’s milk
Did you know? Skim milk is slightly higher in calcium than regular milk is. The process of fat removal increases the watery portion, which contains the calcium.
A 250ml glass of milk provides a third of your daily calcium needs.