Milk: Know Your Label Lingo
Is organic milk better for you than conventional milk? And why buy pasteurized when, in some states, you can buy raw milk direct from the farm? We decipher the label to help you buy the best milk for you and your family.
Pasteurization is about killing illness-causing bacteria. Milk is heated to a high enough temperature for a long enough time to kill bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria. The USDA requires this standardized “high temperature/short time” (HTST) treatment in order for milk to be labeled pasteurized. Almost all nutrients are retained during pasteurization. For more on how milk is produced, visit the Cornell University site.
Unpasteurized, or raw, milk, is from cows, goats, sheep, or other animals, and is legally available in some states, mainly directly through purchase from dairy farmers. Each state makes its own laws about selling raw milk within its borders. Proponents of raw milk cite the fact that pasteurization destroys some enzymes as well as possibly beneficial microbes, and the FDA counters that consumers, especially children and pregnant women, expose themselves to potentially harmful bacteria that pasteurization kills.
Fat content Whole milk typically contains between 3.25% and 4.0% fat. Reduced-fat is 2%, Low-fat equals 1%, and Fat-free, also called skim, milk is about .5%. The more fat, the creamier and more highly caloric the milk.
Homogenized: A process that breaks up fat globules in milk so that a layer of cream doesn’t form at the top, homogenization involves pumping the milk at high pressure through narrow tubes to make it uniform, and, in fact, creamier tasting.
USDA organic-certified milk must come from cows that have not been treated with bovine growth hormone (BGH; see ‘rGBH,” below) to increase milk production, nor treated with antibiotics. If a cow in an organic herd does need to be treated with antibiotics, she is not returned to the herd for a period of 12 months. Cows must have “access to pasture,” but that doesn’t mean they’re outdoors on grass all day; it means the cow may also be fed on grain the majority of the time.
rBGH-free: Cows naturally produce bovine growth hormone (BGH), but farmers sometimes use a genetically engineered variant of that growth hormone to get their cows to increase their milk production. Controversy about rGBH stems from concerns that it increases lameness and infections in cows when they are forced to produce more, who are then treated with antibiotics; that it may in turn cause antibiotic resistance in humans who drink the milk from these cows; and that rBGH may cause cancer. Monsanto, the maker of rGBH, has challenged the use of this labeling, arguing that there are no definitive studies linking it to illness in humans. The battle continues, state by state, but right now the label stands. For more on rBGH, visit the Center for Food Safety.
Lactose-free: Lactose is a type of sugar in milk (as well as yogurt, cheese, and other dairy products) that some people can’t digest. To remove lactose, producers treat the milk with a chemical process that removes the lactose, partially (reduced-lactose milk) or completely (lactose-free). Compare brand labels to make sure you’re getting the same quantities of calcium and nutrients (such as vitamins D and B12) as in conventional milk.
Now that you’ve found the best milk for you, try these delicious shakes and smoothies: