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Health Benefits of Dairy

Milk Varieties

There are many varieties of milk -- with different flavors and nutrition profiles. The easiest way to enjoy milk is ice-cold with a meal or snack. Most types of milk have about the same amount of calcium, protein, and most other nutrients per cup. The main differences are in calories and fat.

Obviously, you're better off nutritionally if you choose fat-free, or at least 1 percent, milk to keep fat and excess calories to a minimum. However, if you have children under the age of two, give them whole milk. Young, rapidly growing children need the calories and fat that whole milk provides.

You might also want to give buttermilk a try. With its distinctively tart, sour taste, it's not for everyone, but many people prefer its flavor. Buttermilk is not as fattening as it sounds. Though originally a by-product of butter, today buttermilk is made by adding bacteria cultures to fat-free or low-fat milk. Read the carton to be sure you're getting the low- or nonfat variety. Buttermilk tends to be saltier than regular milk, however (a concern if you have or are at risk for high blood pressure), and it may not be fortified with vitamins A and D.

Beyond Straight up

There are other ways to include milk beyond drinking it plain:
  • Many recipes call for milk, and in others, you can easily substitute milk for water. For example, use milk to make hot cereals; pancakes and waffles; soups; packaged potato, pasta, and rice mixes; baked goods; desserts; and drink mixes.

  • Cereal and a cup of milk makes a good anytime snack -- and it meets about a third of your daily requirement for calcium.

  • Try blending milk with yogurt, fruit, and ice cubes for a refreshing fruit smoothie. Add a flavor twist by using chocolate-, banana-, vanilla-, or strawberry-flavored milk.

  • Have some coffee with your milk. Try a cafĂ© latte or cappuccino to get a healthy amount of milk with your coffee.

  • If you're a soda drinker, consider choosing fat-free milk instead of regular soda once in a while to save about 90 calories and get milk's nine essential nutrients.
Milk Storage

All milk should have a "sell by" date stamped on the carton. This date is the last day the milk should be sold if it is to remain fresh for home storage. It does not mean that you need to use it by that date. Generally, if milk is stored in a closed container at refrigerator temperatures, it will remain fresh for up to a week after the "sell by" date. Pasteurization -- the process of rapidly heating raw milk, holding it for a short specified period of time, then rapidly cooling it -- removes most of the bacteria from milk. However, some of the remaining harmless bacteria can grow and multiply, although very slowly, at refrigerator temperatures, eventually causing the milk to spoil.

Store milk on a refrigerator shelf rather than in the door, which is not cold enough. To safe-guard quality and freshness, store milk in the original container. Keep milk containers closed and away from strong-smelling foods. To avoid cross-contaminating milk, do not return unused milk from a serving pitcher to the original container. If milk has been left at room temperature for longer than two hours, throw it out.

Milk in plastic jugs is more susceptible to loss of riboflavin and vitamin A than milk in paperboard cartons. That's because light, even the fluorescent light in supermarkets, destroys these two light-sensitive nutrients.

Today, you may find milk not only in the refrigerated section but also out on the shelf with packaged goods. This is called UHT (ultra-high-temperature) milk, referring to the processing technique. Though it must be refrigerated once you open it, unopened UHT milk will keep at room temperature for up to six months. UHT milk is just as nutritious as the milk you buy in the refrigerated section.

Drinking raw milk, or products that are made with raw milk such as some cheeses, can be risky. Raw milk has not been pasteurized and often carries bacteria that can make you sick. It's especially dangerous to give raw milk to children, the elderly, or people with impaired immune systems.

Cheese is another high source of calcium if it is part of a healthy diet. We will review the benefits of cheese in the next section.


1 cup
Calcium (mg)
Fat (g)
Fat-free (skim) milk
Low-fat (1/2%) milk
Low-fat (1%) milk
Low-fat (1%) chocolate milk
Low-fat (1%) buttermilk
Reduced-fat (2%) milk
Whole (3.25% fat) milk

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.