Milk 101

If you’ve scanned the milk container at breakfast time, you’ll notice lots of terms on the carton. Ever wondered why milk is “homogenized” and “pasteurized” and why the heck is vitamin D added? We’ll iron out these terms and explain why they’re on your milk container.
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milk in the glass

Photo by: denphumi

denphumi

Ever wondered why milk is “homogenized” and “pasteurized” and why the heck vitamin D is added? We’ll iron out these terms and explain why they’re on your milk container.

Types of Milk

There are several types of milk you can find on the market: whole, reduced fat (2%), low fat (1%) and skim (nonfat or fat free). The USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends low fat and nonfat milk for your everyday use (cereal or coffee, for example). The protein and calcium is pretty much the same between them. The difference is in the amount of total fat, cholesterol and calories. Here’s a rundown on the calories and fat in 1 cup of milk:

  • Whole: 3.25 percent fat, 150 calories, and 8 grams of fat per serving.
  • Reduced Fat: 2 percent fat, 120 calories, and 5 grams of fat per serving.
  • Low fat: 1 percent fat, 100 calories, and 2.5 grams of fat per serving.
  • Nonfat milk: Contains less than .5 percent milk fat by weight, 80 calories and 0 grams of fat per serving.
Pasteurized Vs. Raw

Milk is pasteurized in order to kill the dangerous bacteria like Listeria and Salmonella. This is especially important for those with weaker immune systems like kids, older adults, pregnant women and folks who are sick. When milk is pasteurized, it’s heated to a minimum temperature of 145°F for 30 minutes or to 161°F or more for 15 seconds and then quickly cooled. This method doesn’t alter the nutritional value or taste of the white stuff but it does help lengthen the shelf life and preserves freshness.

Raw milk on the other hand has not been pasteurized. The CDC, FDA, American Medical Association and American Academy of Pediatrics all strongly suggest sticking with pasteurized milk. The danger of drinking raw milk is real—according to the CDC raw milk was to blame for 1,007 illnesses, 104 hospitalizations and 2 deaths between 1998 and 2005.

Despite the health risks, you’ll find raw milk advocates throughout the country who’ll pay more than $10 a gallon. Why? Because they believe it’s safe and healthier. To date, 27 states allow raw milk to be either sold at your local market or purchased directly from the farm. Read more on the raw milk debate in this Chicago Tribune article.

Why is Milk Homogenized?

If you like milk nice and creamy, be thankful it’s homogenized. Milk straight from the cow naturally separates—the cream rises on top while the milk stays on the bottom. “Skim” milk is made by skimming the cream from the milk. In order to combine the cream and milk (like for whole milk), a high pressure filtration process breaks down and disperses the fat into the milk.

Why is Vitamin D Added?

Vitamin D is not found in very many foods—eggs, liver and fish like tuna and salmon are about it. Since vitamin D works with calcium to help keep bones healthy, it’s logical that it’s added to milk—an excellent source of calcium.

Read more on milk:

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby's full bio »

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