Dairy Decoded

With the advent of the Internet, it’s easy to be overwhelmed with the food and nutrition information coming our way. There’s always a new book that completely refutes information previously believed to be true from the old book and a new super food to replace the old super food. What’s a parent to do?


For the most part, nutrition guidance hasn’t changed all that much. Eating real foods as close to the source as possible with relatively few ingredients is a good way to start. It’s not sexy and it doesn’t sell paperbacks, but it is a solid foundation to make healthy choices.


Even with those core principles, some myths still remain that require a bit of debunking. We’ve identified some of the most common milk and dairy myths and have outlined the information that will help set the record straight.


Myth: Organic milk is healthier than regular milk.


Busted: From a nutrition perspective, there is no difference between organic and regular milk. A study here and there might find slightly higher omega-3 fatty acids or vitamin C, but it all depends on what cows eat. There are plenty of farms who feed their cows grass but are not organic farms. When all is said and done, organic milk and regular milk both contain nine essential nutrients in appreciable quantities that make dairy an important part of a healthy diet.


The biggest difference between organic and regular milk is the on-farm practices that are mandated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s organic program. To become Certified Organic, farms must follow the USDA’s organic standards. This includes using organic fertilizers and pesticides, providing cows access to pasture during the grazing season and not giving sick cows antibiotics. Some farmers who are not organic certified use these farm practices, but may not meet all the standards to be certified.


Whichever milk you choose, know you are enjoying a high-quality product that is a safe, nutritious and healthy choice.


Myth: Spinach and kale provide as much calcium as milk.


Busted: Not even close! It would take 10 cups of raw spinach or three cups of raw kale to match the amount of calcium in just one cup of milk. When you consider it takes three cups of milk each day to meet calcium needs, that would be a boat load of spinach and kale!


Milk also contains vitamin D, which helps with calcium absorption and delivers a further nutritional advantage.


This isn’t to say spinach and kale aren’t healthy choices, they just provide a different set of nutrients and benefits. When it comes to calcium alone however, they simply don’t stack up to milk.


Myth: Milk isn’t as safe as other beverages.


Busted: Milk is one of the safest, highly regulated products you can buy. Milk is rigorously tested from the farm to store. Any milk that doesn’t meet the strict food safety and quality standards will be disposed. Organic or conventional, fat-free or 2 percent milk – no matter which you choose, it’s a safe, healthy, nutritious and tasty product the entire family can enjoy. Learn more about how milk travels from the farm to your table by visiting


Myth: People with lactose intolerance should avoid dairy at all costs.


Busted: Living with lactose intolerance doesn’t mean you have to give up your favorite dairy foods. In fact, despite some common misconceptions, most people are able to enjoy dairy, even if they are lactose intolerant.


Different people can handle different amounts of lactose, and there’s a solution to meet most needs in the dairy aisle – from lactose-free milk to dairy foods that are typically easier to digest. Whether it’s a cold glass of milk, creamy yogurt or flavorful cheese, dairy foods taste great and offer a powerful nutritional punch that you don’t want to miss. Here are some tips to help those with lactose intolerance continue to enjoy dairy:


• Sip it: Start with a small amount of milk daily and increase slowly over several days or weeks to find the amount that works with your tolerance.


Try it: Opt for lactose-free milk and milk products. These real milk products have lower amounts of or zero lactose and provide the same nutrients as regular dairy foods. They also taste great!


Stir it: Mix milk with other foods, such as soup or cereal, blend it with fruit or drink it with meals. Solid foods help slow digestion and allow the body more time to digest lactose.


Slice it: Top sandwiches or crackers with natural cheese, such as cheddar, Colby, Monterey Jack, mozzarella and Swiss. These cheeses contain less than 0.1 grams of lactose per serving.


• Spoon it: Enjoy yogurt. Traditional yogurt and Greek-style yogurt that contain live and active cultures help to digest lactose.


For additional resources including recipes, visit the National Dairy Council website at


Myth: Milk isn’t local.


Busted: You may be surprised to know that milk is one of the only local products that is produced 365 days a year! No need to wait for the right season to have access to farm-fresh milk. It is literally always in season.


You may not know that Massachusetts is home to about 150 dairy farms that are family owned and operated (visit for a list of farms). These farmers produce milk on their farm and either process, bottle and sell it themselves and/or send it to one of the state’s local milk processors with names you recognize on the grocery store shelves. Visit to see just how local milk really is.


Buying cow’s milk means you’re supporting local dairy farm families who wake up at 3 a.m. to milk cows and bring you the best quality milk possible. They also know a thing or two about preserving the land and natural resources so future generations can farm and enjoy the open spaces we love.


Myth: Plant-based “milk” beverages, like almond and soy, are better than cow’s milk.


Busted: Not so fast! When comparing anything, it’s important to read the fine print. In this case, we’re talking about the nutrition facts panel and ingredient list:


• Nutrients: Cow’s milk naturally and consistently contains nine essential nutrients, including protein. With plant-based milks, the amount of vitamins and minerals added are not regulated, so it can vary widely from brand to brand and not match cow’s milk’s nutrient profile at all. When you look at protein specifically, cow’s milk has eight times more protein than almond, coconut and rice “milk.”


• Ingredients: Cow’s milk is the real deal when it comes to a short and simple ingredient list. Ingredients include milk and vitamin D. Lower-fat milks (2 percent, 1 percent and fat-free) also have vitamin A added. This is because vitamin A is fat soluble, so you lose vitamin A content when you reduce fat in fluid milk. It’s added back in to equal the same amount you’ll find in whole milk – just to be fair!


Plant-based “milks” often add a whole host of vitamins and minerals, added sugars and thickening agents, such as carrageenan and other gums. Even then, they don’t match up on protein and other nutrients found in cow’s milk.


Cost: With cow’s milk, you get nine essential nutrients, including protein, calcium and vitamin D, for just 25 cents per cup.


With the plant-based “milks,” it can be anywhere from 41 to 62 cents per cup to receive fewer nutrients.


Myth: Fat-free milk is more nutritious.


Busted: It’s important to know that all milk contains the same nine essential nutrients.


The main difference from a nutrition perspective is the amount of butterfat, and therefore calories, present. There are four primary types of milk available for purchase including whole milk (3.25 percent butterfat), reduced-fat milk (2 percent butterfat), low-fat milk (1 percent butter fat) and skim milk (0 percent butterfat).

With that in mind, each person’s taste preferences and calorie needs are different. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that weaned babies be fed whole milk until they’re 2 years old. After their second birthday, all kids should be switched to low-fat 1 percent milk. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend choosing mostly low-fat and fat-free dairy as part of a healthy diet to keep calories in check. The amount of dairy is determined by age and this chart highlights those recommendations: However, it is up to you to determine which type you prefer to enjoy and what will work best for your family. Regardless of your choice, every glass of milk provides you with the same nine essential nutrients.


Jennifer Lee Shea is the communication and events specialist for the New England Dairy Promotion Board. For more information or to learn about dairy farmers in your area, email or visit

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23 Apr 2015

By Jennifer Lee Shea