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Planning Retirement Online

Milked to extreme

February 2014

It used to be so simple. The milkman would arrive early every morning and there would be your lovely glass bottles of milk sitting happily on your doorstep.

Today I am surprised they are not offering university degrees in “Choosing the Right Milk for Everyday Life”!  Any big supermarket has shelves and shelves of milk choices, different sizes and goodness me, so many different types. Whole milk, 1% fat, goat’s milk, UHT milk, soya milk, lactose free milk, almond milk - the list simply goes on and on. What does it all mean?

And that is without touching on the organic aspect, another mine field. Last year a study from the prestigious American university Stanford showed there was little evidence that organic food was more nutritious. Now recent news from the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources in Washington State University says organic milk is definitely better.

Stanford’s team examined the ratios between the fatty acids omega-6 and omega-3 in organic and conventional milk and found that conventional milk carries double the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids of that found in organic milk. Higher levels of omega-6 to omega-3 have been claimed by some medical researchers to lead to greater health risk.

There is even confusion over low fat milk. It seems reduced fat (2%) milk is not actually considered a low fat food. One cup of this milk will contain 5 grams of fat with 3 of them being saturated fat.  

Lactose free is an interesting milk as it contains all the normal nutrients of cow’s milk. However, while regular milk contains the milk sugar lactase, lactose-free milk does not which is important for people with lactose intolerance. Lactose-free milk tastes sweeter than regular milk because the milk sugar lactase is broken down into two simple sugars, galactose and glucose. Simple sugars taste sweeter on your tongue than complex sugars, hence the pleasant taste of lactose free milk.

Lots of people love goat’s milk and say it helps lots of ailments such as helping to cure eczema. However, goat’s milk does contain lactose, although not quite as much as cow’s milk, so it isn’t good for anyone with a serious lactose intolerance.  Also, goat’s milk can have quite a definite flavour.

On our supermarket shelf cartons of almond milk have been creeping in. Initially I thought these were just a flavour alternative to choco-milk and the other highly flavoured milks available, but it seems almond milk is often chosen because of its naturally high calcium content. Often commercial versions are also fortified with vitamin D.

Soy milk takes up a lot of shelf space at our local shop and reading about its contents, I can understand its popularity.  Made from soy beans, soy milk is naturally high in essential fatty acids, proteins, fibre, vitamins and minerals.  Most important is its effect on your blood lipid profile. In essence what this is referring to is that while cow’s milk is fairly high in saturated fat and cholesterol, soy milk is mostly unsaturated with no cholesterol. The monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids in soy can inhibit the transport of cholesterol into your blood stream; so this milk can be useful if you have high cholesterol or a tendency to heart disease.

A more recent introduction into the milk arena is rice milk. This is lower in protein and higher in carbohydrates than cow’s milk; also it does not contain the same levels of calcium.

One thing I haven’t seen in our local shops is any “raw” milk. As far as I can see most of the various milks on offer are all pasteurized. This is when the milk is heated to a really high temperature and then rapidly cooled to kill harmful bacteria including salmonella, E coli and listeria. Some supporters of raw milk says this heating can destroy the milk’s natural enzymes but of course there was good reason for pasteurized milk to become the norm and anyone considering raw milk is recommended to do full research first so they really understand what it is all about.

In fact, this is good advice for anyone really, especially if they consume a lot of milk in their diet.

The Dairy Council has a lot of information about milk which can be a good starting point.


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