Aisle by Aisle: Navigating the Dairy Case

by in Grocery Shopping, July 17, 2009

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One day while we were shopping in the dairy aisle, my son reached down and grabbed a purple-colored carton of yogurt and asked, “Mom, can I have this?” My answer, “Dude, cows don’t make purple milk.” Poor kid, he looked at me with this perplexed face. The dairy section can get a bit overwhelming for an adult too, but here are some hints on what you should be looking for on your next trip to the market.

Nutrition Basics
The basic dairy group includes milk, cheese, yogurt and milk-based desserts like frozen yogurt and ice cream. The USDA’s Dietary Guidelines recommend consuming 3 cups per day of fat-free (a.k.a. skim) or low-fat (a.k.a 1%) milk or equivalent milk products. What counts as a serving? One cup of milk, 8 ounces of yogurt or 1.5 ounces of cheese.

Dairy products contain calcium, a mineral needed for bone health. Calcium also plays a role in blood clotting, regulating certain hormones and supporting muscle contractions (including your heart). Clients ask me why they should switch from regular to non-fat milk for their cereal and coffee, and I just show them the numbers. A cup of whole milk contains 150 calories, 8 grams of total fat, 5 grams of saturated fat and 33 milligrams of cholesterol. A cup of skim milk contains 90 calories and 0 grams of fat, saturated fat and cholesterol. Both contain 8 grams of protein per cup and 30% of your daily calcium needs.

Milk
Low-fat or fat-free milk is suggested, but now what? There’s lactose-free, pasteurized, hormone-free, organic and even a new line of dairy-free milks! Most (not all) have added vitamins A and D, so make sure to check the label.

If you’re lactose intolerant, lactose-free milk like Lactaid is the way to go. It contains the same nutrients as regular cow’s milk, but the milk sugar has been broken down to prevent bloating, gas and other musical symptoms associated with lactose intolerance. To me, pasteurized milk is a must (as opposed to raw) since I have young kids in the house. During the pasteurization process, the milk is heated to high temperatures to kill the bad bacteria, yet the nutritional quality is still maintained.

Dana and I both agree that organic milk (made without hormones) is the way to go. Recent research shows that organic milk contains higher levels of omega-3s and vitamin E. Believe it or not, you may also be able to find local milk at your grocery store. Dana gets The Farmer’s Cow milk, made by a group of Connecticut dairy farmers.

If you’re not a cow’s milk fan, you’re in luck! So many alternative milks are available now. Soy milk is a good alternative, but if you’re watching your weight, you may want to choose light soy milk. Rice and almond milk are also available, but may be in your dry goods aisle not your dairy case.

Yogurt
I like my yogurt without high-fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners and made from skim milk — and yes, it is possible! Here are some of my favorite yogurt choices:

Greek yogurt is relatively new trend reaching supermarkets. It’s thicker and creamier than traditional yogurt because it’s been strained to remove much of the whey. I stock my fridge with Fage 0% Greek Yogurt and, when serving, top it with blueberries or strawberries. Kefir is a cultured milk product similar to yogurt only thinner. It comes in a variety of flavors and makes great smoothies. There’s been a lot of talk about the health benefits of probiotics in yogurts, which Dana explains in this past post.

Other Dairy Products
Cheese, cottage cheese and cream cheese are other popular foods in your dairy aisle. We explained how to choose healthy low-fat cheeses before, but what about the soft spreadable types? My husband eats cottage cheese on whole-wheat bread with a slice of low-fat Swiss cheese — a tradition he learned from back home in Israel. But I buy the low-fat version to skim off some calories and only buy it once a month.

Now cream cheese is my kids’ favorite, so I buy the Temp Tee kind in the bright pink container, and I just monitor how much I put. If you’re watching those calories, choose a low-fat version and stick to a 2-tablespoon rule (I find the non-fat versions tasteless). Tofu cream cheese is a favorite of my mom, who is a vegan chef, and my hubby — it has no cholesterol. It’s a great alternative for those who are allergic or intolerant to dairy.

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    Comments (15)

    1. Eve says:

      I just found your blog and think it's fabulous! This is such a great dairy breakdown. I'm a dietitian as well and I have a more personal blog: http://www.nutritionbyeve.wordpress.com

    2. Paula Peters says:

      Hi Toby!

      You wrote:

      "If you’re lactose intolerant, lactose-free milk like Lactaid is the way to go. It contains the same nutrients as regular cow’s milk, but the milk sugar has been broken down to prevent bloating, gas and other musical symptoms associated with lactose intolerance. To me, pasteurized milk is a must (as opposed to raw) since I have young kids in the house. During the pasteurization process, the milk is heated to high temperatures to kill the bad bacteria, yet the nutritional quality is still maintained."

      Lactose intolerance is the body's way of saying that you ought not consume the milk of a cow. Cow's milk is the perfect food for baby cows, just like bat milk is the perfect food for baby bats, cat milk is the perfect food for baby cats, and giraffe milk is the perfect food for baby giraffes. While one in ten Americans are lactose intolerant, even more people are allergic to the milk protein, casein, another clear sign that human bodies are not designed to consume cow's milk. And while pasteurization kills bacteria, a researcher named Annand discovered a correlation between the rise in coronary heart disease which began in the 1920s with laws requiring milk pasteurization.

      Along with "the same nutrients in cow's milk" that you mentioned, Lactaid also contains the same excessive protein, saturated fat, and cholesterol that are linked to obesity, upper respiratory infections, asthma, breast and prostate cancer, diabetes, and yes, osteoporosis. It's evident that milk does not do any body any good (unless of course, it's a baby calf's body). And with all of this going against it, it is clear that dairy is not a healthy food choice.

      With so many delicious and healthy alternatives to milk, sour cream, cheese, butter, yogurt, ice cream, whipped cream, and kefir available today, made from soy, rice, almonds, oats, hemp seed, and coconut milk, I think we could move quickly towards a much healthier society if we started moving away from our addiction to dairy.

    3. jay says:

      I have to completely agree with Paula here; in fact she saved me from having to write that whole rant myself. I did feel it was important to add that dairy is an acid in the body though. Thus in order to maintain the blood's neutral ph, calcium is leeched from the bones. The reason so many in America today are afflicted with osteoporosis is not because they don't drink enough milk- Americans drink exponentially more milk than any other culture. This disease is actually a result of the constant acidic environment we create in our bodies with foods like dairy. If we chose to obtain our calcium from alkaline sources such as almond, rice, oat, and hemp milks, our bodies would actually be able to retain the calcium we consumed.

    4. nosoy says:

      Soy is not good for women trying to conceive by the way. I was told by my obgyn to only consume milk products while trying to conceive and then through the end of the breast feeding stage of the baby. It was a hard thing to deal with since I was a soy milk addict! The issue he said is all the engineered soy products interfere with the reproductive system in some women.

    5. nosoy says:

      …..it’s the phytoestrogens that is in soymilk that is not good for women.

    6. ebrady says:

      What about Silk Soymilk? Is it any good? Is it better for you?

    7. ebrady says:

      Silk soymilk vs. Light silk soymilk….What's the difference?

    8. tamidor says:

      Hi ebrady,
      There is a calorie difference between regular and light soy milk–it's a good for those who are trying to cut back on calories. You can check out some other soy brands and information about soy milk in my previous post on milk alternatives.

    9. Fawn says:

      To Jay, the biggest source of calcium being leeched from the body is generally phosphoric acid from colas (aka soda) and to some extent from citric acid (generally present in sprite and similar non-cola drinks). You are also neglecting other sides noting that calcium absorption generally requires cofactors and other ‘side molecules’ to boost absorption that aren’t as available (or used as readily) from plant sources as they are in animal sources (sadly).

    10. Julie says:

      Independent research has found soy can cause an increase in estrogen levels, the genetically modified soybeans grown throughout the US, can cause up to 10x an increase in estrogen levels. I have three kids and have nixed the soy milk in our house, but sad to say soy is in everything where processed food is found. If you are concerned, look into it further.

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