Milk 101

by in Food Safety, May 13, 2010


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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Comments (42)

  1. Home recipes says:

    Milk serves both adults ad kids well by providing basic nutrients they need. It is easy to consume (does not require chewing) and can be used in many dietary combination. But the warning exists – too much milk which means too much calcium can also be harmful. Drinking too much milk can result in hypercalcemia – a cause of bone and joint pain, and high blood pressure.

    One common problem with consumption of milk especially in adults is poor digestion of lactase, milk sugar. I think one of these days the dairy product manufacturers will produce a special type of milk for such people.

  2. @Amys_SSGF says:

    I live in Texas, where raw milk is legal. There is a local farmer who sells raw milk – Lucky Layla Farms. They also make cheese and yogurt. Though I've never purchased any, I know he has an excellent reputation for cleanliness and testing every batch. He's been featured in The Dallas Morning News, our biggest newspaper.

    And, Home Recipes – there is lactose-free milk. They carry it at our local grocery stores.

  3. dietguy says:

    This is very informational. Thank you.

  4. facelift says:

    Large amount of protein established in Milk, which is essential for proper nutrition. By drinking of milk everyday may help in reduce the risk of kidney stones. But pasteurized milk is good for kids because unpasteurized milk has dangerous bacteria which causes kid's health.

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