By now, I know you all know I’m a dairy foods lover. (And a dairy lover!)
Certainly I believe in the quality of the milk we produce, and I enjoy everything from cheddar and sour cream on my enchiladas to chocolate milk or Greek yogurt after a hard run.
But are all dairy foods created equal?
A savvy reader recently contacted me with a few dairy questions. First, I want to say thanks to her. I’m honestly ecstatic when a reader has a food question and thinks of me. If I happen to be the “token farmer” in your life, I embrace that role. I hope you feel free to send me your food or farm questions, and I’ll do my best to get back to you quickly with the info I can.
Next, I suppose I ought to address the questions at hand.
Here’s the gist:
– She’s heard from others that you should stick with full fat dairy because in low-fat or non-fat foods “additives, chemicals, and sugars are added to make up for the lack in taste.” This same source says that eating extra sugar makes you gain weight.
– She’s also wondering about pasteurized milk. Info is lurking on the web that pasteurized milk is “missing many beneficial bacteria and enzymes and is full of antibiotics, additives, and preservatives.” A source close to her advocates drinking only raw, non-pasteurized milk.
So, I’m going to tackle these one by one.
First, the full-fat vs. non-fat debate.
I think the biggest message here is to read your ingredient labels. Some foods will certainly contain preservatives and additives while others won’t.
My husband’s favorite sour cream is Daisy brand, and we buy it in a five-pound tub. (Yes, for two of us. I know…)
Whether you buy regular or low-fat Daisy, you’ll read that the only ingredients are cream, or milk and cream with Vitamin A. Other sour cream brands tend to contain more ingredients like preservatives or texturing products such as (plant-based) guar gum or locust bean gum.
But are these extra things bad?
I honestly don’t have the nutritional expertise to know everything about additives, so I did some digging. Best Food Facts talks about additives here and several common food additives, including the safety and science behind them, can be found on WebMD here. You will find a whole range of extremes about preservatives and additives on the web. I encourage you to examine the source behind any claim you read. Make sure there’s several reputable sources for a claim that concerns you, and don’t buy into the hype of just one person’s opinion or experience.
As for milk itself, it is pretty simple. Whether it’s skim, 1%, 2%, or whole, the only ingredient I see on the label is milk with Vitamins A and D. Pure and wholesome as it comes.
Chocolate milk does, of course, have more sugar, so you’ve got to decide if and when those extra calories are okay for you. After a hard workout it’s what I crave, but with meals I still prefer white.
One of the other culprits I see for added sugar is flavored yogurt – no matter what the fat content. I love the calcium and protein in any yogurt, and in my own life I try to find a balance between flavored and plain. If I’ve been eating way too much added sugar lately, I’m more apt to buy plain yogurt and add my own fruit or granola. I’ll also use it in cooking, veggie dip, or as a sub for sour cream.
Sometimes I do want the sweet stuff. I like pineapple, blackberry, and strawberry-banana in particular, and I tend to buy Greek yogurt because of the extra protein. As long as I’m not eating candy all day I don’t stress about the occasional sweetened yogurt. If you are concerned you can just stick with plain.
Weight gain really isn’t specifically caused by extra sugar. It’s all about how many calories you eat and how many you burn. If you eat more than you burn, each 3,500 extra calories will equate to gaining one pound. People certainly have different metabolism and base activity levels and different foods that make them feel better. These are differences you need to explore and hopefully learn to embrace for your own body, but I don’t think sugar is the solitary evil. Know what I mean?
Finally, “chemical” is rather a loaded term because it sounds scary, but all foods are actually made up of chemicals. Chemical elements comprise our foods, bodies, and the things in our world. There is no special, secret chemical related to the fat level of any dairy product.
Now, what about raw milk?
This is a question I hear from time to time, and frankly, I’m always a little bit surprised by it. Pasteurization is your friend and a great food safety measure.
Now I think milk is a great food, and we do everything we can to ensure it’s clean and free of bacteria. We clean the cows’ udders before milking, and we use special detergents to wash milking machines, milk pipe lines, and the milk tank after each milking and milk pick up.
Cows are still farm animals, and no matter how careful we are, there are always small levels of bacteria in milk. And there’s a chance it could be dangerous bacteria.
Why would anyone want to feed themselves or their kids something that could make them very sick? No matter how small the chance, I would rather not take it. Especially when pasteurization is so accessible and easy.
Pasteurization kills dangerous bacteria, and it leaves healthful nutrients intact. I suppose some of the bacteria killed is good bacteria, but there are other safe places to get good bacteria. Such as eating cultured, pro biotic foods like yogurt.
The Food and Drug Administration also strongly recommends pasteurized dairy products and warns against the dangers of raw milk. In most states it is illegal for farmers to sell unpasteurized milk. People get sick and could even die from it. That doesn’t sound like a smart choice to me. You can read more about raw milk facts here.
As for the claims about pasteurized milk being full of preservatives and antibiotics, they simply aren’t true. Any preservatives would be labeled, and I’ve never seen any on the milk I buy.
Antibiotics in milk are never allowed to enter the food supply.
If we need to use antibiotics to help a sick cow get well, her milk will be kept separate and discarded. Only when the withdrawal time is ended and all antibiotics have cleared that cow’s body will her milk be put into the bulk tank with the others. Milk processors test all milk multiple times to ensure this, and it is absolutely non-negotiable.
Vitamins A and D are added to most milk, but that’s the extent of it.
I’m going to circle back to Best Food Facts again, because they have a nice resource called D is for Dairy that addresses even more milk questions. They reach out to university and academic experts to tackle tough food questions, so you know you really are getting the best food facts.
I hope I’ve helped my savvy reader and maybe several more of you besides. If you’ve got questions, my inbox is always open.