A tall glass of ice cold milk with dinner, creamy vanilla yogurt with sun-ripened blackberries, or an ooeey gooey grilled chilled cheese sandwich. These are simple images taken straight from my childhood kitchen. You see I was raised to believe that dairy was a good thing.
My mom was a nurse and my dad a dentist, so at any very early age I was taught that the consumption of dairy product contributed to strong bones, and of course healthy teeth. Did I ask if it would help me lose weight, cause me to hit puberty early, or lead to the clogging of my arteries? Well no, somewhere between recess and girl scouts these thoughts never really cross my mind. I also didn’t think to ask if I should be choosing almond milk, soy milk, goats milk, or cows milk. I wasn’t too worried about light cheese, skim cheese, 2% cheese or natural cheese. I don’t even think my family had heard of Greek yogurt and organic dairy products were not even on the shelves at our grocery store.
In the past decade dairy there has been significant changes in the dairy industry and controversy to go along with it. So if you're overwhelmed by the thought of making an educated decision about dairy or just with the price associated with some of the options, here are a few facts that hopefully clear things up.
Skim or Whole
If you're over the age of 2, you're probably best suited by drinking skim milk and consuming reduced-fat dairy products such as yogurt and cheese. The fat found in whole milk is saturated, meaning that if consumed in excess it will lead to an increase in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels and will increase your risk for heart disease. Whole milk products are also higher in calories than skim counterparts. How does 2% milk play into the picture? Well, 2% milk is actually closer in fat content to whole milk, so the closer you can get to skim milk the better off you'll be. On a side note, another common misconception is that only whole milk is fortified with vitamin D, when in fact there are equal amounts of vitamin D found in skim, 2% and whole milk.
Greek or Traditional
Greek yogurt has made a splash on the market as it has increased in popularity during the past few years, but what’s all the hype about? Actually Greek yogurt is significantly higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates than traditional yogurt. Though, I will give you fair warning that it does have a very different taste, because there is no added sugar. In general the main thing you want to consider when purchasing a yogurt is that a serving contains a minimum of 20% of your daily calcium. Many new yogurts boast about lower calorie or carbohydrate contents, but the only thing they have really changed is the portion size.
Organic or Conventional
A common belief is that the consumption of conventional milk, which may contain added grown hormones, will lead to girls reaching puberty at a younger age. Although widely believed, there is no actual research showing us that this is the case. When looking at a label you will also see no difference in the calorie, protein, fat, mineral or vitamin content of organic and conventional milk. What the research does show is that organic milk contains significantly greater concentrations of heart healthy essential omega-3 fatty acids than conventional milk. In fact 8 ounces of organic milk, provides approximately 10% of the recommended daily intake of omega-3 fatty acid and 1 ounce of organic cheese provides up to 88% of the recommended intake of omega-3 fatty acid.
Cow or Soy
Soy is a great alternative for the 30-50 million Americans who suffer from lactose intolerance. Soy milk may also help to lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, making it a heart healthy option. Regular soy milk does contain more fat than skim cow’s milk, so a light soy milk is preferable. Also, soy is not a food that is naturally high in calcium, thus the soy milk must be fortified with calcium carbonate in order to provide as great of concentration of calcium as that found in cow’s milk.