Milk How To Choose

Dairy milk provides an excellent source of calcium, potassium and phosphorus. For vegans or those with allergies or lactose intolerance, alternative types of milk are also available, including soy milk, rice milk and almond milk.

Dairy Milk

Cow’s milk is one of the most stringently regulated and safest foods available in the U.S. Whether it is produced on a conventional or an organic farm, milk in every state is subjected to several processes to ensure its safety and nutritive content before it reaches store shelves.

  1. Fat removal: Milk straight from the cow contains about 4 percent fat. In some types of milk, fat content is lowered to 2 percent, 1 percent or skimmed away altogether (which actually means a fat content of about 0.2 percent).
  2. Pasteurization: At the second stage of processing, milk is heated to remove microorganisms. Some milk is exposed to ultra-high temperatures. This UHT milk is then sealed in packaging that keeps it safe without refrigeration.
  3. Homogenization: Next, milk undergoes a mechanical shaking that breaks up and suspends fat particles to keep them from separating and rising to the top of the container.
  4. Fortification: Finally, milk in the US is fortified with non-fat milk solids to increase its nutritive content. Vitamins D and A are added during this stage, which promote calcium absorption and support eye, skin and bone health.
  5. Lactose Removal: Lactose, or milk sugar, is removed from some types of milk that are then sold as lactose-free to milk drinkers who are lactose intolerant.

Raw Milk

Milk that has not been pasteurized is called “raw milk.” The FDA doesn’t recommend raw milk consumption, and the sale of it is illegal in some states. This is because raw milk has a very short shelf life and may contain harmful bacteria, especially if transported or stored improperly. In states where raw milk sales are legal, containers often must carry warning labels.

Growth Hormones in Milk

BST is a growth hormone that occurs naturally in milk, but rBST is a synthetic version of this hormone that is injected into cows on some farms to increase production. rBST is not used for any purpose other than the artificial increase of milk production. It offers no benefit to the nutritive value of milk and no benefit to the health of the cow. The FDA has declared rBST safe, but many commercial farms do not treat cows with rBST. To choose milk free of synthetic hormones, check package labeling.

Alternatives to Cow’s Milk

Plant-based milk substitutes have a similar sweet flavor and creamy appearance. These types of milk include soy milk, rice milk and almond milk, to name a few. Since these are artificially fortified–just like dairy milk–they usually provide a cholesterol-free source of necessary vitamins, as well as a reliable daily supply of carbohydrates and proteins. But nutrient content varies by brand, so check labeling for details before you buy. Milk alternatives may not offer the same nutrient profile as cow’s milk such as calcium, protein and calories. Speak with a dietitian to find other sources of non-dairy calcium, protein and calories.

Milk for Babies

Most doctors recommend that newborns drink only breast milk or fortified infant formula for their first six months of life. In some cultures, babies are offered other nutrient-rich types of milk produced by goats, sheep or camels, but cow’s milk is rarely a suitable choice for a human infant. Cow’s milk proteins can be difficult for babies to digest, and allergic reactions are a dangerous possibility.


Dairy Council of California. (2009). Types of milk. Retrieved September 14, 2010, from (2009). Navigating the non-dairy “milk” aisle. Retrieved September 14, 2010, from

Zaho, Y. (2005). Calcium bioavailability of calcium carbonate fortified soymilk is equivalent to cow’s milk in young women. National Institutes of Health, Office of Dairy Supplements. Retrieved September 14, 2010, from