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Monday, June 7, 2010

Milk at the Grocery Store

Reading labels on milk can be confusing: organic, rBst-free, pasteurized, skim, whole, etc. What do they all mean and what is the best kind to buy?
If you have access to it, I'm a big fan of raw milk for health reasons. 
If you are limited to your local grocery store, you probably won't see raw milk on the shelf. 

What you will see:

Organic milk: I'm all for organic milk. In fact, the raw milk we buy (when we can afford it) is organic. The bad news is that most of the organic milk you find in the store is ultra-pasteurized. Ultra-pasteurized milk is heated to high temperatures. This kills off bacteria and enzymes that actually aid in digestion. So, why do they do it? Well, mainly it's to give it a longer shelf life. Ultra-pasteurization means that the milk can last on the shelf longer without spoiling.

Not all organic milk is ultra-pasteurized, but a lot of it is, so be sure to read the label.
The difference with organic and traditional milk is a simple question of if what the cow ate was treated with pesticides. No pesticides+ following lots of government regulations = certified organic.

rBst free milk: rBst is a growth hormone. It boosts milk production in cows by about 20 gallons per day. People in favor of using it say that it has no known effects on humans and that it is similar to a naturally occuring hormone in cows. Besides increasing milk supply, rBst also increases udder infections, which can increase the need for antibiotics. Your best bet is to find milk that comes from cows not given rBst. Many brands proclaim "rBst free" on the label. Walmart's Great Value milk has been rBst free since March 2008 (Source).

Skim milk, 1% and 2%: The first thing that is a problem with these low-fat milks, is that the body needs fat to use the vitamins in them. When the fat is taken out, the body is unable to absorb fat soluble vitamins. To make the milk thicker, powdered milk is added to 1 and 2% milk. Powdered milk is made by spray drying milk. This damages (oxidizes) the cholesterol, and has been shown to increase cholesterol in our bodies. This kind of milk does not do a body good! In Real Food, What to eat and why, by Nina Planck, Nina reminds us that in the olden days, the poor would sell off their cream and be left with only skim milk... and sickly children.

My recommendation: When I can't buy raw, organic milk and I have the normal grocery store selection, I would first look at the organic milk. Does it say "ultra-pasteurized" or UHT on the label? If so, skip it. It's great the cows never had pesticides, but since everything (good and bad) has been cooked out anyway, that is almost irrelevant. If it is pasteurized only, go with organic. If not, look at your whole milk selection and choose one that says rBst free on the label.


  1. So whole (or homo in canada) milk is the best? You wouldn't drink skim, 1 or 2%? I wish I had known that earlier!!! I guess we will switch back! Thanks for the info- I really like your site and I have learned alot! Thanks!

  2. so what are your feelings on soy milk?

  3. Cher, thanks! Homo milk, huh? Kind of funny... but yeah, whole milk is definitely the best choice at the grocery store. Besides the health benefits, whole milk tastes so much better!
    Mallo, I haven't studied soy milk as much as I have regular milk, BUT I do know that I wouldn't drink it. One thing that is a red flag is that it's shelf stable. They sometimes sell it unrefrigerated. Soy is a controversial food altogether, but I think as long as it's prepared correctly (fermented soy sauce or tofu) it's fine; otherwise I avoid it.
    One other scary thing to note, since you may have babies in the near future: I read that overconsumption of soy can cause hormonal issues with boy babies in embryo, including small little boy parts. ( I mean, smaller than usual.) I don't have documentation for that, but still, I'd avoid the soy and save your future sons some embarrassment. :)

  4. After raw milk, wouldn't the next best be non-homogized whole milk? It is digested by the body in a healthier way. We have Snowville here that is pasturized at the minimum required temperature. It tastes so good, like milk should taste. My kids won't drink homogenized because it now tastes bad to them. They also make half and half, and whipping cream. Great small dairy that sells in some grocery stores.

  5. Laura,
    Yes! That is true, but this post is grocery store milk... I know our grocery store doesn't carry non-homogenized milk, and I assume most grocery stores don't. If you can find it though, that is a better choice because it keeps the fats more digestible, like you said. Thanks for pointing that out.