11 Milk Mysteries Revealed (Like Is Skim Milk Really Healthier?)

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milkMilk supposedly does the body good, but what is that white stuff, exactly? It's so creamy and it makes so many delicious other foods: Cheese, yogurt, ice cream. Milk can be a super food packed with many essential nutrients. But it's also highly controversial. What's with the added hormones? Do we REALLY need to drink it to be healthy? And what's with the rumors that milk contains pus? Here are 11 fascinating facts about milk.

1. Milk doesn't contain pus ... exactly. It does contain somatic cells, which are blood cells that fight infection (mastitis for cows). The FDA actually has standards for how many somatic cells milk can have to qualify for Grade A. The difference between pus and somatic cells is pretty dang narrow, though, if you ask me.

2. 345 squirts. That's how many squirts of an udder it takes to fill one gallon of milk.

3. Milk is mostly water. Milk is made of 85 to 95 percent water. The rest is protein, sugar, fat, vitamins, and other nutrients.

More from The Stir: Benefits of Calcium for the Whole Family

4. Milk protein is super protein. Milk protein contains all the amino acids essential for human life that we do not produce ourselves. It's a relatively cheap form of high-quality protein.

5. rBGH is a controversial growth hormone. This is a synthetic hormone that induces cows to produce more milk than they normally would. Many consumers and groups are concerned about the side-effects of this hormone, so dairy companies that do NOT use it say so clearly on their labels. rBGH is not allowed at all in organic milk. How harmful is it? That's up for fierce debate. Personally, I buy only rBGH-free milk. 

6. Antibiotics can make you lactose intolerant. Taking antibiotics can make you temporarily lactose intolerant. So lay off the ice cream a while if you've got strep!

7. Whole milk is healthier than low-fat. Whole milk is higher in vitamins A and D. Skim and low-fat usually have synthetic vitamins added, but A and D are fat-soluble vitamins, which means you need some fat to absorb them. Whole milk has around 40 more calories and 6 more grams of fat per cup than skim or low-fat, and yet studies show it can actually help you lose weight. Mysterious!

8. Milk fat makes you pretty. Well, it's good for your hair, anyway. It can strengthen hair and improve its shine.

9. UHT means ultra-high temperature pasteurization. You may have seen this on some milk labels. This method kills the most bacteria, but it also destroys some of the nutrients. Most dairies use the standard HTST pasteurization. So some dairy companies do an even lower-temperature pasteurization than that. Many people go to great lengths to buy raw milk in order to get the maximum nutritional benefits from milk -- but they risk safety.

10. Milk labeled as "grassfed" milk isn't always all grassfed. Dairy cows that get most of their food from grazing on grass still need their diet supplemented with grains to keep producing milk safely (think of those extra calories you burn when you're breastfeeding!). I think grassfed milk is still worth buying (over conventional) for the much-higher levels of CLAs, highly beneficial fatty acids found in dairy and meat from pastured animals.

11. You don't have to drink milk. There are other ways to get all your essential nutrients from other foods. Millions of lactose intolerant and vegan people are perfectly healthy. It's just that milk is a very convenient package of many nutrients.

Do you drink milk? Whole or low-fat?


Image via striatic/Flickr

comfort food, drinks, food, healthy choices


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Shandi80 Shandi80

I have almond milk with my cereal. It's pretty sweet, so I like to pair it with bland cereal, like shredded wheat with fresh strawberries. Cow's milk grosses me out.

schlis schlis

#7 is why I'm 27 and 120lbs soaking wet. I never stopped drinking whole milk. LOTS of it. Every day.

kjbug... kjbugsmom1517

We do whole milk most of the time. 2 percent is the absolute lowest we go.

PonyC... PonyChaser

Whole milk lets you lose weight easier because it fills you up for longer. The combo of protein and a little bit of fat gives your body something to digest for a while.

We drink skim milk in our house because my husband is neurotic about his weight and I can't get that little tidbit through his thick skull....

"Fat" milk (as my family calls it) is also better, in general, for cooking and baking. Ever had pudding made with skim milk? It never sets up. When you cook/bake, that fat makes a difference. Unless I need something *thinned out* I never use anything but whole milk or half/half for cooking.

knitt... knittykitty99

UHT milk is heated to sterilization temperatures which also reduce the availability of nutrients.  It does not need to be refrigerated before purchase and is not popular in the US.   Most milk is pasteurized at 161 degrees F for 15 seconds to kill pathogens, but not all bacteria found naturally in milk.  This method saves nutrients, but requires refrigeration to prevent spoilage.  There is no such thing as low temperature pasteuriztion

tuffy... tuffymama

I drink raw, whole milk from lovely, grassfed Jersey cows. It's crazy good! Mixed with cold-brewed coffee concentrate, it makes the most delicious iced coffee.

Elise48 Elise48

There are a lot of different things only done by humans. Do you find all of them odd as well?

DebaLa DebaLa

Yeah, my daughter calls it "Fat" milk, too, lol. We do 2% organic as a compromise. I seldom drink a glass straight, but I always cream my coffee with it, plus cook and bake with it. I think I tried it au naturel at a dairy farm once, and didn't like it. Too warm maybe?

the4m... the4mutts

We use whole cows milk, but I am considering going to raw milk just for myself. I have a horrible time not snacking too much throughout the day, and I think it would be a much healthier alternative to things I typically choose to give myself an instant boost, an curb my hunger

Sloane Michelle Sanders

I worked on a dairy farm for most of my teenage years, and I worked up close and personal with these animals.  First off, somatic cells are very carefully monitored, and have nothing to do with pus.  That is just pure ignorance.  I have heard of farmers having to dump loads of milk because the SCC was way too high.  At the one farm that I worked at, every single cow had her SCC monitored, and if she didn't come down on her count, she was sold.  The milk market is very carefully watched.  The hormones that you talk about personally, I am not a fan of.  This is why I do not buy milk unless it is hormone free.  Another thing I would like to point out; dairy farms are not as abusive and awful as some people seem to think.  I worked on a bigger farm, and yes, a cow's life there is different than a cow on a smaller farm, but these cows are not starved and are not neglected.  There are many people who look out for their health; the milkers, the herdsmen, and when I was working, me.  If I saw anything that tipped me off to a sick cow, I wrote it down and she was taken care of the best that she could be. 

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