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.

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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?

 

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