What's the Healthiest Milk? -- Ask the Nutritionist

Cynthia Dermody

milk choices in grocery store
Flickr photo by Muffet
Registered dietitian Bethany Thayer is in our Nutrition Kitchen, answering all your healthy food questions ...

Q: There are so many different kinds of milk: 1 percent, organic, skim, hormone-free ... How do I know I'm getting the healthiest one?

I love milk! Of all the food groups, milk is the one I get the most questions about. And it's an important one. This beverage is filled with healthy nutrients such as protein, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, and potassium -- all things a woman's body needs to fight osteoporosis and stay strong.

Here's a rundown on the most commonly asked about types of milk:


While there's no evidence of a nutritional benefit of organic over conventional milk, organic does provide a choice for those who want to ensure that farmers use only organic fertilizers and pesticides, and don't give their cows antibiotics or supplemental hormones. That said, conventional dairy producers are using the best management practices to ensure that dairy cows are healthy by providing them with comfortable living conditions, nutritious diets, and good medical care. And all milk, organic and conventional, is tested to ensure it's antibiotic-free before going to market.


All milk naturally contains very small amounts of hormones, and science shows that there's no significant difference in hormone levels between organic and regular milk. While there doesn't seem to be any nutritional or safety difference, due to consumer request, you can purchase rbST-free milk.

Unflavored whole vs low-fat flavored milk?

The real difference is in the amount of fat and the amount of sugar compared to fat-free unflavored milk. Whole milk contains about 8 grams of fat (4.6 grams saturated fat) in 8 ounces of milk, which adds 72 calories to fat-free milk without adding any nutrients. In fact, because the fat takes up some additional room, whole milk is a little lower in nutrients, like calcium, compared to the same amount of fat-free milk.

The saturated fat also may increase your cholesterol levels, increasing your risk for heart disease. Flavored milk adds about 14 grams of sugar to the 12 grams of natural sugar in 8 ounces of milk, adding about 56 calories to the milk without adding any nutrients. Certainly calories we don't need, but if it helps make this nutrient-dense beverage a little more palatable, it may be calories well spent.

Bottom line: Do what works for you. No matter which one you choose, be sure to include three (eight-ounce) servings each day to keep your bones healthy and strong.


Got a question about how to eat more healthily? Leave it here or subject line it The Nutrition Kitchen and send to thestir@cafemom.com.

Bethany Thayer, MS, RD, is spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, manager of Wellness Programs and Strategies at Henry Ford Health System, and a mom of two kids, ages 9 and 12.

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