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Milk 411 Part 1 of 2: Common Questions & Answers


It seems like I have recently heard a lot of statements regarding dairy milk or have been asked many questions about it.  What type of dairy milk is better?  Is raw milk is healthier for you?  Why does milk have so much sugar?  I can’t drink milk because I am lactose intolerant.  The questions and comments are endless. 

This part 1 blog post will cover many questions regarding dairy milk.  The part 2 blog post will tackle non-dairy beverages and their nutrition adequacy compared to milk. 

Sugar content of milk

There are 12 grams of sugar in every 8 ounces of milk.  The type of sugar you find in milk is called lactose.  It cannot be found anywhere else.  In fact, it is the only source of carbohydrate that is derived from animal sources.  The problem with lactose arises when you are lactose intolerant (don’t hold your breath, there are options for that).  Lactose as well as other natural sugars that come from whole foods is an important part of a healthy diet.  If you read the ingredient label on milk, it says…MILK. 


Lactose occurs naturally in milk; it is not added sugar, and it makes milk be milk!   It is important to remember that your body uses sugar to provide you with energy.  Don’t be shy; drink your milk!  There are other things you can cut down on if you are trying to decrease your sugar intake.

Lactose intolerant: now what?

I discussed some general information about lactose above.  Additionally, it is important to know that lactose is broken down by lactase – an enzyme present in the body.  Many people have a lower amount of lactase which causes them to be gassy, bloated, have diarrhea or loose stools, experience pain/cramps or have rumbling sounds in their lower abdomen and possibly even cause them to throw up.  With this being said, some may tolerate small amounts of milk at a time or some other dairy choices which may be lower in lactose – the tolerance varies from individual to individual. 

One of your options is lactose–free milk.  The name makes it confusing because the lactose has not been taken out; it actually has the enzyme lactase added to it which breaks it down to glucose and galactose so your body doesn’t have to.  This may cause it to taste a little sweeter than regular milk.  Nutrition wise, regular milk and lactose-free milk are the same.  Lactose intolerance is not the same as having a milk allergy, in which case you should not consume any type of dairy.  Milk allergies are associated with the proteins in milk -- and remember that lactose is the milk sugar.

Organic milk vs. regular milk

The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) states that “USDA certified organic foods are grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing, among many factors, soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives. Organic producers rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible.”

If labeled “100% organic,” the product has no synthetic ingredients; if labeled “organic,” it has a minimum of 95% organic ingredients. Both may use the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic seal. Food labeled “made with organic ingredients” must contain at least 70% organic ingredients but may not use the seal.

At this time there is not any evidence that proves that organic milk is “better” when talking about nutrition composition, quality or food safety.  All main nutrients that are beneficial to a healthy diet are the same in organic milk and regular milk.  Organic milk gives you an additional choice to allow you to meet the recommended three servings a day of milk and milk products.


Many brands of regular milk may contain the hormone rBST which is given to dairy cows to increase milk production. The rBST has been suggested to increase risk of cancer and cause early puberty, but a link has not been made.  Cows naturally produce hormones, so no milk is entirely hormone free; however organic milk has no synthetic hormones added.


When milk is certified organic, it is referring to the farm management practices and not to the milk itself.  The government has rigorous standards that ensure all types of milk are wholesome, safe and nutritious.  All milks contain hormones that naturally occur in the animal, but organic milk does not contain added synthetic hormones.  These days many local stores provide regular milk without rBST hormone (i.e. Kroger, Wal-Mart, Safeway, H-E-B).

Raw milk: know the risks

Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurized to kill harmful germs. It is important that you are aware and understand the risks of drinking raw milk if this is something you chose to do.  We know that food-poisoning can occur from many foods but raw milk is high on the list.  The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) strongly support pasteurization.  In fact, the CDC reports that unpasteurized milk is 150 times more likely to cause foodborne illness and results in 13 times more hospitalizations than illnesses involving pasteurized dairy products.  

Drinking raw milk or any products made from it (like cheeses and yogurts) can cause Salmonella, Listeria, Campylobacter and E.coli amongst others – which are serious and sometimes lethal infections.  Anyone can be affected by these but especially children, pregnant women, older adults and those with a weak immune system.

Many supporters of raw milk claim that pasteurization changes the nutritional composition of milk or that raw milk increases immunity and provides higher benefits than pasteurized milk.  These claims do not have scientific evidence.  Raw milk (unpasteurized) and pasteurized milk have the same nutritional composition.  One of them increases your chances of serious health risks…you pick.

 Nutrient Comparison: Types of Milk

                                    Side to side comparison of different types of cow’s milk

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPlate recommend 3 cups of low-fat or fat-free milk and milk products every day for Americans 9 years and older,  For children 4 to 8 years, 2 1/2 cups, and 2 cups for children ages 2 to 3 years. 

Know the facts, and drink up!


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