This month, I’m partnering with the National Milk Life Campaign’s Back-to-School program. I was compensated for writing this post, but all opinions are (as always!) my own.
To me, milk is a no-brainer. It’s something I’ve always had in the fridge, drank, and served to my kids. We go through a few gallons a week, drinking it straight-up, pouring it on cereal and oatmeal, using it as a base for smoothies, and adding it to recipes. But though milk has long been a healthy staple for me, I still get questions about it from parents—and I still hear a lot of misinformation. Here are four myths about milk I hear the most:
Myth: “You can get all the same nutrients from plant-based milks.”
Don’t get me wrong, I like and buy non-dairy milks and have recipes on this blog that use them. But it’s important to understand that they’re not one-for-one swaps with dairy milk when it comes to nutrition. Milk provides a solid package of nutrients, especially ones that kids tend to miss out on, like vitamin D, calcium, and potassium. It’s also a good source of protein, with 8 grams per cup. In comparison, almond milk is surprisingly low in protein, with only 1 gram per cup. Dairy milk packs 366 mg of potassium per glass, but rice milk has only 65 mg. The bottom line is that if you don’t use dairy milk, you really need to be sure you’re getting those nutrients in other foods or you may be missing out on essential nutrients.
Myth: “It’s full of sugar.”
I love that people are focused on eating less sugar. But I don’t love all the confusion over what sugar is, what it isn’t, and where we should be cutting it. Yes, you’ll see sugar listed on the Nutrition Facts Panel of milk. That’s because it contains a naturally occurring sugar called lactose. (That’s also why you’ll spot it in unsweetened yogurt.) When you hear experts saying we need to cut back on sugar, they aren’t talking about the kind of natural sugar in milk and plain yogurt or the kind found in fruit. They’re referring to added sugar, the kind put in by manufacturers.
Myth: “You have to buy organic milk.”
Some parents choose to spend their organic dollar on milk, and that’s fine. In fact, I’ve written about why I often buy organic milk in 4 Foods I’ve Changed My Mind About. But there are also times we buy conventional. Both organic and conventional milk have the same package of calcium and other essential nutrients. So if you only have the budget for conventional, buy conventional—and know that research hasn’t shown a significant difference in hormone levels between organic and conventional.
Myth: “Only full-fat milk is healthy.”
All varieties of milk, from fat-free to whole, are excellent sources of calcium and vitamin D and good sources of protein and potassium. There’s a trend in some circles to return to full-fat foods like whole milk, butter, and lard. But as a dietitian, I just haven’t seen enough evidence that saturated fat in foods has a real benefit to health. Meanwhile, the American Academy of Pediatrics continues to recommend fat-free or low-fat dairy for kids older than two. Here’s my advice: If your kids really like whole but you’re worried about extra fat and calories, look for other places in the diet (like chips and fast food) to trim. If your kids prefer skim or low-fat like mine do, that’s fine too. Whatever kind you choose, you’re still getting the same stellar nutrients.
For more about milk, including recipes for smoothies, breakfasts, baked goods, and more, visit MilkLife.
Recipes on this blog featuring milk: