Top | Sift

Milking time

(article, Caroline Cummins)

Back before the now-ubiquitous "Got Milk?" advertising campaign, the milk industry used a longer slogan: "Milk. It does a body good."

Does it? Like so many other formerly innocuous foodstuffs, milk is now the subject of debates that reach pasteurization levels. Should humans drink milk from other animals at all? If so, is it better to drink milk from goats rather than cows? Is raw milk really better for me, or will it make me sick? Is industrially produced milk safer, or more dangerous? 

Finally, there's a seemingly mundane question: Should I drink whole, low-fat, or nonfat milk?

Whole milk has the most saturated fat. That's bad, right? Nonfat milk might look blue and taste watery, but it must be the best for me because it's fat-free. Right?

Author and activist Nina Planck begs to differ. In the New York Times, she's argued that drinking nonfat or even low-fat milk is a waste of your money and health.

The fat in whole milk, writes Planck, naturally contains the essential vitamins A and D. Nonfat and low-fat milk, on the other hand, must have synthetic versions of these vitamins added to them, which is why your milk carton says "Vitamins A and D added." 

So right out of the barn, you have to choose between ordinary and fake vitamins. And then there's the question of whether you're really getting those vitamins at all. "Vitamins A and D are fat-soluble," writes Planck, "(which) means they cannot be absorbed into the body unless they're taken in with fat. Thus, even fortified skim and low-fat milk are not nearly as beneficial as the real thing."

The real thing, according to Planck? It's not just whole milk, but whole milk that's been produced the way milk used to be produced before industrial milking got involved: from cows that live outdoors, eating grass instead of grain, and which, because of all their clean living, produce pristine milk you can drink straight from, well, the udder.

Yes, that means raw milk. But if you can't get raw milk, Planck says, non-homogenized whole milk is the next best thing. Homogenized milk distributes the fat evenly throughout milk, so you don't have clumps of cream at the top of your milk bottle. But according to Planck in her 2006 book Real Food, homogenization is "entirely unnecessary . . . producing rancid flavors and causing milk to sour more quickly."

Find cream clots annoying? Scoop them off and dollop them on your dessert, or mix them into your coffee. And yes, it tastes fatty, because it is. You may recognize the taste from that more familiar and somewhat less controversial kitchen staple: butter.