After Dan made the comment about store-bought milk not having all the good stuff in it that our milk has in it, I started wondering, "What exactly is the good stuff in our milk?"
The differences between the milk we drink from our farm and store-bought milk aren't many. Both are white, served cold and contain an abundance of beneficial nutrients. The primary differences come down to the amount of fat, protein, other solids, enzymes and bacteria.
Our milk has more fat than even store-bought whole milk (3.8 percent fat vs. 3.25 to 3.5 percent fat). Our milk doesn't taste as heavy as store-bought whole milk, though, because it is not homogenized. Along with more fat, our milk has slightly more protein and other solids (primarily lactose).
The milk we drink also has higher amounts of enzymes and bacteria.
So what makes our milk taste different?
I don't think people can taste enzymes and bacteria, so I'm guessing that the good stuff, as Dan refers to it, is the extra fat, protein and other solids.
So what can the dairy industry do to help everyone's milk taste better?
We can start by bringing back the fat.
For years, human nutrition experts have been encouraging Americans to consume fat-free and low-fat milk and other dairy products, claiming that dietary fat consumption, especially saturated fat consumption, regardless of the source, is bad for our health.
Even the federal government has adopted that advice. The school lunch program no longer offers whole milk or even 2 percent fat milk; only low-fat (1 percent) and fat-free (skim) milk are available to students. The Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program also limits participants' milk choices; some states allow the purchase of 2 percent milk (Minnesota does not), but whole milk is limited to infants under age two.
As an industry, we've accepted this low-fat mantra and incorporated it into our promotional efforts.
From the National Dairy Council's 3-Every-Day of Dairy page online: "Getting three servings of low-fat or fat-free, nutrient-rich dairy foods every day plays a crucial role in helping to promote bone health, healthy blood pressure and a healthy weight."
But recent research has shown that we've been wrong all these years about milk fat.
A study published in July in the European Journal of Nutrition titled, "The Relationship Between High-Fat Dairy Consumption and Obesity, Cardiovascular, and Metabolic Disease," found no link between the consumption of full-fat dairy foods and obesity, poor metabolic health, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, the study reported that dairy fat may help protect people against some of these conditions.
Other research on dietary fat supports these findings. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed no association between dietary saturated fat intake and an increased risk of coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease.
So, if milk fat isn't bad for us - and may actually be good for us - and keeping it in milk helps fluid milk taste better, shouldn't the dairy industry be promoting whole milk as much as it promotes low-fat and fat-free milk?
Our schools should also be encouraged to offer whole milk and 2 percent milk. At a time when many parents are concerned about their children not getting enough to eat with their school lunch, bringing whole milk, 2 percent milk and 2 percent chocolate milk back to the milk cooler is an easy way for students to get the calories and nutrients they need to make it through the day.
I would suggest that our federal government needs to be encouraged to change its nutrition policies, but I know better; getting anything changed in Washington, D.C., these days seems to be impossible.
Raising the nonfat solids standards for fluid milk is another way to improve the taste and nutrition of fluid milk, but, again, is a solution that would require an act of Congress. And past attempts to raise the standards have failed due to opposition from dairy processors and the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA).
One last option for providing better tasting milk to consumers is reformulating flavored milk. Even though most parents and dietitians agree that the added sugar in flavored milk is an acceptable trade-off for increasing kids' milk consumption, most would also agree that less added sugar in kids' diets is better.
We make chocolate milk here at home with less than half the recommended amount of chocolate milk powder and our chocolate milk tastes as good, or better, than store-bought chocolate milk. Using whole milk to make chocolate milk is part of the reason we can have a tasty treat with less sugar and flavoring. Sugar is often used to replace fat in recipes when a lower-fat product is desired (think of fat-free salad dressings). Using more fat allows for less sugar in the recipe and improved taste.
Regardless of which of these options makes the most sense, per capita fluid milk consumption in our country isn't going to improve unless we improve the taste of fluid milk.
References available upon request.