Nutrition: Milk 101

Oct 22, 2013 by Carol Bareuther

Got milk? Sure. But the real question is what kind?


Milk comes in a dizzying array of types from fresh whole fat to skim, buttermilk, evaporated, condensed and powdered.


Mankind has been drinking milk from cows, sheep and goats since these animals were first domesticated as early as 9000 B.C. Today, about 85 percent of all milk produced around the globe comes from cows. Commercial dairies pasteurize, homogenize and fortify their milk.


Pasteurization is the process of heating the milk to temperature high enough to kill microorganisms that could cause either disease or spoilage. Homogenization is where fresh milk is mixed so that the cream doesn't rise to the top, but instead stays in suspension in one equal and fluid mix. And milk is often fortified with Vitamin D. Reduced-, low- and fat-free milk is fortified with Vitamin A.


Fresh milk

It wasn't until the 1950s that cow's milk was processed to offer different amount of fat. Whole milk contains the most fat of all milk choices with 8 grams in each 1-cup serving and 150 calories. Two percent milk may sound low in fat, but it isn't considering that whole milk is 3.25 percent fat. In fact, 2 percent milk is termed “reduced fat” not “low fat”. It contains 5 grams of fat and 120 calories per cup.


One percent milk is classified as “low fat” and offers 2 grams of fat and 100 calories per cup.


If you want the least amount of fat in your milk, choose skim. One cup of skim milk is “fat-free” with 90 calories per serving. Skim milk might taste like water if you're accustomed to drinking whole milk since the fat in whole milk provides a certain creamy mouth feel.


A good way to make the change is to start with 2 percent, then gradually drop to 1 percent and finally skim. Skim milk provides the added benefit of an extra gram of protein per serving (9 grams versus 8 in whole milk), over twice as much Vitamin A due to fortification and more calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc than whole milk.


Buttermilk may sound even higher in fat than whole milk, but it isn't. Traditionally, it was the low-fat liquid left over after milk or cream was churned to make butter. Today, buttermilk is made from low-fat or fat-free milk that has lactic acid added to give it its tangy taste and creamy texture. One cup of low-fat buttermilk provides 2 grams of fat and 100 calories.

Canned milk

The two types of canned milk are evaporated and condensed. Evaporated milk is made by removing some 60 percent of the water. It's typically used in baking or to make creamier hot cereal such as oatmeal or cream of wheat. Evaporated whole milk contains 320 calories and 16 grams of fat per 1-cup serving. Evaporated nonfat milk provides 200 calories and 1 gram of fat per cup.


The big benefit of canned milk is that, unopened, it stays good for 15 months. That makes it possible to have milk when fresh isn't available or would have soured.


Sweetened condensed milk is akin to evaporated milk in that about half the fluid is removed. However, lots of sugar is added as a preservative. One cup of sweetened condensed whole milk serves up 982 calories and 3 grams of fat, while an identical serving size of fat-free sweetened condensed milk has 880 calories and 0 grams of fat.


Clearly it's the high sugar and calorie content of this product, rather than fat, which makes it less nutritious. Sweetened condensed milk is an essential ingredient in recipes for key lime pie, other types of creamy pies, and flans.

Powdered milk

You guessed it: Powdered milk is made from removing almost all of the water from regular milk. The most abundant type of powdered dry milk is nonfat. Whole and low-fat dry milks are also available, however the higher fat content shortens the shelf life of these milks.


When a can of powdered nonfat milk is unopened, the contents inside remain good for 2 to 10 years past its expiration date. Once the powder is reconstituted with water (mix 1/3 cup of powder into 1 cup of water), shelf life is reduced to 4-5 days.


One cup of reconstituted powdered nonfat dry milk contains 80 calories and 0 grams of fat. Use of nonfat powdered milk is a good and inexpensive way to fortify the protein content in a food or beverage. Two tablespoons provide 3 grams of high quality protein. You can stir this powder into regular milk, yogurt, puddings, cream soups and hot cereals.

Carol Bareuther is a registered dietitian and a regular contributor to The Triton. Comments on this column are welcome at