The fat I found particularly threatening was dairy fat (whole milk and yogurt.) Thankfully the low-fat options were plentiful, I knew of no nutrient trade off and honestly, to choose otherwise seemed reckless. When you leave elementary school, you graduate to low fat milk – it’s a given.
Unfortunately though, when we lose our childish ways, we also lose our vitamins.
There is very little naturally occurring Vitamin A in 2% milk or lower. It’s largely been stripped out with the fat as it’s fat-soluble. The government requires that it be added, and so a lab-created facsimile is poured back in. But without the fat, how much of this supplemental fat-soluble vitamin is even absorbed in our bodies is debatable.
There is also very little naturally occurring Vitamin D. (I was shocked too.) It’s added to all milk but even more must be added to the low-fat versions because Vitamin D is also fat soluble. They began adding D in the 1940s to combat rickets (a bone disease) in children. Vitamin D stimulates the body’s intake of calcium-which does naturally occur in milk- which is critical for bone development and adult bone health.
The campaign was so successful that the Vitamin D stayed. Unlike Vitamin A, D is not required by law though I’ve not come across any large producer that does not add it. (Note: yogurt and cheese is not routinely fortified with Vitamin D, although some brands do.)
Interestingly, many farmers market milks (including raw) do not contain added Vitamin D. (Most like to keep the milk as pure as possible.) Pasture raised cows, however, naturally have slightly higher levels of Vitamin D because of more time spent in the sun.
When I daringly upgraded from skim to 1% a few years ago, I thought this was weight-control suicide. A year ago I made the insane leap to whole milk and yogurt. What I’ve found though is that it fills me more, nourishes me more and I eat less of it. I care far more these days about eating the “whole” version of a food and have become much more aware of the health benefits of fat. (Full disclose: there are times I am just not in the mood for full-fat, in which case I dilute it with water and create instant skim.)
I’ve also begun drinking farmer’s market milk and since it contains no added D, I make a bigger effort to enhance my body’s own production of it by getting out in the sun as well as eating eggs, meat and fish.
But you have to decide what’s right for your body and your overall diet. It took me 20 years to go from skim to 1% and another five to get to whole. But I doubt I’ll go back. I like the idea that I’m drinking the milk I drank when I was a child – the way the cow intended it, with no adult intervention.
What are you drinking?
Photo: Milk with A and D added. © Michelle Madden
To get deeper into the weeds of Vitamin D and milk click here.
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