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How to choose milk

We guide you through the milk aisle of the supermarket to help you decipher which type of milk is best for you.

The recommended dietary intake (RDI) for calcium for most adults is 1000mg per day, but for women over 50 and for men over 70 that increases to 1300mg.

That’s not easy to achieve without milk and dairy foods. A serving equals one 250ml glass of milk, a 150g pottle of yoghurt or two slices of cheese (40g).  A cup of milk can provide from around 280mg up to 500mg of calcium.

Full-cream and standard milks contain around 2.4% saturated fat (that’s 2.4g per 100ml).

That equates to 6g saturated fat in a glass. Because most of us are getting too much saturated fat, we’re advised to go for milks with less of it.

The lower-fat milks will taste a little different. If you’re not so keen at first, think of it in the same way as when you’re offering a new food to a child: we often just need to taste something a number of times to become accustomed to that new taste. Given you could be saving your arteries from clogging and it could help with weight control, it’s worth doing.

Type of milk Label colour Fat % Saturated
fat %
kJ *
Full cream Purple 4.0% 2.4% 700kJ
Standard Blue 3.3% 2.4% 640kJ
Reduced fat / lite Light blue 1.5% 1.0% 500kJ
Trim Green 0.5% 0.3% 430kJ
Extra / super trim Light green 0.1% <0.1% 360kJ

* kJ in one standard glass (250ml)

A glass of standard or reduced-fat milk provides 8-9g of protein. It’s helpful to add protein to our diets throughout the day, and not just when we sit down to our evening meal, as it helps us feel fuller for longer and can be important after exercising.

Ultra-filtered milks, like Sun Latte and Anchor Xtra have around 15g of protein in a glass. That’s because a lot of the water, lactose and fat has been filtered out, so the proportion of protein (as well as calcium) is higher.

There are a range of fortified milks available, mainly focusing on nutrients involved in bone health. Anlene has the broadest range of nutrients which are all important in bone metabolism: it has added calcium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin D and vitamin K.

Because it contains vitamin K, which is unique to Anlene, it is not suitable for anyone on the prescription medication Warfarin without first consulting their GP, and this is stated on the label.

Milk powder is just milk that’s been dehydrated.

You may want to stock milk powder in your pantry as it’s great for emergencies; it’s easy to add skim milk powder to shakes and other foods without making the food too filling; and it’s a very economical alternative to fresh milk.

If you’re on a tight household budget and you’re big users of milk, it could make a significant difference. Instead of paying 55 cents a glass for a low-fat milk, you could pay as little as 20 cents a glass. If your household consumed 2 litres of milk a day (that’s only 8 glasses), you could spend $30 a week or more on milk, but if you changed to powdered milk you could cut that to only $11.

Be sure to follow the directions on the pack so that you get the same nutrition as you would from fresh milk. And once it’s made up, keep it in the fridge and use it within a few days.

  • Fat: To reduce your saturated fat intake, learn to like the reduced fat milks with 1.5% total fat or less. That’s light blue at least.
  • Calcium: The milks with 500mg calcium per 250ml glass (that’s 200mg/100ml) are a good idea for anyone who doesn’t think they’re getting as much calcium as they ought, and I’d definitely recommend them for women over 50 and men over 70 where the RDI is higher still. If you’re buying soy or an alternative milk, ensure it has added calcium.
  • Protein: It’s good to include some protein with each snack or meal you have, so if you’re choosing alternatives to cows’ milk look for ones with some protein in them.
  • Allergy or intolerance: These days you have quite a lot to choose from; check the fat and calcium content before making your choice.
  • Budget: If you’re on a tight budget, consider the store brands which tend to be cheaper, or the powdered milks which are really cheap.
  • Taste: For different tastes you may want to try some of the alternatives to cows’ milk. You don’t have to have the same thing all the time! If you’re accustomed to a higher-fat cows’ milk and you don’t like the taste of the lower-fat cows’ milk, work on it!

Date modified: May 3 2017
First published: Oct 2007

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