Must-know info: This milk comes from cows raised organically, meaning they eat feed grown without chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Some experts advocate for organic milk because they believe that the synthetic growth hormone given to many conventionally raised cattle may cause health problems, from early puberty to cancer. Still, a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found no significant difference in the level of hormones in organic and conventional milk. "I don't think there's enough conclusive evidence that shows organic milk is healthier or safer than conventional, and both are packed with key nutrients," says Elisa Zied, RD, author of Nutrition at Your Fingertips.
Must-know info: Designed to keep dairy products fresh for longer, ultra-pasteurized milk is heated to a higher temperature than regular, pasteurized milk (280 degrees Fahrenheit versus the usual 161), says Cary P. Frye, vice president of regulatory and scientific affairs for the International Dairy Foods Association. That means your milk can safely stay unopened in the fridge for up to 60 days (instead of 21). Organic milk is often ultra-pasteurized, since it typically travels greater distances to stores; some nonorganic brands also choose to pasteurize milk this way. When it's packaged in specially sterilized containers, then sealed to block light or air, you get shelf-stable milk (like Parmalat, or Borden's shelf-stable line); it can sit unopened in your pantry for up to a year. Once opened, both kinds should be refrigerated and used within 7 to 12 daysa day or two longer than pasteurized milk.
Must-know info: These "value-added" milks pack extra nutrients beyond the usual vitamins A and D, such as vitamin C, omega-3s, and fiber. Skim "plus" or "deluxe" milk contains milk powder, which adds calcium and protein (and more calories per glass), as well as whiteners or stabilizers to make it look and taste more like whole.
Must-know info: Lactose-free milk is a godsend for those who can't digest the sugar (lactose) in dairy. As many as 6 percent of Americans have some degree of lactose intolerance, meaning they may feel gassy, crampy, or nauseated, or have diarrhea, if they eat or drink dairy products.
Rice, soy, and other nondairy milk is more common than ever, giving vegans, the lactose intolerant, and those with no special dietary needs an alternate pour for their cereal. If you're swapping one in for regular milk, make sure it's fortified with calcium and vitamin D (unless it's soy milk, which has the same amount of both nutrients as cow's milk).
- Soy milk is a bit higher in healthy unsaturated fats than other nondairy milks, so it has a richer flavor ideal for creamy, savory sauces.
- Rice milk has a natural sweetness perfect for baked goods. (Tip: Use flavored rice milk and reduce the recipe's sugar.)
- Coconut milk boasts a clean, fresh flavor that perks up plain old oatmeal, and it contains a special type of saturated fat that, studies suggest, raises your "good" (HDL) cholesterol, but not the "bad" (LDL) kind.
- Almond milk gives smoothies a nutty taste. One serving has half your daily requirement of vitamin E.
- Oat milk adds a light, milky creaminess (and filling, heart-healthy soluble fiber) to mashed potatoes.