Fact Check: Dairy Makes Sense for Safe, Healthy Eating

Dairy products are packed with nutrition coming from nine essential nutrients that are important for health. It is also a good value since milk costs about .25 cents per glass.

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends three servings of low fat or fat-free dairy foods every day.

"If you aren't already getting three servings of dairy, you can make oatmeal or instant mashed potatoes with milk instead of water. Try to serve cheese with fruits, veggies, and whole grain crackers. Maybe throw together a yogurt parfait for a delicious and nutritious breakfast, snack, or dessert," said Lindsey Stevenson, nutrition, and health specialist for University of Missouri Extension.

For some consumers, there is a growing concern about the health and safety of cow's milk. According to Stevenson, those myths need to be debunked so everyone can benefit from the affordable nutrition that dairy products offer.

Antibiotics and Hormones

Every morning local dairy farmers wake up to milk their cows. The milk travels from the parlor into a refrigerated bulk tank where it waits until the hauler comes, almost every day.

The milk hauler samples the farm's milk before connecting his hose to the truck. He will then travel to three to four other farms to complete his load. Once full, the stainless steel truck drives to the processing plant.

"Every truck across the nation is sampled at this point to check for antibiotics and other impurities. All milk, regardless of label, is antibiotic free and has been for decades," said Reagan Bluel, dairy specialist for University of Missouri Extension.

Another concern consumers often have is whether there are hormones in their milk.

"All mammals have hormones, including humans. Bovine somatotropin (BST) is a protein hormone that is present in all cows and is similar to human somatotropin, another protein hormone. The BST in milk will be digested and seen by the body as a protein," said Bluel.

Regardless of label, all cow's milk contains BST as it is naturally occurring in all cows.

Then the question arises about added hormones. This is likely a concern about recombinant bovine somatotropin, or rBST. Dairy farmers who use rBST do so to increase milk production.

"By using this tool, the dairy farm can produce the same amount of milk with fewer animals, and therefore, a smaller carbon foot print. Currently, 20-25 percent of dairy cows are no longer using this technology, typically due to processor request," Bluel explained.

Pasteurization and Homogenization

There is also consumer concern that pasteurization and homogenization affect the nutrition quality of the milk. In fact, pasteurization and homogenization ensure that the milk is safe to eat.

Pasteurization is the process of heating the milk to kill bacteria and homogenization is the process by which the fat droplets and the liquid components are blended, so they do not separate.

Mislead, and in search of other options, some consumers have turned to milk alternatives, even though dairy delivers on what consumers look for in clean labels: no artificial ingredients, flavors, or preservatives and ingredients that are easy to read and recognize.

"Cow's milk offers more quality protein and calcium than milk alternatives. It has just three ingredients: milk, vitamin A and vitamin D, whereas milk alternatives have eight to twelve ingredients, including added sugar and salt," said Stevenson.