Thursday, January 26, 2012

Milk on the Mind

I have never been a calorie counter. This is probably in part because I was very thin throughout my childhood and even had trouble putting on weight when I wanted to. Those days are gone, but I never picked up the habit of counting my daily intake. In general, I believe in consuming a balance of healthy foods, with an occasional treat, and getting moderate exercise. I do check the labels of most processed foods before I purchase (for example, comparing sodium, overall calories, and calories from fat between two cans of soup before buying), but I don’t really go crazy about this sort of stuff. If I put on any significant amount of weight, I figure my food balance or my exercise is a little off, and I make a tweak.

So imagine my surprise recently when I actually put a number to the difference in calories between types of milk. After seeing that Lucerne brand skim milk has 40 fewer calories than 1%, I decided it was worth the switch. I drink about one glass per day with dinner, and occasionally, I have milk with my breakfast cereal. So I figured I would be saving at least 280 calories per week, likely more, for pouring my milk out of a different colored container.

I was hesitant at first, because I have tried those brands that taste more like milky sugar water, and I can understand how that would turn someone off from skim milk. But if you do make the switch to a lower fat milk and don’t like the taste, just give another brand a chance! I feel so thankful that most of the brands in our supermarket have full flavor, which is nearly indistinguishable from 1% to skim.

So now for the numbers…

From the milk containers in our refrigerator and from online searches, it looks like an 8 oz glass of Lucerne brand milk has 90 calories in skim, 130 calories in 1%, 130 calories in 2% (but more calories from fat there), and 160 calories in whole milk.

My favorite comparison for anything is a can of Coca Cola. I love Coca Cola (or Pepsi, any cola really), and I despise the nasty flavor of diet soda. But I have heard the lectures about how much weight people put on just from drinking soda, so I limit myself to one per week or fewer. When I am deciding whether a candy bar is worth it or not, or how many snacks I should put in a bowl, I think about it in terms of how make Cokes I could consume for the same number of calories. I call this the “Coke comparison rule of thumb.”

To put milk in perspective, consider that a 12 oz can of Coke in the United States contains 140 calories. That’s right, cola contains about the same number of calories as an 8 oz glass of 1% milk and fewer calories than a comparable glass of whole milk! Using my Coke rule, it turns out that switching to one glass of skim milk per day instead of one glass of 1% milk is the equivalent of two fewer Coca Cola’s per week. That was enough to convince me!

Now to be clear, I am not telling you to avoid milk! Milk contains protein, vitamins, and minerals, so the calories you consume from milk do a lot more for your body than the non-nutrient-filled calories you get from a Coke. Some doctors will even tell you that drinking low fat milk can help you lose weight. (I will neither espouse nor dispute this belief, as I am not a physician, but hey, you can Google it if you’re curious.) All I am really trying to say is that the Coke rule is an interesting comparison to keep in mind when you decide what type of milk is right for you and your family.

I would like to conclude with one final point that might surprise you. (This is for you, Jamie Oliver!) Many people are concerned about soda and chips sold in school vending machines. But did you know that the typical carton of chocolate milk, like those sold in public schools, contains around 225 calories per serving? (Think of the “Coke comparison rule of thumb” = 140 Calories.) Yikes!

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  1. Remember that sleepover at Pam's where we got you a six-pack of those old school style glass cokes? That was so much fun. Also, I whole heartedly agree that diet soda tastes DISGUSTING although I truly wish that wasn't the case.