In our last “Grocery Shopping for Your Health” post, we tackled the frozen foods aisle. Now, let’s move onto the refrigerated cases. Here you will find a large variety of milks, yogurts, cheeses, eggs, dairy creamers, biscuits, juices and more. There is a lot to cover in this section, so we will break it up into three posts: milk and yogurt (this post), cheeses, and eggs.
Grocery stores realize the need for variety due to our tastes and lifestyles but also because of our different health concerns. In the refrigerated case, you will find a variety of different milks and yogurts reflecting this. Let’s begin with milk.
When choosing a milk, aim (at least most of the time) for low-fat or fat-free. But, what’s the difference in the selection? Well, whole milk will contain no less than 3.25 percent milk fat, and will usually be vitamin D-fortified. The 2 percent reduced-fat milk will contain 2 percent of milk fat and is vitamin A- and D-fortified. Then we have 1 percent or low-fat milk which contains, you guessed it, 1 percent of milk fat and must be vitamin A- and D-fortified. Fat-free milk—sometimes called nonfat or skim milk—contains less than 0.5 percent milk fat and, again, is fortified with vitamins A and D.
There are options for the lactose-intolerant, including lactose-reduced or lactose-free milk, which can come in whole, low-fat or fat-free forms. Here, the lactose enzyme is added to milk to eliminate the sugar in milk (that is, the lactose). If you are lactose-sensitive, you can enjoy this milk without the discomfort. Federal codes guidelines dictates what manufacturers must do to label milk as lactose-free or lactose-reduced.
We can also choose between rice milk, almond milk and soy milk. Rice milk and almond milk are referred to as milk but they don’t provide much protein, and their proteins lack some essential amino acids. To compare the amount of protein in these products, always check the nutritional facts on the food label.
Soy milk provides complete protein, and can be an alternative to cow’s milk. Soy also is used to produce cheese, yogurt and more. Soy products are a great source of plant-based protein and are considered heart-healthy. But, be careful here if you are using soy products in your cooking. They differ from traditional milk products in some culinary characteristics.
I can’t leave this section without mentioning acidophilus milk and kefir, which is a yogurt drink. These products have become increasingly popular because of their health benefits. They are made by adding good bacteria cultures to the product, and you can find them in fat-free and low-fat varieties. If you have never tried kefir, it is different than drinking a glass of milk. The bacteria culture produces a thicker texture and a unique aroma and flavor.
We could go on about milk products, but let’s shift over to yogurt.
This section of the refrigerated case has exploded in size in just the past few years. You can find plain yogurt or a seemingly endless variety of flavors, available in a spectrum from nonfat to whole-fat. Yogurt is a high-calcium, high-protein, dairy food choice. If you don’t like to drink milk, then consider yogurt as a good alternative for your calcium intake.
Yogurt can be flavored with fruit, fruit preserves, extracts like vanilla, coffee, and other flavors, and can also be sweetened with added sugars. For fewer calories and added sugars, opt for the plain yogurt. And remember, yogurt’s calories and fat content come from the milk used to produce it.
I can’t leave out the popularity of Greek yogurt. If you ever have traveled to Greece, then you know that this is truly where it originated. Greek yogurt is thick and creamy, and is made by straining whey from whole, low-fat or even fat-free milk. Again, you will find this yogurt in plain or flavored varieties.
Yogurt provides an array of health benefits, including potential immune-boosting benefits. And we know it packs in a good punch of calcium. But, when you make your yogurt selection, look for a product that is vitamin D-fortified. This is especially important if you are not drinking milk. Also, look for yogurt that has the seal from the National Yogurt Association, indicating that the yogurt contains “live and active cultures.”
One last thing to mention with yogurt. To save money and the impact of packaging on our environment, consider purchasing the large-carton size. You can always separate your portions into smaller sizes for your lunch or snack away from the home. You will find that the large cartons are also cheaper than the small serving sizes. And, by the way, those small 4- to 6-ounce serving sizes do not provide the same amount of calcium as compared to an 8-ounce glass of milk.
NEXT: More from the refrigerator case, with cheeses.