It's good for dunking cookies and pouring over cereal, and is an essential ingredient in baking and cooking.
Milk is available in a variety of forms, fresh and canned. When buying fresh milk, check the sell-by date; the milk will keep for about a week beyond that. Canned milk is found in the baking aisle; look for the use-by date on the bottom of the can.
Fresh milk should always be refrigerated; store the carton in the main part, not the compartment inside the door. The best way to determine whether milk has spoiled is by its smell, so don't toss it out just because the sell-by date has passed.
Milk is not only high in calcium (the lower the fat, the higher the calcium), it provides this essential nutrient in a form that is easily absorbed by the body. It's also a source of protein, potassium, magnesium, and riboflavin. Most milk is fortified with vitamins A and D; check the label.
Whole Milk: With at least 3.25 percent milk fat by weight, whole milk has a rich, creamy taste. Unlike reduced-fat varieties, whole milk is not required to be fortified with vitamin A, so check the nutrition information on the carton.
Evaporated Milk: One of several types of canned milk, evaporated milk is made by removing more than half the water from fresh milk. It is unsweetened and found in whole, low-fat, and skim forms, and is most often used to add creaminess to dishes.
Skim Milk: Also labeled as fat-free and nonfat, skim milk must have less than 0.5 percent milk fat by weight, and usually contains less than half a gram of fat per 8-ounce serving. All skim (and low-fat) milk must be fortified with vitamin A. Some versions have been enriched with nonfat milk powder for more protein and a creamier taste.
Soymilk: Despite the name, soymilk doesn't contain any milk. It is made from ground soybeans, so it's cholesterol-free and rich in protein. Soymilk comes in a variety of forms, including regular, light, and nonfat, as well as sweetened and unsweetened. It also comes in different flavors, such as vanilla and chocolate. Because not all soymilk is fortified with vitamins and minerals, check the nutrition information on the label; those with added calcium can be good alternatives to dairy products. Look for soymilk in the beverage aisle (refrigerate after opening) or the dairy case.
Nutritional Guide (per 8-ounce serving)
Whole milk: 150 calories, 7.7 grams fat, 291 mg calcium
Reduced-fat milk (2 percent): 121 calories, 4.4 grams fat, 296 mg calcium
Low-fat milk (1 percent): 104 calories, 2.2 grams fat, 312 mg calcium
Skim milk: 90 calories, 0.5 gram fat, 316 mg calcium