LIKE MANY PARENTS, when I attempt to bring my kids around to my point of view, I stress the facts. Then I toss in any other piece of information -- true or not -- that might support my case. This worked well when the kids were younger. Those were the days when only one kind of milk, whole milk, sat in our fridge.
Somewhere along the way -- I suspect the schoolhouse -- kids encountered opinions different from mine and adopted them. Now we have the milk wars. Three kinds of milk -- whole, reduced fat, and low-fat -- battle for shelf space in the family fridge. Each type of milk has its champion.
I am a supporter of whole milk, which has more fat than its rivals. (Under new federal labeling laws, whole milk has 3.2 percent fat, reduced fat has 2 percent fat, low-fat has 1 percent fat and fat-free or nonfat milk has no fat.) My arguments on behalf of whole milk are straightforward. First and foremost is the flavor. Whole milk tastes creamy. It passes the essential test of any beverage. Namely, it tastes so good you want to have a second glass of the stuff. Moreover, I point out that whole milk -- unlike its low-fat relatives -- is a moderately manipulated product. It is about as close as you can get -- allowing for pasteurization and homogenization -- to having milk straight from the cow.
My arguments generally fall on deaf ears.
The 17-year-old, champion of 2 percent or reduced-fat milk, contends that his milk is the beverage of the wise. This kind of milk has enough flavor to keep you satisfied, he says, and its reduced fat level is better for your body. He sees it as a trade-off -- a little less flavor for better health. "You have got to be willing to make some sacrifices for the good of your body," he explains.
When he raises this perfect-body business, I point out that we have differing views on how our bodies travel down the road of life. The teen-ager sees his body as a sports car that can be fine-tuned to take on the many challenges that lie ahead. I see mine as a comfortable sedan that has taken me many miles, and if all goes well, will hum along for the rest of the ride.
My exchanges with the 12-year-old, champion of low-fat or 1 percent milk, are less philosophical. He says whole milk tastes like spoiled yogurt. I say low-fat milk tastes like chalk.
My wife stays neutral in the family milk wars, returning from the grocery store with at least one jug of milk from each category. The top shelf of our fridge is a wall of milk jugs. The quickest way to tell what kind of milk is in a jug is to check the color of the lid. In our fridge, a red lid means whole milk, purple is for reduced fat, green for low-fat. The color scheme varies, however, when the milk hails from various grocery stores. The other day, for instance, milk from two different stores was in the fridge, and there were conflicting green color schemes. A dark green lid was on the reduced fat and a pale green lid was on the low-fat.
The confusing milk-shelf situation presents opportunities for deception. I am not above trying to slip the kids a glass of my favorite milk. I tell myself that after the kids taste the good stuff, they will see the error of their ways and return to the whole-milk fold. So far it hasn't worked out that way.
I am also not above twisting reports from the world of science to support my view that whole milk is the best. That is how I came up with the "escaping vitamins" theory.
Basically, this theory states that when fat is taken out of milk, some of its vitamins are lost. Attempts are made by the processors to restore the vitamins to the reduced-fat milk, but the replacement vitamins become unstable when they are exposed to light. Clear plastic jugs let light in, and this means that the gallons of low-fat milk let their vitamins escape. However, because the natural order of things isn't disturbed when whole milk is put in the jugs -- no attempts are made to remove fat -- the vitamins in these jugs are not likely to roam.
When I read about this theory in some obscure publication, I fell in love with it. As I sized up the situation, the escaping-vitamin theory was the weapon I needed to win the family milk wars.
Unfortunately, my rendition of the theory turned out to be wrong. When I spoke to Arun Kilara, professor of food science at Penn State University, he told me that a significant amount of vitamins escape from low-fat milks only if the jugs holding them are made of clear plastic, the kind commonly found on the market several years ago. Now, most milk jugs are made with opaque or tinted plastic, and that keeps the light out and most vitamins corraled, he said. Moreover, he pointed out that the main nutritional wallop packed by milk -- calcium and vitamin D -- was never in danger of fleeing. Small amounts of vitamin A and riboflavin were the most likely to escape low-fat milks, he said. But he said if these rambunctious vitamins are kept in cloudy milk jugs or in cardboard cartons, their chances of escaping are now slight.
Even though my escaping-vitamin theory is wrong, I may use it anyway. I figure all is fair in family fights and in milk wars.
Pub Date: 2/15/98