Q: My husband, Todd, and I were at a hotel breakfast buffet, and Todd was eagle-eyeing the half-pint carton of "Fat Free Skim Milk." And he noticed the ingredients were listed as "fat free milk, nonfat milk, vitamin A palmitate, and vitamin D3." What the hey is going on? What's fat free milk and nonfat milk doing in my carton? Are these two different things? What kind of Franken-food is this?
—Tracey Thomas, San Francisco
A: Welcome to California, home not only to the "happy" cows seen in TV ads but also to thicker, whiter skim milk.
Skim milk, aka nonfat milk or fat free milk, has zero percent fat. But getting rid of that fat in processing removes vitamins. Taking out the fat also can eliminate texture, flavor and color, as many skim milk drinkers have noted to their chagrin.
Federal regulations require reduced fat and nonfat milks to be as nutritious as whole milk. So milk producers add back in the vitamins lost when the fat is removed. That's at least 2,000 IU (international units) of vitamin A and 400 IU of vitamin D per quart. These added vitamins must be listed on the label, as in the case of your carton.
Fortifying reduced fat or no-fat milks with vitamins is a federal thing; add dry powdered milk to enhance the drinking experience is something California does, which is why skim milk can taste different there. different.
"California goes a little bit above,'' said Ashley Rosales, a registered dietitian with the Dairy Council of California. The state requires producers to add nonfat milk solids, a dry powder, to "enhance the texture, taste and look" of skim milk, low-fat (1 percent) and reduced fat (2 percent) milk.
Since the solids are added to the skim milk, you find "nonfat milk" listed on your label.
While milk producers in all states must meet federal standards, some state choose to raise the bar higher. California is one; readers in other states can check with their state or dairy processors or suss the label carefully.
Michelle Dudash, a registered dietitian and nutrition expert based in Gilbert, Ariz., says adding nonfat dry milk to skim can increase the calcium and protein content. The addition, she adds, can also be suggested on the label by the use of such words as "fortfied," "supreme" or "plus."
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