The dairy department is usually one of the largest departments in the grocery store – both in terms of sales and space devoted to the display of the merchandise.

Dairy, especially milk, is an excellent source of calcium, protein and riboflavin, and contains many other essential vitamins and minerals. The nutritional value of milk is thus high in relation to the cost per serving.

Use the following guidelines to shop wisely for the whole array of dairy products that you can use to get your daily supply of milk.

What to look out for
By understanding the following terminology and by being informed about the different dairy products available, you should be able to give both your health and your pocket a boost:

Full-fat (whole) milk: Milk with a fat content of greater than 2 percent.
Low-fat milk: Milk with a fat content of between 1,5 and 2,5 percent.
Fat-free or skimmed milk: Milk with a fat content of less than 0,5 percent.
UHT or long life milk: Milk that has been treated at a high temperature, so that it can be stored for up to six months. Full fat, low fat and fat free versions are available.
Soy milk: A substitute product for dairy. Soy milk contains no animal products and can be used as part of a vegetarian diet. It has the same fat content as whole milk.
Evaporated milk: Pure cow's milk from which the water has been removed by evaporation. When mixed with an equal amount of water, its nutritive value is about the same as whole milk. Evaporated milk is handy to store and usually less expensive than fresh whole milk.
Dried milk powder: A milk powder with moisture content of 2 to 3 percent. Not suitable for baby feeding.
Coffee creamers: A diary substitute. Made from glucose syrup and palm oil – contains about 30% fat. Coffee creamers are also not suitable for baby feeding.
Sweetened condensed milk: Concentrated milk with at least 40% sugar added to help preserve it.
Buttermilk: Buttermilk is the liquid that has been removed when making butter. Most stores sell buttermilk as cultured buttermilk.
Pasteurised milk:
Raw milk that has been heated to and held at a controlled temperature for a set period and then cooled immediately. Pasteurisation renders harmless all disease-producing bacteria in the raw milk.
Homogenised milk: Homogenised milk has its fat globules broken into minute particles and dispersed throughout the lipid. In homogenised milk, the cream does not separate and the product stays uniform throughout.
Ice cream: Ice cream is made from cream, milk, sugar, flavourings and stabilisers. It generally contains at least 10 percent fat.

The healthier option
Buying fat-free or low-fat milk or yoghurt may help you to cut the amount of fat in your diet. Note, however, that children under two years of age should be given only whole milk.

Fat-free milk is the best option for a calorie-controlled diet – it contains all the nutrients of whole milk, but without the fat (and a little less vitamin A).

If you find it difficult to change to skimmed or fat-free milk, first switch to low-fat milk and then eventually switch to skimmed milk. Also try using fat-free, long-life milk – the taste is very similar to low-fat milk. Keep full-fat milk only for special occasions.

Milk equivalents
On the basis of the calcium they provide, the following are alternatives for one cup of fresh whole milk:

  • 30-40 g of cheddar cheese
  • 40 g of processed cheddar cheese
  • 11/3 cups of creamed cottage cheese
  • 1 cup of custard
  • 11/3 cups of ice cream
  • 1 cup of yoghurt

The usual fat content of cream is about 40 g per 100 g. There are different types of cream like sour cream, pouring cream and whipping cream.

Non-dairy cream substitutes are available on the market and they are generally much lower in fat – approximately 27 g of fat per 100 g. Also look out for the 'lite' versions of these products as they generally contain only about 14% fat.

Canned desert cream contains about 20 g fat per 100 g, but it is not suitable for whipping.

You can also replace cream in certain recipes with Bulgarian or plain yoghurt.

There are loads of low-fat fruit yoghurt choices available in most supermarkets these days and they are the healthiest of the yoghurt types. Certain brands also have a range of fat-free yoghurts. Try these, they are low in calories, low in fat and tasty – a good 'guilt-free' snack.

Plain or Bulgarian yoghurt is usually not much lower in calorie value, but has a lower amount of sugar, because it is not sweetened like most other fruit yoghurts. Greek yoghurt may sound healthy, but it may contain saturated fat and sugar. Check the label first before buying.

Rather buy fruit yoghurt or fruit mousse than ice cream for dessert. Ice cream is generally quite high in fat.

Cheddar cheese is a great ingredient in many recipes – but it contains about 33 g fat per 100 g. Low-fat or fat-free cottage cheese are made from skimmed milk curds and are a much healthier option. Low-fat cream cheese has more flavour than cottage cheese, but also more fat – so spread it thinly.

Use these fat content guidelines when shopping for cheese (note that values may differ from brand to brand):

Cheese Fat per 100 g 
Cheddar 33 g
Medium-fat cheese 23 g
Sweet-milk cheese 33 g
Camembert 30 g
Mozzarella 25 g
Mascarpone 50 g
Cottage cheese (low fat) 5 g
Cottage cheese (fat free) 1 g
Creamed cottage cheese 20 g
Feta cheese 29 g
Feta cheese (reduced fat) 19 g
Full-fat processed cheese 50 g

Processed cheese is produced by grinding, melting, blending, and pasteurising other cheeses, and then pouring this resultant fluid mass into moulds or jars. If the label says 'processed cheese', other ingredients such as non-fat dry milk have been mixed in. 'Process cheese spread' has a higher moisture content than processed cheese and other cheeses.

Butter contains at least 80 percent milk fat. Rather use medium or low-fat spread.

Wise buys

  • Buy fresh milk in two-litre containers – they are usually cheaper per unit in relation to smaller containers.
  • When there is a sale on milk, stock up – you can freeze it for later use.
  • Buy UHT or long-life milk in bulk when it is on sale. You can keep it for up to six months.
  • Powered or dried milk is the least expensive milk option. Mix it several hours before required and refrigerate it. This is ideal for cooking.
  • The freshest milk is usually positioned at the back of the refrigerator. Select your milk from the back row.
  • Remember to always check the expiry date on diary products. Don’t buy products that will expire before you can use them.
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