I’ve recently seen commercials for Fairlife milk and one of their big advertising points: 50 % less sugar!! With dietitians recommending less sugar, this must be a better milk choice right?
Before I answer that question, let’s take a look at what Fairlife milk is all about.
First of all, I’d like to say I have no association with Fairlife or the dairy industry. I’m just an ordinary dietitian who had some questions and decided to find out the answers.
Fairlife milk recently came to Canada but has been in the US since 2012. It is currently the only milk I have seen being advertised as being lower in sugar and higher in protein. A Canadian plant is set to open in Ontario as of Spring 2020, but until that time Fairlife has a permit from the Canadian government that allows it to import milk from the US for a limited time. While there are usually differences in the milk from the US in comparison to Canada, in this case the company has to abide by Canadian standards. This means their cows can’t use artificial growth hormones, and the milk must meet the higher quality standards for milk used in Canada. Once the Ontario plant is up and running, they will be using milk from local Ontario dairy farms.
So what’s the difference between Fairlife milk and milk that may be made by Natrel, Neilson or other milk companies?
Fairlife is marketed as having 50% more protein, 50% less sugar, and lactose free as compared to regular milk. This is not because they are using special cows or adding stuff to their product. It’s because of how the milk is processed. The milk is filtered into its components: water, milk protein, milk sugar(lactose), and minerals. Then these components are recombined in different proportions. They put back more of the protein and less of the lactose so you get a milk with more protein and less sugar. Then the milk is treated with lactase, which is commonly used to make all lactose-free milks. This breaks down the lactose into galactose and glucose to make it lactose-free. This is beneficial for people who are unable to tolerate and digest lactose.
Is milk with lower sugar a good thing?
Dietitians and the new Canada’s Food Guide are recommending that people reduce their intake of sugar. However, the sugar we are referring to is “free sugar”. Free sugar is sugar that is added by manufacturers, or when you’re are cooking, or when you add sugar to food or beverages you consume. Free sugar also includes sugar naturally found in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates. Free sugars do not include the naturally occurring sugar that is found in intact or cut fruit, vegetables or unsweetened milk. So you do not need to use a unsweetened milk made with lower sugar as part of a healthy diet.
However, the Fairlife product could be an option to think about in some cases.
Controlled carbohydrate eating plans: If you are in a situation where you are watching your carbohydrates, Fairlife milk does provide you the option to work in milk (if this is a beverage you enjoy) with less impact to your carbohydrate intake. Some other brands of lactose-free milks may have a lower carbohydrate content than regular milk as well; check the nutrient facts table on the label. If you do have a health condition where you are required to monitor your carbohydrate intake, please check with your dietitian for guidance on how to manage your carbohydrate goals and whether this product is appropriate for you.
Athletes: If you’re an athlete, it may be necessary to pay more attention to your protein intake, particularly after training to promote muscle recovery. While regular milk is a perfectly acceptable food option, if you are a person who likes to add protein powder to that after workout shake, this higher protein milk may be an option to investigate as an alternative instead.
Another lactose-free option: If you are lactose intolerant but don’t particularly like the taste of some lactose-free milk, this product may be something you may want to try. Lactose-free milk is normally sweeter in taste that regular milk. When lactase is added to milk, it breaks down the lactose into galactose and glucose making the milk lactose-free. Galactose and glucose taste sweeter than lactose which results in the lactose-free milk tasting sweeter than regular milk. Because Fairlife milk contains 50% less milk sugar than regular milk to begin with, when the lactase does its work, less galactose and glucose is being produced resulting in a milk that tastes may taste less sweet than other lactose-free milks. Not all lactose-free milk have the same amount of carbohydrate; check the nutrient facts table on the label. Try different brands…there may be subtle taste differences between them.
So let’s go back our initial question…..do I need milk with less sugar?
With regard to milk, unflavored and unsweetened milk is recommended. When choosing these types of milks….no, you don’t need a lower sugar milk on top of that. With the low carb craze these days, many would like you to believe that low carb products are necessary. Companies use “low carb” and “less sugar” marketing to sell you their products in many instances. I’m sure that the advertised “50% less sugar” of Fairlife milk has caught the eye and interest of many people who are following low carb.
That being said, this product is another lactose-free milk option that can still provide the great nutrients found in regular milk. You will notice it is a bit more expensive….Fairlife is approximately $3.11 per litre as compared to approximately $2.62 per litre for other brands of lactose-free milk in Ontario like Natrel or Neilsen.
When you’re making your grocery list, think of it as you would for any other food product you would buy…one option. For example, the yogurt aisle has a huge variety of products these days. Some have more protein, some have less sugar, some have less fat, some are plant based, some are dairy based, some are flavored, some are plain, some are thicker. Some taste wonderful, and I’m sure some are not as flavorful. The one I choose is the one that meets my needs and that I enjoy.
The bottom line….
If you prefer Fairlife lactose-free milk, for whatever reason, compared to other brands of lactose-free milk…then buy it. If you prefer another brand of lactose-free milk, then buy what you prefer.
In the big picture of healthy eating, if you choose to drink milk you don’t have to worry about the natural milk sugar found in it. Whether it be regular or lactose-free, if you are selecting unsweetened and unflavored milk …you’re on the right track.
For more information:
Canada’s Dietary Guidelines: https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/guidelines/section-2-foods-and-beverages-that-undermine-healthy-eating/
How marketing can influence your food choices: https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/healthy-eating-recommendations/marketing-can-influence-your-food-choices/
Fairlife product site: https://fairlifecanada.ca/
Natrel product site: https://www.natrel.ca/en/products/lactose-free
Neilson product site: https://www.neilsondairy.com/en/products/sans-lactose