—Photo by JellyBean Pictures

After Horizon Organic once again made headlines earlier this year for duping consumers, we figured it was time to get smarter about the milk we give our children. So we asked the smartest nutritionist we know—Kim Walls, who’s also the founder of Episencial—what we need to know before grabbing any ole’ carton of milk off the grocery store shelves.

Buy Organic. For cow’s milk drinkers, the most important issue is whether the milk is organic. Organic milk is defined by the USDA as milk from cows that have been exclusively fed organic feed, have not been treated with synthetic hormones, are not given certain medications to treat sickness, and are held in pens with adequate space.

Get to know your local farmer. If you want organic milk, you may be much more likely to get the real thing at the farmer’s market. Better yet, take a field trip to the farm. Ask questions. Do research. You have the right to know where your family’s milk comes from.

Drink it raw, if you can. Raw organic milk from grass-fed cows is the best tasting and by far the healthiest option for most people, but it may not always be available or safe. Many people get very nervous at the thought of drinking raw milk. Much of this stems from a fear-based advertising campaign in the 1940’s compelling consumers to drink only pasteurized milk. Many people still live in that fear today. The key to getting safe raw milk is that it must come from a trusted source: cows must be grass-fed and the collection process must be clean. To find a raw milk supplier near you, visit realmilk.com.

Consider goat. There are arguments that goat’s milk is easier to digest and that it causes fewer allergies. Additionally, some studies claim increased levels of essential fatty acids, antioxidants and vitamins, as well as better bioavailability of iron. That said, milk from the same animal will vary significantly based on what the animal is fed. More importantly, goat’s milk may be impractical as it is not as widely available. Historically, people drink milk from cow, yak, buffalo, goat—you name it. Regardless of the source, the most important factor is to examine the quality and safety of milk production.

Remember that soy milk is not milk. Soy and almond milks can be healthy, delicious beverages, but they are not milk. They fall in the same category as calling “veggie-chicken” chicken. So while they may be tasty, they should probably go by another name.

Whatever you do, avoid ultra-pasteurized milk. Ultra-pasteurization is a relatively new pasteurization process that heats milk to a higher temperature for a shorter amount of time. This extends its shelf life and allows milk to be stored unrefrigerated. This level of pasteurization kills all the bacteria—good and bad—and destroys most of the enzymes that help us digest milk and benefit from its full nutritional value.