The Coca-Cola Company has teamed up with Mike and Sue McCloskey, dairy farmers, to market a milk branded as Fairlife. It’s the result of a process that pulls apart the nutrients in milk and recombines them to produce a lactose-free, high-protein milk with lower fat. It’s an intriguing product idea and may be welcomed by people who enjoy dairy milk but have trouble with lactose or who can use more protein in their diets.

Launched in 2014 with a somewhat disgusting “pinup”-style campaign, Fairlife’s distribution is expanding this year, and with this expansion has come backlash. The Atlantic slams it as a needless marketing ploy, selling people something they don’t need, and other mainstream news outlets have quoted dietitians and academics expressing skepticism about the process and the result. Buzzfeed employees actually tried it and thought the low-fat version was pretty good but that overall it doesn’t taste or smell exactly like milk, in a not-great way. (They hated the chocolate version — packaged chocolate milks often go a little overboard, but apparently Fairlife is shocking even by that standard.)

Fairlife cons:
— Expensive. Reports range from “almost” to “more than” twice the price of regular milk.

— Processed food. Processed foods can be a mixed bag, and this one is new, too.

— Marketed by the Coca-Cola Company. Coke’s track record is more focused on selling in whatever packaging soothes the consumer. It has no credibility in nutrition.

Fairlife pros:
— Lactose-free, providing an alternative in a small market.

— Additional protein. If you choose strained yogurt for its high protein content (although texture would be reason enough!), then Fairlife might appeal for the same reason.

— If you have a very small stomach capacity, as do people who have recently had bariatric surgery, it can help you meet your protein goals in smaller amounts than regular milk.

I don’t find the “we eat too much protein already!” argument very interesting. In any case, Starter Steps is aimed specifically at people who are trying to increase their activity level and the nutritional quality of what they eat. Scaling up protein supports both those goals, and offers a satisfaction benefit that makes it easier to skip the cookies in the break room at work.

Eating more protein than your body, strictly speaking, needs is not harmful unless you have a kidney problem or are eating so large an amount that it’s actually less appetizing (as bodybuilders can discover when they really try to push protein). Protein is, however, relatively expensive — protein calories are usually more expensive than other calories — so even if you could eat half your calories a day from protein (which very few people could manage), there is good reason not to.

Is Fairlife Worth It?

Only you know for sure. It’s not a compelling product for general use.

I like protein, but I can digest lactose, so the high price of Fairlife is enough deterrent. For people who drink a lot of milk, the taste and texture will probably be a deterrent, too — a version that is “close” but “not quite” is often unpleasant to those who really enjoy something.

If you are lactose-intolerant but really like milk and wish you could drink it, you should try it. Fairlife might be a nice alternative to products like Lactaid and lactase pills.

Should I Give Fairlife to My Kids?

Probably not. It’s expensive, and kids should have a wide variety of foods in their diet, so doubling up on protein from milk is not that great a sell.

Image from the Fair Oaks Farms Fairlife website.


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