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Health Update: Which Milk is Best For You

Health Update: Which Milk is Best For You

There's a mind boggling array of milk choices in the dairy section of any supermarket that you may frequent. Choosing the type that is right for you may be a tedious and time consuming task. Here are some helpful tips to assist you in deciding which milk to buy for yourself and your family.

Cow's Milk

Cow's milk is healthy, but if you're lactose intolerant you may want to select one of the non-dairy alternatives. Cow’s milk is a treasure of nutrients because it contains the vitamins and minerals many Americans lack in their diet, like calcium, vitamin D and potassium. Calcium and vitamin D are essential because they work collectively to support strong bones, especially as you age, while potassium helps maintain a healthy blood pressure. Additionally one cup of cow's milk contains 8 grams of protein, something you may want to add to your breakfast. Not only does it fill you up, but it also builds muscle, which is vital to staying lean. Though critics say it's unnatural for humans to drink milk from another species, our bodies have evolved to digest cow's milk, unless you're lactose intolerant. Cow's milk is still the most beneficial option in many cases, particularly for infants and toddlers who need the calories, protein, fat and calcium for proper growth and development.

So if you're drinking cow's milk which should you choose?

  • Skim: When you're trying to lose weight skim milk is the best choice. At only 80 calories per cup, fat-free versions of milk pack nearly the same amount of calcium, vitamin D and potassium as low and full-fat versions of milk.
  • Reduced or low-fat: When you need more flavor than skim milk, reduced and low-fat milk may be a good alternative. The 1 and 2% varieties offer about 100 and 120 calories, respectively, per cup. They also pack some saturated fat, 3 grams in a cup of 2%, or about 15% of the daily recommended amount. If you prefer the taste of this type over skim and don't consume an enormous amount of red meat or cheese, then go ahead and choose higher-fat milk.
  • Whole: This may be a good choice for the infrequent milk drinker. It contains 5 grams of saturated fat per cup, nearly a quarter of your daily limit, but if you're drinking one glass a day, it should not be a huge problem.
  • Organic: If you're converting your baby from breast milk to cow's milk, this may be an option because it doesn't contain any added hormones. But studies show organic isn't necessary for any health-related reasons. Research shows it contains more heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids compared to non-organic milk, which costs less. But if omega 3s are a concern, you're better off eating a piece of salmon for dinner.


If you're opting to ditch dairy altogether because of digestive woes or ethical reasons, consider these Non-Dairy Milk choices.

  • Soy: Soy is most nutritionally similar to cow's milk. Per cup, it contains 110 calories and 8 grams of protein and fortified versions pack more calcium and vitamin D than cow's milk. Additionally, if you choose to feed your kids plant milk, dieticians recommend soy for its high amounts of nutrients children need to grow.
  • Almond Milk: A low-calorie option, there is no doubt that almond milk is extremely popular, and it may have to do with the health benefits surrounding almonds. In addition, in taste tests, many people say they prefer almond milk to regular cow's milk. Almond milk is made by soaking almonds in water, blending and straining, a process that leaves very little protein from the nut behind. Subsequently, drinking almond milk is not the same as eating a lot of nuts. Compared to an ounce of almonds (23 whole ones), which contains 6 grams of protein, a cup of almond milk only has one gram of protein, so you could be genuinely missing out. Using unsweetened almond milk in a smoothie or bowl of cereal is a positive step if you're watching your calories, since one cup may be as low as 30 calories. But focus on getting other sources of calcium and vitamin D, like sardines, fortified juices and leafy green, to make up for what almond milk lacks.
  • Rice Milk: If you have food allergies, you're less likely to have a reaction from rice milk than from soy or nut milks. Plus, the flavor is mild, which fits some people’s preference. But similar to almond milk, it's low in protein with only 1 gram per cup. It's also higher in natural sugars and carbohydrates than other milks, and flavored varieties contain even more added sugar.
  • Coconut Milk: Coconut milk has recently become very popular. Coconut milk comes from the white flesh of mature brown coconuts, which are the fruit of the coconut tree. Coconut milk should not be confused with coconut water, which is found naturally in immature green coconuts. Unlike coconut water, the milk does not occur naturally in liquid form. The solid flesh is mixed with water to make coconut milk, which is about 50% water. By contrast, coconut water is about 94% water. Coconut water contains much less fat and fewer nutrients than coconut milk. Coconut milk is a high-calorie food. About 93% of its calories come from fat, including saturated fats and one cup contains a whopping 552 calories and 57 grams of fat.

Almond milk, soy milk, rice milk and coconut milk may all offer lactose-free alternatives to cow's milk, but new research suggests that the dairy version remains the most nutritious option.