Cow and almond and soy, oh my!
“Don’t forget to drink your milk!”
It’s something that many of us were told throughout our childhood without really knowing why. But as we grow older, we start to understand that this constant reminder to have our milk can be important for several health reasons. Milk not only provides calcium and protein, but also multiple vitamins, minerals and probiotics as well.
“The nutrients found in milk have preventive effects. They can help with blood pressure, muscle function, intestinal health and more,” explained Geisinger registered dietitian nutritionist Nicole M. Coppola, MS, RDN, LDN.
But these days the grocery aisle is packed with far more kinds of milk than ever before – whole, skim, soy, almond, rice, you name it. You’re bound to ask yourself: “What milk is best for me and my family?” While all types of milk have some basic similarities in nutritional value, the right type of milk for you might depend on what you’re looking to get out of your drink. Whether you’re trying to bulk up or improve different areas of your health, it’s important to be informed about popular milk choices and what they offer.
Whole: Looking to gain a few pounds or have a new baby in the house? Then whole milk might be for you. It offers the highest fat concentration of any animal’s milk option and is packed with nutrients like protein, calcium, potassium and a variety of vitamins. Whole milk is the highest in saturated fat, so if you’re concerned about heart health, this is not a good choice. If you like to enjoy the occasional glass of milk, have healthy cholesterol levels and are at a healthy weight, then this choice is fine.
Low-Fat: This kind of milk stands as a good option between whole milk and skim milk. One percent or two percent milk has fewer calories and less saturated fat than whole milk, but retains that creamy taste and the same number of nutrients.
Skim (aka nonfat): If you’re looking to lose weight without sacrificing nutrition, nonfat milk is likely your best option. Skim milk is made by removing the cream from whole milk, but still contains the important nutrients like calcium, potassium and vitamin D. At only 80 calories a cup, this could be the choice for milk drinkers looking to avoid saturated fats and calories.
Non-dairy milks are a great option for people who have certain allergies, dietary restrictions or ethical reasons for not drinking cow’s milk. But before you switch to a milk alternative, it’s important to understand the benefits and costs of these different kinds of milk.
“If you’re unsure about the benefits of switching to a milk alternative, talk to your doctor about what’s best for you and your family,” said Coppola.
Soy: Soy milk provides the same amount of nutrients as cow's milk and is the only alternative suggested by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans as an equivalent to provide calcium, potassium and protein. It is a plant-based protein source from soybeans, which is considered heart healthy. Some people with certain health conditions may want to avoid high intakes of soy, so you should check with your doctor if you’d like to include soy milk as a regular part of your diet.
Almond: The lowest calorie option on this list, almond milk is a popular choice among those trying to lose weight. Keep in mind, however, that it does not contain nearly as many nutrients as other kinds. Additionally, it’s important to avoid flavored almond milk which contains sugar.
“Before choosing a milk substitute, make sure you’re still getting something out of it, nutritionally speaking,” says Coppola. "Look for it to be fortified with calcium and vitamin D."
Nicole M. Coppola, MS, RDN, LDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist at Geisinger Community Medical Center in Scranton. For more information, please visit Geisinger.org.