Call Today: (248) 430-4487Samantha Linden, RDN

Balanced Bites – Which Milk Does Your Body Best?

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Balanced Bites – Which Milk Does Your Body Best?


Which Milk Does Your Body Best?


Like everything else in life, the dilemma of what type of milk to use continues to get infinitely more complicated. The age-old question of “do you want milk or cream in your coffee” doesn’t apply anymore. Now even Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts carry non-dairy milks, including coconut and almond (we will get to my opinion on their offerings later). So which choice is the best?

I will give you the annoying answer and say there is no ideal milk for everyone. Different people have different taste preferences, food allergies, food intolerances and dietary needs. Most milk alternatives are fortified with as much, if not more calcium, than traditional cows milk so if you are looking for a good source of calcium, almost all of them will do. However, some are higher in protein and other nutrients than others. So, although I won’t tell you one milk option that is superior, below is a brief comparison of the most popular milk choices to help you decide which one is best for you and your family.

Cow’s Milk: Cow’s milk is a great source of nine essential vitamins and minerals including calcium, vitamin D, and potassium, all of which are vital components of bone health. One cup of milk provides 8 grams of protein making it a great snack or addition to a meal (or your morning coffee). Whole milk is making a comeback and some science points to the saturated fat in milk being beneficial for you. If it is in your budget, choose Organic milk to avoid free of hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics,”

Soy Milk: Soymilk was one of the first non-dairy milks offered, so it is readily available. Soymilk is a good option for those that want to use a non-dairy milk as good source of protein. Similar to cow’s milk, one cup provides 7 to 8 grams of protein but almost no saturated fat. However, soy is controversial. There is research supporting a lot of positive effects of soy and some negative. My recommendation is soy protein, eaten in moderation, is a good addition to your diet. However, get a reputable brand of soymilk and stick to soy that is non-GMO (so an organic brand).

Almond & cashew milk have the least amount of calories (typically around 40) per cup and are rich in vitamins A, D and E. Most people find them tasty and great additions to smoothies. However, at 1-2 grams of protein per serving, they are inferior to other milks as a source of protein. They also have the highest amount of sodium compared to the other milk alternatives.

Hemp milk is made from the cannibus plant but unfortunately, unlike other cannibus “products”, hemp milk will not get you high. Hemp milk has a creamy consistency and nutty flavor, and similar to other nut milks, is low in protein. However, hemp milk provides an entire day’s recommended intake of the heart healthy omega-3 fats. So it is a different kind of high!

Rice milk is a good choice for those that have multiple food allergies. It is much less rich in nutrients than other milks and is higher in sugar. The high carbohydrate content (2-3 times more than the others) makes it not a great choice for diabetics. However, for others, rice milk could be a good option for an easy to digest pre or post workout snack.

Coconut milk is one of the most recent milks on the block. While traditional coconut milk is high in calories, the newer versions are a higher proportion of water to milk, making it a lower calorie option (generally no more than 90 calories a cup). It is high in saturated fat, which again, like with whole milk, is controversial right now. Some research claims that two specific types of saturated fat in coconut milk, lauric and caprylic acid, are beneficial to you in that both are anti-bacterial and anti-viral. In addition, coconut milk is low in protein and has the least amount of calcium than the other milk options. So, if your diet is already low in saturated fat and you enjoy the taste of coconut, this might be a good addition to your smoothie once in a while.

When comparing milks, it is important not to just look at the fancy packaging or at the nutrition facts panel but to also read the ingredients. Many non-dairy milks have a laundry list of ingredients that include added sugars, artificial sweeteners and thickening agents such as carrageenan that has been shown to be inflammatory in certain susceptible populations. For example, the almond milk at Dunkin Donuts is a vanilla sweetened variety that provides 13 grams of added sugar per cup. Starbucks offers a coconut milk that per their website, says “is certified vegan and made from single-origin coconuts from the tropical Indonesian island of Sumatra”. Sounds fancy but if you read the label, the third ingredient is cane sugar!

Bottom line: consider your dietary needs and choose a variety of milks to take advantage of all their health advantages. But make sure to read the labels and specifically keep an eye out for added sugars, sodium and saturated fat.

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