Different Types Of Milk: Which One Is The Healthiest?

Whole, skim, soy, almond, coconut, rice– these days, cow’s milk isn’t the only option to complement your cereal or for adding creaminess to your coffee. There are plenty of plant-based milk varieties too, and they’re gaining in popularity.

Milk is a kitchen staple that’s incredibly easy to work with, especially when it comes to cooking and baking. According to Abby Lager, a Toronto-based registered dietitian, cow’s milk isn’t the only option out there to for amateur chefs.

“All types of milk can be used in a wide variety of savoury and sweet dishes,” she says. “I’ve used almond milk to make a creamy curry and I’ve used coconut milk to make ice cream. It’s as versatile as it is nutritious.”

When it comes to nutrition, however, not all milk options are alike. How do your milk options stack up?

Here, we’ll shed light on six different kinds of milk, including their nutritional content, benefits, and controversies.

Cow’s Milk

There are various types of cow’s milk from whole milk to skim milk. The main difference is how much fat has been removed, which also influences the number of calories the milk contains.

Nutritional breakdown per 250 ml glass:

  • Calories: 80-150
  • Saturated fat: 0.1-4.6 grams
  • Protein: 8 grams
  • Sugar: 12 grams
  • Calcium: 300 mgs
  • Nutrients: Riboflavin, vitamin B12, vitamin A, phosphorus

Health benefits

For starters, cow’s milk is high in protein, with about eight grams per glass. It may also promote muscle growth through the action of IGF-1, an insulin-like growth factor. Plus, it’s convenient and relatively cheap. Its calcium content is especially important for seniors and children– those with growing bones, and those who need to preserve bone density.

Controversies

Cow’s milk has been tied to potentially increasing the risk of prostate, ovarian, and breast cancer.

There’s also concern of growth hormones in dairy cows, but this is illegal in Canada and not permitted for use with any dairy cows, Langer noted.

Its sugar content can raise blood glucose levels in those with diabetes. Critics also worry about cow’s milk and its link to inflammation and build-up of phlegm, but this is unfounded in research, says Langer.

Full-fat milk has been tied to greater satiety and lower weight in children compared to their counterparts drinking skim milk. Studies have suggested that kids who drink skim milk, on the other end, end up snacking more or aren’t as full from their meals.

“I usually recommend two per cent or higher. If you’re watching your weight, you’ll adjust in other ways because you’ll eat less and be more satisfied,” says Langer.

Unsweetened Soy Milk

Soy milk is the liquid milk produced from pressed ground and cooked soybeans. Most soy milk brands have been fortified with the same nutrients that are added to cow’s milk, making it a nutritionally similar product.

Nutritional breakdown per 250 ml glass:

  • Calories: 90
  • Saturated fat: 0.5 grams
  • Protein: 8 grams
  • Sugar: 1 grams
  • Calcium: 300 mgs
  • Nutrients: Riboflavin, vitamins D and B12

Health benefits

The unsweetened varieties are low in calories, high in protein and low in saturated fat. Soy milk is also a great source of omega-3 fats. It could help with alleviating menopausal symptoms, improve bone health and reduce heart disease risk. It’s affordable, easy to find, and easy to work with, too.

Controversies

There’s concern about soy products tampering with estrogen production, which may increase women’s risk of cancer.

“Concern was initially raised when mice and rats fed on soy-derived phytoestrogens and had an increased growth in certain types of breast cancer,” says Susan Macfarlane, an Ottawa-based dietitian. “However, it was later discovered that mice and rats do not metabolize soy in the same way that humans do.”

Translation? Researchers haven’t been able to draw a link between soy from whole food sources and estrogenic-types of cancers in women.

“It’s not a big deal, especially if you’re not consuming litres and litres of it,” Langer added.

A less severe controversy is the fact that soy milk does not work well in baking.

Soy milk is a great option if you’re lactose intolerant or you’re vegan. Macfarlane recommends it to everyone. “This is my preferred milk recommendation for all individuals aged two and older for its cost, nutritional quality and health benefits,” she says.

Unsweetened Almond Milk

Almond milk is made from ground almonds and water. It’s dairy-free, soy-free and lactose-free.

Nutritional breakdown per 250 ml glass:

  • Calories: 30
  • Saturated fat: 0.2 grams
  • Protein: 1 gram
  • Sugar: 0 grams
  • Calcium: 300 mgs
  • Nutrients: Riboflavin, vitamins D and B12

Health benefits

The unsweetened versions are low in calories, low in saturated fat, work well in baking and are suitable for vegans or those who are lactose-intolerant. Often, almond milk is fortified with calcium and is a good source of vitamins A and D. It’s also readily available these days in most grocery stores.

Controversies

Almond milk is low in protein at only one gram per glass. This is easy to rectify by adding protein powder to your milk, according to Langer.

It may contain carrageenan, which causes digestive issues in some people. Because it takes so many almonds to create the final product, critics also suggest that almond milk isn’t environmentally-friendly.

Unsweetened Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is made with filtered water and coconut cream (the flesh of the coconut that’s been grated). Keep in mind, it isn’t the same as the type of coconut milk used in cooking that’s typically sold in cans.

Nutritional breakdown per 250 ml glass:

  • Calories: 50
  • Saturated fat: 4 grams
  • Protein: 0.2 grams
  • Sugar: <1 gram Calcium: 300 mgs
  • Nutrients: Vitamin D, riboflavin, vitamin B12

Health benefits

It’s low in calories in the unsweetened varieties, suitable for vegans and convenient.

Controversies

It’s low in protein and tends to contain more calories than other plant-based options. Compared to other types of plant-based milks, coconut milk is the highest in saturated fats, according to Macfarlane.

“This type of fat is known to increase cholesterol levels, particularly LDL cholesterol,” she warned.

Saturated fat may not raise LDL cholesterol levels to the same degree as saturated fat from animal sources.

Rice milk

Rice milk is made from milled rice and water. Like the other non-dairy options, rice milk is fortified with minerals and vitamins, along with other additives for shelf-life stability. Out of all the options, it’s least likely to trigger allergies because it’s good for those who are lactose intolerant, or allergic to milk, soy or nuts.

Nutritional breakdown per 250 ml glass:

  • Calories: 130
  • Saturated fat: 0.3 grams
  • Protein: 3 grams
  • Sugar: 10 grams
  • Calcium: 300 mgs
  • Nutrients: Riboflavin, vitamins D and B12

Health benefits

It’s low in saturated fat, works well in baking and is suitable for many people with dietary issues. Taste-wise, it’s also naturally sweeter.

Controversies

It’s low in protein yet high in calories at 130 per glass, along with a high carbohydrate count, at 10 grams of sugar. The other issue is arsenic, a human carcinogen– there is concern that rice is exposed to arsenic in the soil more than other grains.

Whole, skim, soy, almond, coconut, rice - these days, cow's milk isn't the only option to complement your cereal or for adding creaminess to your coffee.

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