There was a time, in the not-so-distant past, during which the term “milk” referred to just one thing: cow’s milk. These days, however, it seems like people are milking just about everything – including a few plants.
And, while it’s always good to have options, the staggering array of milks can be a little overwhelming at times leaving you unsure of which one you should be drinking. In truth, each of the myriad of milks out there have distinct strengths and weaknesses, making them particularly well-suited for different situations.
So, we’re going to try to help you sort through the options and find the best milk for you. Because we try to be helpful ’round here.
Cow’s Milk – This classic, traditional option is packed with high-quality proteins, in addition to vitamin D and calcium. Dairy milk is also fairly high in fat – which could be off-putting for some. Here, again, you have a few options.
Studies have found that milk sourced from grass-fed cows has a healthier fat profile than it’s feed-lot counterpart, providing a lot of healthy omega-3 and conjugated linoleic acids and relatively few saturated fats. Or you could simply pick up some of the reduced-fat options available to you. You should be aware, though, that a growing body of research suggests that whole-fat dairy tends to support a healthy weight better than reduced-fat versions. The exact reasons for this, though, are pretty well-debated.
So, why do some people choose to avoid cow’s milk? For one thing, it is a pretty potent allergen. Some individuals are dangerously allergic to casein, one of the primary proteins in milk and cannot be around it. Others are unable to digest lactose, the main form of sugar that naturally occurs in cow’s milk.
But some people simply choose to avoid it because of the fat content.
Almond Milk – Produced – as the name suggests – from almonds, this milk is fairly low in calories and is often used by dieters for this reason. Plus, almond milk contains even more calcium than cow’s milk. Also… it tastes like almonds. Which is a bonus.
Unfortunately, almond milk is pretty disappointing when it comes to protein – offerings just 1g per serving. Compared to the 8g per serving found in cow’s milk, this really won’t do much if you rely on milk for your protein needs.
To get around some of the nutritional weaknesses of almond milk, many companies fortify it with various vitamins and minerals. Often, another protein source is also added.
While the low-calorie aspect of this milk makes it appealing, it’s other nutritional failings may be enough to make some people skip it.
Soy Milk – By far the most popular non-dairy milk out there, soy has plenty of nutritional advantages over the competition. First, with about 7g per serving, soy milk is one of the best non-dairy sources of protein that you’re going to find. Like most other plants, soy is also low in both fat and total calories. Apart from protein, soy is rich in other nutrients like vitamin A, B12, vitamin D, and potassium.
But soy also has a few problems. Like cow’s milk, soy is a powerful allergen and could be strictly off-limits for some. Interestingly (and a little startlingly) soy is also fairly high in plant chemicals that can disrupt your body’s natural hormone responses. While the research on this is mixed, some studies have found that high soy intake can cause fertility problems in both men and women.
Goat’s Milk – The chief non-cow animal milk, goat’s milk has long been used around the world in a way similar to that taken from cows. Nutritionally speaking, goat’s milk is pretty much identical to whole cow’s milk, with one important difference: It is much lower in lactose.
Because of this, many people who cannot digest cow’s milk can safely handle goat’s milk. Unfortunately, some people just can’t handle the taste of goat’s milk.
Rice Milk – Although it’s extremely unusual for someone to have a rice allergy, this plant-based milk has some pretty noteworthy nutritional problems. Since it is made from rice, this milk is very high in carbohydrates and very low in protein.
Coconut Milk – While it is delicious, coconut milk is extremely high in both total calories and saturated fats. If you do use it, then, do so sparingly. Coconut milk is also very low in protein – basically not providing you with any.
On a positive note, though, much of the fat found in coconuts are medium-chain fatty acids which have been shown to benefit everything from your heart to your brain. These unique fats even have potential to improve your body composition and athletic performance.