Packed with protein, calcium, vitamins D and B12, milk is a nutritious essential that is good for bone health. Milk is also regarded as a complete protein since it contains all nine types of essential amino acids for the body to function at an optimal level.
Besides cow’s milk, the rising popularity of plant-based milk now opens up a few options including almond milk and oat milk for vegans and those who are lactose intolerant. Here we take a look at the nutritional benefits of different kinds of milk and how these dairy products are good for your body.
Plant Milk VS Animal Milk
Traditional nutrition study suggests that an adult should consume about 300g of dairy products a day. Milk is the most popular choice. In fact, both condensed and evaporated milk are milk products after removing certain water content. Condensed milk is sweetened, evaporated milk is sugar-free, while both of them contain a lot of additives, best to drink less.
Due to allergy, lactose intolerance or vegetarianism, some people are not capable of absorbing milk. Besides, the production and storage of animal products generate abundant greenhouse gases, some consumers tend to avoid milk as of environmental considerations. Plant milk made from soybeans, oats, and almonds, becomes a good substitute.
In the United States alone, plant milk sales have reached billions of dollars each year. Market monitoring and data analysis company Nielsen also pointed out that oat milk has become the most popular plant milk in the UK market in 2020.
According to a consumer survey in the US, nearly one-fifth of plant milk buyers value health factors the most. Many plant milk promotions also use health as their selling point, but the information is sometimes not comprehensive. As for certain kinds of plant milk with rough texture, some manufacturers add sugar and thickeners to make their products smoother. Consumers should thus check the nutrition label in detail before purchasing.
The following table compares the nutritional content of different products:
Whole milk or full cream milk is rich in taste and contains 3.25% milkfat by weight. It is higher in calories, with an 8-ounce glass containing 150 calories, 8 grams of protein, 8 grams of fat, including 5 grams of saturated fat.
Although those who are watching their weight may be wary of drinking whole milk, it is worth noting that the body needs fat to absorb vitamins A and D.
An 8-ounce glass of skim milk contains just 80 calories. But worry not, as the 8 grams of protein and other essential nutrients in the milk remain intact. Although it appears to be a healthier option, some skim milk contains flavourings and additives.
Low-fat milk has less fat, with an 8-ounce glass containing 2.5 grams of fat and 100 calories; a relatively low-calorie source of protein.
Nutritionally, soy milk comes closest to cow’s milk. Soybeans are an excellent source of complete protein and thus a great option if you wish to avoid dairy beverage. An 8-ounce serving of unsweetened soy milk approximately provides 105 calories, 6 grams of protein and 4 grams of fat. It also contains vitamin B12 and D, calcium and phosphorus.
Quinoa is an excellent source of manganese which acts as a cofactor of several enzymes to facilitate a dozen different metabolic processes. Each 8-ounce serving of Quinoa Milk contains 111 calories, 1.6 grams of fat and 3.8 grams of protein.
Oat milk is high in soluble fibre and beta-glucans. It is, however, lower in protein, vitamins and minerals compared to cow’s milk. An 8-ounce glass of oat milk contains 130 calories, 2 grams of fat and 4 grams of protein.
Almond milk is imbued with a nutty taste and contains magnesium, selenium and vitamin E. An 8-ounce glass of almond milk contains 40 calories, 3.58 grams of fat and 1.51 grams of protein.
The primary types of milk available are whole milk (3.25% milk fat), reduced-fat milk (2%), low-fat milk (1%) and fat-free milk, also known as skim milk. Each one packs nine essential nutrients including 8 grams of high-quality protein. Types of milk vary by percentage of milkfat, or the amount of fat that is in the milk by weight. These percentages are noted on the package and by the different cap colors to show the milkfat at a glance.
While the amount of milk fat does affect the number of calories and fat in each serving, all milk—from fat free to low-fat to organic and lactose free milk—remains a naturally nutrient-rich, simple and wholesome food. Understanding your choices and their differences can help you determine the most suitable type of milk for each member of your family.
Many people opt for whole milk—which is actually 3.25% milkfat by weight—not as much as many people think. There are 150 calories in an 8-ounce glass of whole milk, with 8 grams of fat (12 percent of daily value).
And if you are concerned about consuming fat, there is good news. There’s a growing body of evidence that suggests not all saturated fats are the same. While more research is needed on the potential benefits of dairy fats, experts agree milk plays an important role in a healthy dietin the overall context of the total diet, nutrients and calories.
There also are other options for those who have different health needs or taste preferences, including reduced fat (2% milk), low-fat (1% milk) and fat-free (or skim) milk. Here are the facts about the other types of milk in the dairy case.
Reduced-fat milk is labeled as 2 percent milk, which means the milkfat is 2 percent of the total weight of the milk—not that an 8-ounce glass of milk contains 2 percent fat. Here’s a nutrition fact to consider: An 8-ounce glass of 2 percent milk contains 5 grams of fat and has the same 13 essential nutrients as every other type of milk.
The difference between low-fat milk and whole milk is the amount of fat in each serving. This also is reflected in the calories for each as well. An 8-ounce serving of low-fat milk contains 2.5 grams of fat and 100 calories, compared to whole milk, which has 8 grams of fat and 150 calories in the same amount.
If you are looking for the same nutrients as whole milk, but want to cut calories and fat, fat-free (also known as skim) milk is a good choice. In fact, because it has less fat, there are just 80 calories in fat-free milk in each 8-ounce glass. There is a misperception that skim milk contains water to reduce the fat content—but that is not the case. The 13 essential nutrients, including 8 grams of high-quality protein, remain intact.
Organic milk refers to milk from livestock raised according to organic farming methods. Organic dairy cows are fed organic feed, have stricter guidelines pertaining to outdoor grazing access and the milk
Lactose-free milk is real cow’s milk—just like the other types of milk—but with one difference. The natural sugar in milk, called lactose, has been broken down. This makes it great option for people who are lactose intolerant. It still contains the same essential nutrients, including calcium, protein and vitamin D, as the other types of milk.
Chocolate milk, or other flavored milk, is also a tasty protein food for kids. Flavored milk counts as a serving of dairy and provides the same 13 essential nutrients in each serving.
Raw milk—milk straight from the cow—is not pasteurized. It’s not widely available for purchase due to federal laws prohibiting its distribution across state lines, as well as to safety concerns outlined by government agencies different countries, the Federal Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control.
Dairy aisles have exploded with milk and milk alternative options over the past few years, and choosing the healthiest milk isn’t just about the fat content.
Whether you’re looking beyond cow’s milk for health reasons or dietary preferences or simply want to experiment with different options, you may wonder which type of milk is healthiest for you.
Here are the 7 healthiest milk and milk alternative options to add to your diet.
Hemp milk is made from ground, soaked hemp seeds, which do not contain the psychoactive component of the Cannabis sativa plant.
The seeds are high in protein and healthy omega-3 and omega-6 unsaturated fats. Thus, hemp milk contains a slighter high amount of these nutrients than other plant milks.
An 8-ounce (240-ml) serving of hemp milk provides the following (1):
Hemp milk is virtually carb-free, but some brands add sweeteners, which increase the carb content. Make sure to check the ingredient label and buy hemp — and any other plant milk — without added sugar.
Sugar may be listed on the ingredient label as brown rice syrup, evaporated cane juice, or cane sugar.
Hemp milk is made from the seeds of the Cannabis sativa plant. While the beverage doesn’t have any psychoactive effects, it provides more healthy fats and protein than other plant milks.
Though drinking milk made by soaking whole oats doesn’t offer quite the same health benefits as eating a bowl of whole grain oats, it is very nutritious.
Oat milk is naturally sweet from the oats and high in carbs. It’s unusual in that it contains some soluble fiber, which makes oat milk a bit creamier.
Soluble fiber absorbs water and turns into a gel during digestion, which helps slow digestion and keeps you full for longer. It can also help stabilize your blood sugar levels.
What’s more, the soluble fiber in oat milk may reduce your cholesterol levels. A 5-week study in 52 men showed that drinking oat milk lowered LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, compared with a control beverage (2).
Although nutritional values can vary by brand and depending on how or whether the milk is fortified, an 8-ounce (240-ml) serving of Oatly oat milk provides the following:
Oat milk is higher in carbs than most other plant milks, and it also boasts extra fiber. Much of the fiber in oats is soluble fiber, which offers several health benefits, such as reducing your cholesterol levels and keeping you full for longer.
Almond milk is made by soaking almonds in water and then blending and straining away the solids.
It’s a tasty nondairy milk alternative for people who either can’t tolerate or choose not to drink dairy milk, but it’s not safe if you have a tree nut allergy.
Unsweetened almond milk is low in calories and much lower in carbs than cow’s milk, making it a good choice if you follow a lower carb diet (3).
However, note that many brands contain added sugar. Always check the ingredient label and avoid those that are sweetened.
Although almond milk is a naturally good source of the antioxidant vitamin E, it’s low in protein and many other nutrients. Many brands are fortified with calcium and vitamins A and D, but the amounts can vary by brand.
On average, an 8-ounce (240-ml) serving of unsweetened almond milk provides the following (4):
Many brands contain additives like carrageenan to thicken and prevent separation.
There is some debate about whether carrageenan promotes intestinal inflammation and damage. Still, most of the research on carrageenan and gut health has been conducted in animals and labs (5,6).
Almond milk is a good nondairy milk alternative, but nutritionally, it’s quite different from cow’s milk. If you’re after its lower carb content, make sure you choose an unsweetened brand.
Coconut milk is squeezed from the white flesh of a coconut. It has a pleasant flavor, and it’s a good nondairy milk alternative that’s safe if you have a tree nut allergy.
Most coconut milk packaged in cartons is blended with water to give it a consistency similar to that of cow’s milk. It has even less protein than almond milk, but many brands are fortified with certain nutrients.
On the other hand, canned coconut milk is usually intended for culinary purposes. It tends to be higher in fat, is unfortified, and has a much more distinctive coconut flavor.
An 8-ounce (240-ml) serving of an unsweetened coconut milk beverage provides the following (7):
Coconut milk is a bit higher in fat than other plant milks, but the medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) in coconuts is linked to some heart health benefits, such as higher HDL (good) cholesterol levels (3).
Some brands are also fortified with nutrients like vitamins B12, D, and A, as well as some minerals. The type and amount of nutrients added can vary among brands, so be sure to compare the labels.
Coconut milk has a light, tropical flavor and is a safe dairy-free milk alternative for those who have a tree nut allergy. Because coconuts are a source of healthy MCTs, drinking coconut milk might boost your HDL (good) cholesterol.
Cow’s milk is the most commonly consumed dairy milk and a good source of high-quality protein (8).
It’s naturally rich in calcium, B vitamins, and many minerals. It’s also often fortified with vitamins A and D, making it a very nutritious food for both children and adults (8).
An 8-ounce (240-ml) serving of whole milk provides the following (9):
Nevertheless, the protein in cow’s milk is a common allergen. Most children outgrow it, but some people have a lifelong allergy and need to avoid this beverage and foods containing it (3).
In addition, an estimated 65% of the population has some degree of difficulty digesting lactose, a type of sugar in cow’s milk (10).
Regular cow’s milk is an excellent source of nutrition, but due to lactose intolerance or milk protein allergy, many people have difficulty digesting it or must avoid it altogether.
Approximately 80% of the protein in cow’s milk comes from casein. Most dairy cows in the United States produce milk that has two main types of casein — A1 beta-casein and A2 beta-casein.
When A1 beta-casein is digested, a peptide called beta-casomorphin-7 (BCM-7) is produced. It’s linked to digestive symptoms similar to those of lactose intolerance in some people, including gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea (11).
Certain dairy cows produce milk that contains only A2 beta-casein, which doesn’t form the BCM-7 peptide. The a2 Milk Company markets A2 milk as an easier-to-digest option (12).
A small study in 45 people with self-reported lactose intolerance found that A2 milk was easier to digest and caused less digestive discomfort, compared with regular cow’s milk (13).
Aside from casein, A2 milk is comparable to regular cow’s milk. While it’s not a good choice if you are allergic to milk protein or lactose intolerant, it might be worth a try if you experience mild digestive problems after drinking regular cow’s milk.
A2 milk contains only A2 beta-casein, and some people find it easier to digest than cow’s milk. However, it’s not a good choice if you’ve been diagnosed with a milk protein allergy or lactose intolerance.
Nutritionally, soy milk comes closest to cow’s milk. This is partly because soybeans are an excellent source of complete protein, as well as because it’s fortified so that its nutritional profile closely resembles that of milk (3).
Soy is a great option if you avoid dairy but want a milk beverage that’s higher in protein.
An 8-ounce (240-ml) serving of unsweetened soy milk provides the following (14):
Soy has been the subject of controversy, as most soybeans grown in the United States are genetically modified to resist the herbicide glyphosate.
However, regularly consuming soy foods is linked to health benefits, including improved cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
Furthermore, despite claims that soy may increase breast cancer risk because it mimics estrogen in the body, scientific studies suggest that it may reduce this risk (15).
Some brands produce organic soymilk, which is made from non-genetically modified organism (non-GMO) soybeans and free from conventional pesticides and herbicides.
If you want a nondairy milk alternative that’s higher in protein and nutritionally closer to cow’s milk, consider soy milk. Drinking soy milk may also help reduce your cholesterol, blood pressure, and breast cancer risk.
All milk and milk alternative options offer various health advantages, such as reducing your cholesterol, boosting your antioxidant intake, or keeping you safe from an allergy or intolerance.
A good strategy may be to mix up the types of milk you drink. That way, you get the best of each of them, especially if you drink them alongside a healthy, whole foods diet.
Remember to check the labels for ingredients like added sugar or unwanted additives and avoid those with undesirable add-ins.
With the exception of soy milk, plant milk is quite a bit lower in protein and other nutrients than cow’s milk. While that’s not a significant concern for adults and older children, you should consult your pediatrician to check whether plant milk is appropriate for young children.
Milk provides essential nutrients and is an important source of dietary energy, high-quality proteins and fats. Milk can make a significant contribution to the required nutrient intakes for calcium, magnesium, selenium, riboflavin, vitamin B12 and pantothenic acid. Milk and milk products are nutrient-dense foods and their consumption can add diversity to plant-based diets. Animal milk can play an important role in the diets of children in populations with very low fat intakes and limited access to other animal source foods.
The species of dairy animal, its breed, age and diet, along with the stage of lactation, parity (number of parturitions), farming system, physical environment and season influence the colour, flavour and composition of milk and allow the production of a variety of milk products:
Milk processors produce a wide range of milk products:
Good-quality raw milk has to be free of debris and sediment; free of off-flavours and abnormal colour and odour; low in bacterial count; free of chemicals (e.g., antibiotics, detergents); and of normal composition and acidity. The quality of raw milk is the primary factor determining the quality of milk products. Good-quality milk products can be produced only from good-quality raw milk.
The hygienic quality of milk is of crucial importance in producing milk and milk products that are safe and suitable for their intended uses. To achieve this quality, good hygiene practices should be applied throughout the dairy chain. Among the causes of small-scale dairy producers’ difficulties in producing hygienic products are informal and unregulated marketing, handling and processing of dairy products; lack of financial incentives for quality improvement; and insufficient knowledge and skills in hygienic practices.
Milk testing and quality control should be carried out at all stages of the dairy chain. Milk can be tested for:
Examples of simple milk testing methods suitable for small-scale dairy producers and processors in developing countries include taste, smell, and visual observation (organoleptic tests); density meter or lactometer tests to measure the specific density of milk; clot-on-boiling testing to determine whether the milk is sour or abnormal; acidity testing to measure the lactic acid in milk; and the Gerber test to measure the amount of fat in the milk.
Full Cream or Whole Milk
Milk from which the cream has not been removed is called ‘whole milk’ or ‘full cream milk’. “It contains more than 3.5% of fat; it is highly nutritious and provides the essential nutrients required for growth and development.
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