Which Milk Should You Choose?

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Which Milk Should You Choose?

September 16, 2013

For many years, milk choices were limited to how much fat you wanted—whole milk (3% fat), 2% fat milk or skim milk (fat-free). Years later, soy milk started gaining popularity as people reached for a new “healthy,” plant-based milk, which was a great alternative for those with lactose intolerance. But today, according to Bloomberg Business Week, some soy milk producers claim that soy comprises only 35 percent of the total plant-milk industry, thanks to the recent rise of rice, coconut, almond, and other nut milks. Yes, nut milks are the new “it” milk.
Confused as to which milk is right for you? Check out the list below to compare your options.

Cow's Milk

All cow’s milk provides similar nutrient content (calcium and other important nutrients), but low-fat and nonfat milk contain less fat. Cutting out the fat does not change milk's nutritional value, but makes it a better choice

Nutrition Stats – 1-cup serving:

  • Skim: 90 calories, 0 g saturated fat, 8 g protein, 30 percent calcium, 25 percent vitamin D
  • 1%: 105 calories, 2.5 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 8.5 g protein, 30 percent calcium, 25 percent vitamin D
  • 2%: 122 calories, 4.8 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 8 g protein, 28-30 percent calcium, 25 percent vitamin D
  • Chocolate 1% milk: 158 calories, 2.5 grams fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 8 g protein, 28- 30 percent calcium, 25 percent vitamin D
  • Whole Milk (3.25)% fat: 146 calories, 8 grams fat, 4.6 grams saturated, 8 gram protein, 25-28% calcium, 25% vitamin D

Texture and flavor:

  • Skim: A bit more watery than whole milk; for those accustomed to whole milk and who are transitioning to lower-fat milk, this initially would be best in mixtures rather than in cereal or plain while taste buds adjust. A brand like Skim Plus is a great option because it’s a bit thicker; plus it adds extra protein and calcium
  • 1%: Similar to skim milk, slightly thicker (often a great middle ground for those who find skim to watery, but want less fat than 2% or whole milk)
  • 2%: Thicker and richer-tasting than skim and 1% milk; more like whole milk, healthier alternative to cream in coffee
  • Chocolate milk: Richer and thicker-seeming than plain 1% milk; great for a sweet treat
  • Whole Milk: Thick and rich

Nutritional Pros and Cons:

  • Pros: Skim milk is one of the best sources of lean protein; when you're craving something sweet, low-fat chocolate milk can be a healthy alternative to a cookie or a handful of candy; it’s also an effective—and tasty—post-exercise treat.
  • Cons: Some brands use synthetic hormones, so consider choosing organic; although 2% milk sounds as if it’s low in fat, it is not so much lower in saturated fat than whole milk (3%) and is high in saturated fat.

Almond Milk

Nutrition Stats – 1-cup serving:

  • Unsweetened Original, Vanilla or Chocolate: 40 calories, 0 g saturated fat, 1 g protein, 45 percent calcium, 25 percent vitamin D
  • Chocolate or Vanilla Almond Milk: 70-120 calories, 3 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 1 g protein; 20% Calcium, 25% Vitamin D

Texture and flavor:

  • Unsweetened Original, Vanilla or Chocolate: Nutty hint, not too strong; fairly neutral overall, which makes it good for drinking as well as a good dairy substitute in cooking. It works in both sweet (cereal) and savory (soup) dishes.
  • Chocolate or Vanilla Almond Milk: Great in smoothies

Nutritional Pros and Cons:

  • Pros: Unsweetened flavored varieties add a nice touch of flavor without sugar, low in calories. It contains no saturated fat, has fewer calories than soy, and is rich in vitamin E, magnesium and potassium.
  • Cons: Low in protein, doesn’t taste like cow’s milk so it takes some getting used to if you’re looking for a true milk substitute, and typically more expensive than dairy and other non-dairy options

Soy Milk

Nutrition Stats – 1-cup serving:

  • Nutritional stats vary depending on brands: 80-150 calories, 1 g saturated fat, 7 g protein, 30 percent calcium, 30 percent vitamin D

Texture and flavor:

  • “Beany” flavor—don’t expect it to taste like cow’s milk
  • Original version (not flavored) is is slightly sweet and typically meant for drinking)
  • Unsweetened version typically preferred for cooking
  • Good in coffee, tea, cereal, oatmeal. If you want it to fade into the background, go for plain in your cereal; if you want a flavored drink, chocolate and vanilla are popular

Nutritional Pros and Cons:

  • Pros: Only nondairy variety that’s high in protein, good for those with lactose intolerance or vegans
  • Cons: Soybeans just aren’t hip like they used to be—nuts are trendy now. Scientists are still investigating soy's potential link to breast cancer. If you're concerned, talk to your doctor before consuming regularly.

Coconut Milk

This comes in a container like soymilk. Don’t confuse this beverage with coconut milk itself, which comes in cans, is usually thick and creamy, and comes with close to 500 calories per cup! And the downside is that the main fat found in coconut milk is saturated!

Nutrition Stats – 1-cup serving:

  • 50 calories, 5 g saturated fat, 1 g protein, 10 percent calcium, 30 percent vitamin D

Texture and flavor:

  • Creamy and refreshing

Nutritional Pros and Cons:

  • Pros: Has the least amount of sodium and is usually low in calories (50-80 calories per cup) and fat free; most brands are fortified with vitamin B12
  • Cons: Low in protein and calcium

Rice milk

Nutrition Stats – 1-cup serving:

  • 90 calories, 0 g saturated fat, 0 g protein, 30 percent calcium, 25 percent vitamin D

Texture and flavor:

  • Watery, not an ideal addition to coffee or tea; it is a good substitution for dairy in cooking

Nutritional Pros and Cons:

  • Pros: This choice is best for those with soy and nut allergies, but it's sometimes processed with the allergens, so make sure to check labels.
  • Cons: Some find it to be too watery for coffee or tea; low in protein; primarily just a source of carbohydrates—it is a good dairy substitute for cooking, but shouldn’t be used as a replacement for nutrients. TIP: Choose one that’s calcium fortified

Hemp Milk

Nutrition Stats – 1-cup serving:

  • Unsweetened hemp milk, vanilla or original: 70 calories, 5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 3 g protein, 30 percent calcium, 25 percent vitamin D

Texture and flavor:

  • Nutty flavor; sweetened hemp milk has a sweeter, yet still nutty flavor.
  • Tastes creamier and nuttier than soy milk or rice milk, and also tends to be a bit thicker than other plant-based milks.

Nutritional Pros and Cons:

  • Pros: Low in saturated fat, but rich in healthy omega fatty acids; tastes creamier and nuttier than soy milk or rice milk.
  • Cons: Isn’t as widely available as soy, and rice milk; some lack calcium-fortification so check to make sure yours is fortified; fairly expensive compared to the other options.

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