How was your weekend? Do anything fun? Eat something good? I finished my first 20 miler (!!) on Friday evening and actually felt really good. It went much better than my 18 miler last weekend. Ed rode along on his bike for the last 90 minutes, which really helped. I love my podcasts, but after a few hours, I need social interaction or some signs of life.
So, today’s post is more of a nutrition one. I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, as I think this is something we should all have some knowledge about. One day you hear fat-free milk is the way to go, the next you hear you should be drinking full-fat, the next you hear that you shouldn’t be drinking dairy milk at all.
What is a consumer to believe?
While some of this banter may be my personal opinion, I’ve also included some science in here as well. Because…science.
Ultimately, there’s not a “wrong” choice. Among the plethora of choices you have at the grocery store, a lot will depend on your tolerances or insensitivities, taste preferences, and price.
Let’s talk a little about each.
Cow’s milk has one ingredient: milk. There are no added sugars. The sugar in milk is natural from the lactose. Cow’s milk is a fantastic source of calcium (30% RDA) and Vitamin D (20% RDA), which are both involved in bone health. Milk is also naturally high in potassium, phosphorus, Vitamin A and B vitamins (particularly riboflavin).
However, cow’s milk may not be for those who are dairy or lactose intolerant, or following a vegan lifestyle. Calories and fat vary depending on the type of cow’s milk you choose. The amount of protein, carbohydrates and nutrients in all milk will be the same. No matter what type of cow’s milk you are drinking, 1 cup provides 8 grams of protein.
So, what’s the difference among the cow’s milks?
The fat content is what varies in the types of milk. The % fat refers to how much fat is in the milk by weight. For a cup of skim or non fat milk, there are 80 calories and virtually no fat (0.3%). For 1% or lowfat milk, there are about 100 calories per cup, while 2% milk (reduced fat) has about 120 calories. Whole milk is about 3.5% fat (8 grams of fat, including 5 grams of saturated fat), and has about 150 calories per cup. About one third of the fat in milk is monounsaturated, while most is predominantly saturated. However, there are some polyunsaturated and other minor fatty acids present as well.
Whole milk is the closest resemblance to what comes directly from the cow, so is technically the “least processed.” The lower fat options have gone through processing to obviously remove the fat. Otherwise, the milk options are pretty similar. People think the lower fat versions have more added sugar, which is not true. Companies normally fortify (add back in) low fat milks with Vitamin A and Vitamin D, which are lost while skimming the fat out.
Research on Cow’s Milk
There is a debate over which milk is better for you, and in my professional opinion, you have to take it all in context. If you’re drinking whole milk and trying to lose weight or monitor your cholesterol, then let’s move it down to 1%, or heck, even 2% if we can. Going from whole milk to skim milk is not a recommendation I would typically make because that’s pretty drastic. On the other hand, if you’re looking to build muscle mass, maintain weight or increase your fat intake, then let’s move your milk fat up.
Another thing to consider is how long the milk will keep you satiated. Typically, the higher the percentage of fat, the longer the milk will keep you full. But, that also means more calories so it is important to keep in mind. Drinking fat free milk has been associated with a reduced risk of diabetes and a decrease in blood pressure.
Almond milk is a great alternative for those who are vegan, or lactose or dairy intolerant. There is no saturated fat in almond milk since it is not an animal product. However, stick with the unsweetened. Sweetened versions can have up to 16 grams of sugar per cup!
Another con of almond milk is that it is a poor source of protein. It will not keep you full. It also has a longer list of ingredients. Here’s a sample list of ingredients from a store brand almond milk: Almond milk (filtered water, almonds), calcium carbonate, natural vanilla flavor with other natural flavors, sea salt, potassium citrate, sunflower lechithin, gellan gum, vitamin A palmitate, Vitamin D3 and D-Alpha-tocopherol (Natural Vitamin E).
Almond milk does provide 45% of your daily allotment for calcium, 25% of Vitamin D, and 20% of your Vitamin E needs. Remember, to absorb Vitamin D, we need to take it with fat as it is a fat soluble Vitamin. Note that there may be some variability between brands and even sweetened or unsweetened.
Coconut milk is another alternative for those who are vegan, lactose or dairy intolerant. Like almond milk, it is a poor source of protein and does have a longer list of ingredients. However, unlike almond milk, it does have saturated fat. Just be aware that saturated fat in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but take it into consideration with other sources in your diet. The Dietary Guidelines do recommend limiting saturated fats to less than 10% of your daily calories (note: plant foods are free of saturated fats).
Coconut milk does provide 45% of daily calcium needs and 25% of Vitamin D.
Soy milk is another option for those who are vegan, vegetarian, or dairy or lactose intolerant. Soy milk is comparable to cow’s milk in terms of protein and nutrient profile. One cup provides about 45% calcium and 30% of Vitamin D needs. Since it is a plant protein, there is no saturated fat.
Here’s a little chart I made that you can pin or save for later!
What Else To Know:
A product being “dairy-free” doesn’t equate to it being healthy. Plant-based milks have their cons as well. Keeping track of added sugars,protein, calcium and Vitamin D is important when choosing your milk. If your drink of choice is low in protein, make sure you are pairing it with other protein sources.
If it’s cereal, add some nuts, seeds or nut butters. Or, have some hard boiled eggs on the side. If it’s oatmeal, add nuts, nut butters, seeds, yogurt, protein powder or egg whites. If it’s a smoothie, you could also add any of the above. Personally, I like the taste of both almond and coconut milk, and sometimes prefer to cook my oatmeal with them. But, I’ll usually add in some greek yogurt, protein powder, or peanut butter to get that protein.
When it comes down to it, they can all be a fine choice depending on your situation. I am a big dairy lover so I do try to get two cups of dairy in a day – usually it’s some cow’s milk and some yogurt. Currently, we have 2% milk in our house, but I normally switch among the different milks every few weeks.
I hope this clears up some of the confusion among the different types of milk. I always recommend going for the original or unsweetened versions. That is one thing that is consistent across the board!
What milk do you prefer?
Are you loyal to a particular brand?