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Choosing the Right Milk for You

Dairy and non-dairy milks are infiltrating cold cases, dry good shelves, smoothies and green drinks. But not all of the options are healthy. If you love milk, chances are you have an opportunity to improve what you’re drinking. Here’s a primer on choosing the right milk for you.

The Different Types of Dairy Milk

Funny cow looking at you

Whole milk: There’s no argument that the fat content in whole milk enhances the taste and overall mouthfeel experience. But beyond mouthfeel, whole milk doesn’t have many redeeming qualities: 50% of calories in whole milk comes from fat and 57% of that fat is saturated. Saturated fat increases your health risk for things like high cholesterol and heart disease.

2% milk: This is a better choice than whole milk. But 2% milk still provides a significant amount of saturated fat and the disease risks that come with it. Fat comprises 35% of the calories in 2% milk comes, 63% of which are saturated.

1% milk: Only 6% of calories in 1% milk comes from fat. That’s a huge difference from 2% milk. 1% milk is a much better choice than 2% milk and is a great landing place if you were once a fan of whole milk.

Fat-free milk: When choosing cow’s milk, fat-free milk is the best choice  it’s a great way to enjoy cow’s milk without the added risks that come with saturated fat.

Glass of cow's milk on the table

As with all animal products, the source of your milk is just as important as the nutrition label. Is the dairy cow being given excessive antibiotics or hormones to increase milk production? Is your dairy cow consuming a diet of corn or grass? These items greatly influence the nutrient quality of the final product.

Common Dairy Alternatives

Soy milk: This is probably the healthiest choice when it comes to milk options. Soy is an excellent source of protein. Soybeans are one of the few plant proteins that contain all of the essential amino acids, making them a complete protein. It also contains 9 grams on average of protein per serving.

That said, soy also happens to be one of the most processed ingredients in American foods, so be picky with your soy. The benefits of soy come from the whole soybean, not from manipulated parts or protein isolates. When purchasing soy milk, look for brands that don’t include carrageenan, which may have cancer-promoting effects. Carrageenan is a sure sign that your soy is over-processed and has too many ingredients.

Also, be sure to choose unsweetened varieties to limit excess sugar. The most nutritious soy milk will contain two ingredients: soybeans and water.

Jug and glass cup with almond milk
Jug and glass cup with almond milk

Almond milk and other nondairy alternatives: In a world where cow and soy milk are both on the list of the eight most common allergens, almond milk seems like a savior. Additionally, almond milk tends to win folks over with its flavor and taste.

However, from a nutrition standpoint, almond milk misses the mark with a measly 1 gram of protein. That said, non-dairy milk has typically been fortified, so look out for the additions of calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B-12, and choose a brand that has at least 20% of the daily value for each.

A few of these products artificially bulk up protein. Once again, be wary of protein that comes in an isolate or concentrated form. This is not its natural state, and it’s usually highly processed.

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