Which milk is best for you

If you’ve spent any time staring into the dairy case lately, there are enough milk choices to make your head spin. No longer is the decision simply whether to buy regular, reduced fat, low fat or skim – we’ve got goat’s milk, and milks made from soybeans, almonds, rice, oats and even hemp.  But making nutritional comparisons among all these choices is no easy task.

Cow’s milk and goat’s milk are great protein sources, but some people can’t tolerate their natural lactose.  Almond milk is lowest in calories, but it contains very little protein  – and some brands can have a fair amount of salt.  Hemp milk, although it provides some healthy omega-3 fatty acids, doesn’t offer much protein, either.  Neither do rice or oat milk, but at least they’re naturally mild in flavor – so some might prefer them over soy milk which can be a tad bitter. So how do you choose?

Get a boost of calcium and protein, with low fat or nonfat cow’s milk or low fat goat’s milk – or soy milk if you’re looking for a non-dairy alternative.  The cow or goat milk will give you somewhere in the range of 7-10 grams of protein per cup, along with about a third of your daily calcium needs – all for 90-120 calories or so.  Ditto for the soy milks, which are also naturally cholesterol-free, and don’t contain lactose (although lactose-free cow’s milk is fairly widely available, too).

Some people have trouble digesting some of soy’s natural carbohydrates – excess gas is not an uncommon complaint among soy milk drinkers.  And, since plain soy milk may be an acquired taste, keep in mind that the flavored ones have added sugar – and more calories.

Almond milk, like soy, is plant-based, so it’s naturally cholesterol-free.  It’s also lactose-free, and has the fewest calories – averaging about 60 per cup.  But almond milk contains only a pinch of ground nuts – almonds are usually listed as an ingredient after water and sweeteners (although, to be fair, most soy milks list water and sweeteners first, too). Almond milk doesn’t offer much protein –only 1 gram per cup, but most are calcium-fortified, so this might be a good choice if you simply want something with very few calories to wet your whistle.

Like almond milk, the plusses of rice, oat and hemp milks are more about what they don’t contain – no lactose, no saturated fat, no cholesterol.  Of the three, rice has the least protein (1 gram per cup, vs. about 4 for oat or hemp) and rice and oat milks have naturally mild, sweet flavors so they usually have less sugar.  All are calcium-fortified, too, often to levels that come close to matching what’s found in cow’s milk.  But they’ll cost you somewhere between 100 to 120 calories per cup.

Allergies to rice and hemp are rare – something for the allergy-prone to keep in mind.  They’re also gluten-free – as are all milk and milk alternatives, with the exception of oat milk.

What’s next? Salty camel’s milk is set to hit Britain’s supermarket shelves later this year.  Could the U.S. be far behind?

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