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Which Milk is Right For You?

By Roya Sarraf
Personal Trainer, Nutritionist, & Health Coach

Milk…it does a body good, but which one is right for you? Before, our only options were  nonfat, low fat or whole. Now, we have the option of getting almond milk, soy milk, or rice
milk as well. Some are enhanced with vitamins, made lactose-free, or even flavored for those of us who do not particularly like the taste of regular milk. However, how many of you really know the difference between all these options?

Before getting into which milk is best for you, let’s talk about why milk is an important part of a healthy diet. Milk is an excellent source of protein and calcium, both of which are major factors in maintaining a strong and healthy body. The average sized adult needs about 1,000mg of calcium and at least 45gm of protein a day, which can be met with about 3 to 4 glasses of milk. Some people worry about milk increasing their cholesterol, however, skim (or nonfat) milk doesn’t have the potential to clog your arteries and still delivers the essential nutrients as other types of milk do. According to the National Dairy Council, milk is actually filled with nine essential nutrients that benefit our health:

  • Calcium:Builds healthy bones and teeth; maintains bone
    mass
  • Protein:Serves as a source of energy; builds/repairs
    muscle tissue
  • Potassium:Helps maintain a healthy blood
    pressure
  • Phosphorus:Helps strengthen bones and generate
    energy
  • Vitamin D:Helps maintain bones
  • Vitamin B12:Maintains healthy red blood cells and nerve
    tissue
  • Vitamin A:Maintains the immune system; helps maintain
    normal vision  and skin
  • Riboflavin (B2):Converts food into energy
  • Niacin: Metabolizes sugars and fatty
    acids

Even though milk is an essential part of a healthy diet, there are some issues people have with it other than the possibility of increasing their cholesterol. People who are
lactose intolerant lack the enzyme needed to digest lactose, a sugar found in
all dairy products including milk. However, there are lactose free alternatives.
Milk that is labeled “lactose free” has the enzyme lactase added to it by the manufacturers to predigest the sugar in order to be suitable for those who are intolerant. Almond, soy, and rice milk are also well tolerated since they do not contain any lactose to begin
with. There are also supplements found over the counter, such as Lactaid, that contain lactase to help digest dairy products as well.

Hormones are also an issue for milk drinkers. Hormones are often injected into young livestock to make them grow larger in order to provide more meat and milk. These hormones can come out in their milk and enter our bodies when we drink it. It is said that the amount of hormones that enter our body is very minimal compared to the amount our bodies produce, however the issue is debatable. Organic milk that has the claim “rBST-free” is your safest bet when it comes to trying to avoid this issue as a whole because the milk is collected from cows who are organically fed and not injected with any growth hormones.

Almond milk is one of the most nutritious, dairy free, milk substitutes available today. Unlike soy or rice milk, almond milk doesn’t need to be fortified with additional vitamins
since it already provides omega-3, vitamin E, manganese, potassium, zinc, iron,
phosphorus, calcium, protein and plant flavanoids. Also, almond milk is naturally low in fat and calories making it safe for people with high cholesterol. Lastly, as mentioned
before, almond milk doesn’t contain lactose so it is compatible with those who
are lactose intolerant.

Soy milk is another great substitute for cow’s milk that is very high in protein. Although soy milk doesn’t naturally provide as many vitamins as almond milk, it does provide about
3 to 4 more grams of protein per serving. Soy milk also provides more fiber, which is very beneficial to the heart and can help lower cholesterol. For premenopausal women who suffer from lower levels of estrogen, soy milk helps replace lost estrogen and alleviate symptoms associated with menopause. However, for those who do not need extra
estrogen, like women below the age of 40 or men of all ages, drinking soy milk on a regular basis may not be the best option since it could elevate the body’s estrogen levels above the norm.

Rice milk is also a popular dairy free alternative for cow’s milk, but may not provide as much nutrition as the other options. It is a good option for those who are allergic
to soy and who are lactose intolerant, but contains more carbohydrates and less protein than both soy and almond milk. This is because rice milk is made from boiled rice, brown rice syrup and brown rice starch. People usually prefer rice milk because it is sweet on its
own and doesn’t need to be enhanced with additional sweeteners or flavors.
However, it does usually have to be fortified with niacin, vitamin B12, vitamin
A, vitamin D, and iron along with other nutrients to give it more of a
nutritional value since it doesn’t have much to offer on its own.

Who knew there would be so much to think about when choosing milk? Times have definitely changed since going out and filling up a bucket with milk from the local cow before breakfast. Personally, I am an almond milk drinker even though it isn’t the
tastiest choice because I am lactose intolerant and like the natural nutritional
value it brings. However, now that you know more about your options, pick one
that is right for you and make it part of your daily diet.

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