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What is the worlds healthiest milk?

This Type of Non-Dairy Milk is the Healthiest, Study Says

T hat almond milk latte may be delicious, but a study just published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology suggests that the trendy beverage also has some drawbacks. When researchers compared the nutritional profiles of four popular “alternative” milks, they found that soy milk came out on top—and that almond, rice and coconut “milks” all lacked essential nutrients important for overall health.

Plant-based “milks” are often marketed as wholesome and appropriate substitutes for the real thing. To find out if these claims measured up, scientists at McGill University in Canada studied the nutrition labels of several unsweetened almond, soy and rice milks, plus coconut dairy-free beverages, on grocery-store shelves.

Cow’s milk, the researchers say, is still the most complete and balanced source of protein, fat and carbohydrates. Soy milk, a popular alternative option for more than four decades, was found to be the most comparable to cow’s milk in terms of overall nutrient balance. It’s also the highest in protein of all the alternative milk options studied, with about 7 to 12 grams (and about 95 calories) per 8-ounce serving.

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Soy milk also contains phytonutrients known as isoflavones, which have been shown to have cancer-fighting properties. It’s not a perfect substitute, though; some people complain about its “beany flavor,” the authors wrote, and some scientists have expressed concerns about “anti-nutrient” substances naturally found in soy, like phytic acid, which can make it harder for the body to absorb and digest important vitamins and minerals.

Almond milk, on the other hand, is low in calories (about 36 per serving) and rich in monounsaturated fatty acids. Getting more of these healthy fats may be beneficial to weight loss and weight management, the authors wrote, and they have also been shown to reduce LDL—or “bad”—cholesterol. But almond milk is also low in protein and carbohydrates, making it less nutritionally balanced than cow or soy milk.

Meanwhile, dairy-free coconut beverages have no protein. And although it’s low in calories (about 45 per serving), most of that energy comes from saturated fat. On the plus side, the report states, drinking this type of beverage has been associated with increases in HDL—or “good”—cholesterol and reductions in LDL cholesterol.

Sweet-tasting rice milk can serve as an alternative for people with allergies to soybeans and almonds, but it’s high in calories (133 per serving) and relatively low in beneficial nutrients. Research suggests that “consumption of rice milk as an alternative to cow’s milk without proper care can result in malnutrition,” the authors wrote, “especially in the case of infants.”

Cow’s milk, by comparison to the dairy alternatives, contains about 158 calories per 8-ounce serving, along with 8 grams of protein, 9 grams of fat (5.5 of it saturated fat), and 11.5 grams of carbohydrates. That’s the “perfect composition of nutrients” for baby cows, the authors wrote in their paper, and it’s similar to the composition of human breast milk.

Milk is also an important source of vitamins and minerals—including calcium, which the body needs for bone health, especially during childhood and adolescence. Most milk substitutes are fortified with calcium to mimic the levels in cow’s milk, although the authors point out that “further research is needed to establish the consequences of added calcium in the human body.”

So why the need for alternatives? For one, dairy is one of the most common allergens among infants and children. Between 2% and 4% of children have a milk allergy (that’s more than peanuts or tree nuts), although as many as 80% may outgrow them by age 16. Plus, milk—especially raw, unpasteurized milk—has been linked to outbreaks of pathogens such as salmonella and E. coli around the world, suggesting that it’s not always the safest beverage for children or for adults.

Then there’s the issue of lactose intolerance. Somewhere between 15% and 75% of adults—depending on race, food habits and gut health—lack sufficient amounts of the enzyme needed to properly digest dairy products, according to the report. It’s even been estimated that up to 80% of people of African origin, and up to 100% of people of Asian and Indigenous American origin, are lactose intolerant.

Finally, while studies suggest that dairy products—even full-fat versions—can be a healthy part of a balanced diet, some people may not want to overdo it on high-calorie, high-fat cow’s milk. For all of these reasons, the authors say, consumers should know how popular milk substitutes compare.

“It is quite clear that nutritionally soy milk is the best alternative for replacing cow’s milk in human diet,” they concluded in their paper. They acknowledge, though, that more people may enjoy the flavor of almond milk. Those who choose the latter should make sure they’re getting enough essential nutrients, like carbs and protein, through other sources in their diet, they write.

That should be easy enough for adults, says lead author Sai Kranthi Kumar Vanga, a PhD candidate in McGill’s department of bioresource engineering, since they can also get protein from meats, nuts and beans, and healthy fats from sources such as olive oil. It can be more difficult, he adds, for babies and young children with dairy allergies. “Parents have to monitor their diet and provide them with appropriate alternatives for the lost nutrients, which is not easy,” he wrote in an email.

And while swapping out a few tablespoons of milk in your coffee every day won’t make a big difference in overall nutrition, Vanga says there could be implications for adults who consume considerably more milk—like every morning with their cereal. “Just replacing your cow’s milk with one of the plant-based milks and assuming it’s fulfilling the nutritional requirement could lead to health complications in the long run,” he says.

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Milk comparison: Which is healthiest? Which helps weight loss? Which has the most protein?

With debate over cow’s milk versus various plant-based milks, here’s a guide to what consumers should know.

By Mythili Devarakonda | USA Today
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SHARE Milk comparison: Which is healthiest? Which helps weight loss? Which has the most protein? CLOSE

Cow’s milk, the most common type of milk found in many households, has healthy vitamins and nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, niacin and protein, according to U.S. Health News.

Milk is a must-have for many of us. Whether it’s with morning coffee, tea or breakfast cereal, milk has a special place in the daily routine and diet of many people.

Children are encouraged to drink a glass of milk each day to support good health and growth.

With the dairy market growing and plant-based milks broadening options, it can be difficult to find the milk that suits you without having to try them all.

Here’s what you need to know.

Which milk is healthiest?

According to Eating Well, the benefits of cow’s milk can be “tough to beat” when it comes to nutrition. Cow’s milk, the most common milk found in many households, has healthy vitamins and nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, niacin and protein, according to U.S. Health News.

A cup of cow’s milk has about eight grams of protein per eight ounces and satisfies about one-third of your daily protein requirement. It is also a great source of calcium, as commercially sold milk is usually fortified with vitamin D, which helps with calcium absorption, making it a well-rounded food source.

Deciding among full-fat/whole, 2%, skim, 1% low-fat and fat-free milk, the American Heart Association recommends fat-free, 0.5% fat and 1% fat milk for consuming, as they are lower in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and calories and have slightly more nutrients.

This information might not matter, though, if you’re lactose-sensitive or lactose-intolerant.

But there’s a plant-based alternative that comes close to providing similar nutrition as cow’s milk. Soy milk is a popular, plant-based milk and has a similar nutrient profile to cow’s milk, according to a study by the National Institutes of Health. Soy milk is made by soaking soybeans in water, grinding them and filtering the remnant mixture to form a creamy beverage. It is high in protein, calcium, vitamin B12 and potassium and can be used as a cow-milk substitute in coffee, tea, baking and more.

Which milk is best for weight loss?

According to an National Institutes of Health study, unsweetened almond milk has the fewest calories and aids in a low-carb diet. Almonds also contain a high content of monounsaturated fatty acids that are considered helpful in weight loss and weight management.

What milk has the most protein?

Sheep’s milk has the highest protein, with 14.7 grams per eight-ounce serving, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Cow’s milk has almost 8.5 grams of protein in its low-fat version and eight grams in whole milk per eight-ounce serving.

Plant-based milk by protein content

In the order of most protein to least per eight-ounce serving, here are the different types of plant-based milk, according to the USDA:

  • Unsweetened soy milk — 8.5 grams.
  • Oat milk — 2 grams.
  • Hemp milk — 2 grams.
  • Almond milk —1 gram.
  • Rice milk — 0.7 grams.
  • Coconut milk — 0.5 gram.

What you really need to know about milk

Almond, soya and other milks are more popular than ever, but why are so many people switching away from cow’s milk? Senior Dietitian Victoria Taylor explains the pros and cons.

When it came to milk, the choices used to be skimmed, semi-skimmed or whole. Now there’s a bewildering range, both dairy and nondairy.

  • Our quiz on milk will test your knowledge of milk fact or fiction.

Most of these milks are more expensive than standard cow’s milk, so if you are going to use them make sure the benefits to you are worth the additional spend.

While non-dairy milks are often promoted as a healthier alternative to traditional milk, this isn’t necessarily true. Some lack the calcium we get from dairy products, while sugar is often added to standard versions and almost always to flavoured versions.

Here’s the insider’s guide to the actual health benefits and drawbacks of different types of milk.

Cow’s milk

Jug of cow

Standard cow’s milk tends to be cheaper than alternatives and is a good source of calcium. The downside is the saturated fat it contains, which many of us are eating too much of. While milk isn’t high in fat (even whole milk is four per cent fat, putting it in the ‘medium’ category), if you have it frequently, it adds up.

The good news is that it’s easy to switch to lower-fat milk. If you’re used to whole milk, switch to semi-skimmed first, which has about half as much fat as whole. The taste and texture are similar. If you are using semi-skimmed, but skimmed is a bridge too far, try one per cent milk. Most people can’t tell the difference from semi-skimmed, but it has half the fat.

Some people avoid cow’s milk for environmental or ethical reasons. These are personal choices, although it’s worth being aware that non-dairy milks may also have an environmental impact.

Lactose-free milk

Hand picking up bottle of specialist milk

Lactose intolerance is an inability to digest the sugar found in milk, and can cause diarrhoea and stomach cramps. It’s not the same as a cow’s milk protein allergy, caused by an immune response to milk proteins, which can lead to wheezing or an itchy rash.

There are different types of lactose intolerance and for some people, it may be temporary, especially after gastroenteritis.

If you think you’re lactose intolerant, talk to a doctor or dietitian who can discuss your symptoms with you, give you advice, and monitor the effects of any changes.

Lactose-free milk is cow’s milk that has been filtered to reduce the lactose and has lactase (the enzyme used to digest lactose) added, making it less likely lactose-intolerant people will experience symptoms. If you’re allergic to cow’s milk protein, this isn’t suitable for you.

Goat’s milk

Goats in the background, goals milk, cheese and yogurt in the foreground

Many people believe goat’s milk is easier to digest than cow’s milk. But it contains lactose and proteins similar to those found in cow’s milk, so if you are intolerant or allergic to cow’s milk the same may apply to goat’s milk. Saturated fat levels are similar, too. That said, goat’s milk can be a tasty alternative to cow’s. Choose semi-skimmed or skimmed rather than whole.

Nut and seed milks

Bowl of almonds and a glass of almond milk

Almond milk is the most readily available, but there are many others, including hazelnut and hemp seed milks. Almond milk won’t provide the same heart health benefits as eating whole nuts, and contains less almond than you might think – often around two per cent and as little as one per cent.

Always choose unsweetened versions and ideally one that is fortified with calcium, especially if you’re using it as a replacement for milk. They’re usually 1–2 per cent fat – similar to one per cent or semi-skimmed cow’s milk, although lower in saturated fat, protein and calories.

Soya milk

Soya beans and a glass of soya milk

Research has linked soya protein to heart-health benefits. Studies have shown that consuming between 15g and 25g of soya protein per day can help to reduce cholesterol levels. A 250ml serving of soya milk contains around 8g of protein. Compared to cow’s milk, unsweetened soya milk is similar to semi-skimmed milk in its fat and protein content, but needs to be fortified to be a source of calcium. Choose an unsweetened type if you can.

Coconut milk

Coconuts and small bottles of milk

Tinned coconut milk is high in fat. There is 16.9g/100g in standard coconut milk, almost as much as single cream. Reduced fat coconut milk contains 7.7g fat/100g, but it is still high in saturated fat. Tinned coconut milk is usually used in cooking as in our Autumn laksa, rather than as a drink. Use it sparingly.

For drinking or with cereal, healthier options are coconut drinks labelled as a ‘milk alternative’. These can be rice milk flavoured with coconut flesh, or coconut milk mixed with water or coconut water. They taste of coconut but contain much less saturated fat, and are nutritionally similar to low-fat milk in fat and calorie content, but lower in protein.

Oat (and rice) milk

glass of milk and jar of oats

Oat milk contains oat beta glucans, which can help maintain normal cholesterol levels when you consume 3g a day as part of a balanced diet. A 250ml glass of oat milk provides 1g of beta glucans (a bowl of porridge made with 40g of oats provides 2g of beta glucans).

As with other milk alternatives, it is low in fat, but also low in protein, and it is important to choose unsweetened versions. Rice milk is similar to oat milk nutritionally, but you won’t get the oat beta glucans that come in oat milk.

How much dairy?

  • Eight per cent of our food should be made up of dairy products and alternatives, including milk, yoghurt, cheese and non-dairy alternatives.
  • Dairy products are the main source of calcium, and we need 700mg a day for a number of functions in the body and building healthy bones and teeth.
  • But calcium is not present naturally in dairy milk alternatives, so it needs to be added.
  • Choosing low-fat dairy products will help you meet your calcium intake, without adding too many calories.
  • Is your dairy knowledge udderly brilliant? Take our milk quiz to find out!

Oat (and rice) milk


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