Choosing the Best Milk Option

Whether you have a dairy allergy, lactose intolerance, or you simply prefer to consume nondairy milks, there has been a lot of buzz going around that revolves around which milk is “best”. The short answer is, depends on your preference! Let’s dig into the nutrient profiles of each so that we can have a full understanding of what each variation is providing for our bodies and overall health.

Cow’s Milk (Nonfat AKA “Skim Milk”) (8 fluid ounces):

  • 83 calories
  • 2 grams of total fat
  • 12 grams of total carbohydrates
  • 12 grams of sugar (from lactose)
  • 8 grams of protein

Unsweetened Almond Milk, Silk Brand (8 fluid ounces):

  • 30 calories
  • 5 grams of total fat
  • 1 gram of total carbohydrates
  • 0 grams of sugar
  • 1 gram of protein

Unsweetened Soy Milk, Silk Brand (8 fluid ounces):

  • 80 calories
  • 4 grams of total fat
  • 4 grams of total carbohydrates
  • 1 gram of sugar
  • 7 grams of protein

Unsweetened Coconut Milk, Silk Brand (8 fluid ounces):

  • 40 calories
  • 4 grams of total fat (3 grams coming from saturated fat)
  • 1 gram of total carbohydrates
  • 0 grams of sugar
  • 0 grams of protein

Unsweetened Oat Milk, Silk Brand (8 fluid ounces):

  • 45 calories
  • 3 grams of total fat
  • 5 grams of total carbohydrates
  • 0 grams of sugar
  • 1 gram of protein

Let’s break it down even further. Of the aforementioned options, cow’s milk provides the most calories per cup; however, provides the most protein of any of the options. Dairy milk is a “complete protein” as it contains all nine of the essential amino acids needed for optimal body functions. Cow’s milk has various fat content depending on how much fat was removed from the nutrient profile (e.g., whole milk, 2%, 1%). Cow’s milk contains powerful micronutrients such as calcium, vitamins D and K, potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium all of which are essential for bone health and are particularly beneficial for growing children.

Many people present with a lactose intolerance in which their body lacks the enzyme “lactase” that is responsible for breaking down the milk sugar, lactose, into glucose and galactose. When our bodies lack this enzyme, the undigested milk sugar travels through the digestive tract, eventually making its way down to our colon in which it begins to ferment thus producing gas, bloating, and cramping.

Other people present with a dairy allergy in which any food produced from dairy cows is not feasible for them to digest, which sets off an immune response in their body. Independent of having these health-related reasons to avoid dairy, there are also individuals who follow vegan diets that remove any animal-based products from their diet, including dairy milk. These are some of the reasons why someone would avoid dairy and instead, prefer a plant-based option so let’s discuss that further.

Plant-based milk alternatives have been very popular amongst individuals and there are many different brands out there. The abovementioned nondairy milks provide a lot of great health benefits; however, most of them provide little to no protein with the exception of unsweetened soy milk. Although very low in calories, carbohydrates, fat, and sugar, the protein profile of most of them is very minimal which can pose an issue for some who are not consuming enough protein throughout the day to begin with.

Raw almonds are an excellent source of plant-based protein; however, its milk derivative is not. The good news is that it’s a low calorie, fat, and carbohydrate milk alternative that is most often fortified with crucial micronutrients such as vitamins A, E, and D as well as calcium. When searching for a good brand of almond milk, ensure that you are reading the label and the ingredient “carrageenan” is not on that list. Carrageenan is a seaweed-derived additive used to thicken, emulsify, and preserve products such as almond milk. This additive has been known to cause negative inflammatory and gastrointestinal effects such as irritable bowel syndrome. It’s best to opt for unsweetened versions of Silk, Almond Breeze, and Califia Farms almond milks, to name a few. Almond milk is also best to avoid if you have a nut allergy.

Soy milk is derived from soybeans, which are very high in plant-based protein. What’s more, that same protein content translates into its milk derivative that is comparable to cow’s milk although much lower in calories. Most soy milks are fortified with vitamins A, D, and B12 along with calcium. Soy gets a bad rep in the media in that it “causes breast cancer”. Soy contains isoflavones, which are also referred to as “phytoestrogens” as they are similar to the hormone estrogen. Due to the fact that estrogen is responsible for 80% of breast cancer cases, many women fear that soy will increase the risk of developing said cancer.

According to numerous and recent evidenced-based research studies, the isoflavones found in soy are not identical to estrogen after all, and rather, act to block the effects of estrogen in breast tissue that would otherwise cause cancer. Soy has the ability to shut down estrogen receptor sites and has been seen to be protective against developing breast cancer, having it recur, and/or becoming fatal. Soy is amongst the top allergens in the world, so knowing whether or not you are allergic and/or sensitive to soy should be the main reason to dictate whether or not this particular dairy alternative is right for you.

Most of coconut milk’s fat content comes from saturated fat, which can be contraindicated for consumption in those who have elevated cholesterol and triglycerides, or who have a heart condition (e.g., hypertension) in which they require a low-fat intake. Coconut milk is fairly low in calories and carbohydrates but does not provide any protein. Most brands fortify coconut milk with vitamins A and D as well as calcium. Some brands contain the seaweed-derived additive called “carrageenan”, which has been found in some almond milk brands, so it’s best to always read the label before purchasing. The good news is that coconut milk is safe for most people who present with nut allergies, aside from of course a coconut allergy.

And last, but certainly not least, is oat milk. Oat milk has become more and more popular over the years as a dairy milk alternative, so let’s see what the hype is about. Oat milk is derived from steel-cut or old-fashioned rolled oats, both of which are packed with wonderful nutrients. During the processing of oat milk, those same wonderful nutrients are often lost, so as a result, they are fortified back in to create a product that provides calcium, vitamins A, D, and B12, and potassium. Oat milk contains a soluble fiber called beta-glucan, which has many cardio-protective benefits. Beta-glucans have the ability to aid in lowering your LDL-cholesterol AKA your “bad” cholesterol.

Original and sweetened formulations of oat milk can be very high in carbohydrates/sugar with little to no protein; however, unsweetened versions of oat milk are preferable. Oat milk is naturally lactose-, soy-, nut-, and in most cases, gluten-free. Oats by nature are gluten-free; however, in the manufacturing of oat products such as oat milk, there’s always a risk of cross-contact with gluten. If you are an individual who presents with Celiac Disease or a non-Celiac gluten sensitivity indicated by a food allergy and sensitivity test, then reading the label is especially important to ensure that the label reads “Certified Gluten-Free”.

All in all, it’s best to choose a milk that works for you, your body, and your overall health needs. Every formulation is different depending on the brand so it’s very important to become familiar with label reading to ensure that you are drinking products rich in vitamins and minerals, preferably high in protein, free of artificial sweeteners and additives that can cause inflammation and negative side effects, and of course free of anything that can cause an adverse immune and/or inflammatory responses in regard to allergens that you identify with.Whether you have a dairy allergy, lactose intolerance, or you simply prefer to consume nondairy milks, there has been a lot of buzz going around that revolves around which milk is “best”. The short answer is, depends on your preference! Let’s dig into the nutrient profiles of each so that we can have a full understanding of what each variation is providing for our bodies and overall health.

Cow’s Milk (Nonfat AKA “Skim Milk”) (8 fluid ounces):

  • 83 calories
  • 2 grams of total fat
  • 12 grams of total carbohydrates
  • 12 grams of sugar (from lactose)
  • 8 grams of protein

Unsweetened Almond Milk, Silk Brand (8 fluid ounces):

  • 30 calories
  • 5 grams of total fat
  • 1 gram of total carbohydrates
  • 0 grams of sugar
  • 1 gram of protein

Unsweetened Soy Milk, Silk Brand (8 fluid ounces):

  • 80 calories
  • 4 grams of total fat
  • 4 grams of total carbohydrates
  • 1 gram of sugar
  • 7 grams of protein

Unsweetened Coconut Milk, Silk Brand (8 fluid ounces):

  • 40 calories
  • 4 grams of total fat (3 grams coming from saturated fat)
  • 1 gram of total carbohydrates
  • 0 grams of sugar
  • 0 grams of protein

Unsweetened Oat Milk, Silk Brand (8 fluid ounces):

  • 45 calories
  • 3 grams of total fat
  • 5 grams of total carbohydrates
  • 0 grams of sugar
  • 1 gram of protein

Let’s break it down even further. Of the aforementioned options, cow’s milk provides the most calories per cup; however, provides the most protein of any of the options. Dairy milk is a “complete protein” as it contains all nine of the essential amino acids needed for optimal body functions. Cow’s milk has various fat content depending on how much fat was removed from the nutrient profile (e.g., whole milk, 2%, 1%). Cow’s milk contains powerful micronutrients such as calcium, vitamins D and K, potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium all of which are essential for bone health and are particularly beneficial for growing children.

Many people present with a lactose intolerance in which their body lacks the enzyme “lactase” that is responsible for breaking down the milk sugar, lactose, into glucose and galactose. When our bodies lack this enzyme, the undigested milk sugar travels through the digestive tract, eventually making its way down to our colon in which it begins to ferment thus producing gas, bloating, and cramping.

Other people present with a dairy allergy in which any food produced from dairy cows is not feasible for them to digest, which sets off an immune response in their body. Independent of having these health-related reasons to avoid dairy, there are also individuals who follow vegan diets that remove any animal-based products from their diet, including dairy milk. These are some of the reasons why someone would avoid dairy and instead, prefer a plant-based option so let’s discuss that further.

Plant-based milk alternatives have been very popular amongst individuals and there are many different brands out there. The abovementioned nondairy milks provide a lot of great health benefits; however, most of them provide little to no protein with the exception of unsweetened soy milk. Although very low in calories, carbohydrates, fat, and sugar, the protein profile of most of them is very minimal which can pose an issue for some who are not consuming enough protein throughout the day to begin with.

Raw almonds are an excellent source of plant-based protein; however, its milk derivative is not. The good news is that it’s a low calorie, fat, and carbohydrate milk alternative that is most often fortified with crucial micronutrients such as vitamins A, E, and D as well as calcium. When searching for a good brand of almond milk, ensure that you are reading the label and the ingredient “carrageenan” is not on that list. Carrageenan is a seaweed-derived additive used to thicken, emulsify, and preserve products such as almond milk. This additive has been known to cause negative inflammatory and gastrointestinal effects such as irritable bowel syndrome. It’s best to opt for unsweetened versions of Silk, Almond Breeze, and Califia Farms almond milks, to name a few. Almond milk is also best to avoid if you have a nut allergy.

Soy milk is derived from soybeans, which are very high in plant-based protein. What’s more, that same protein content translates into its milk derivative that is comparable to cow’s milk although much lower in calories. Most soy milks are fortified with vitamins A, D, and B12 along with calcium. Soy gets a bad rep in the media in that it “causes breast cancer”. Soy contains isoflavones, which are also referred to as “phytoestrogens” as they are similar to the hormone estrogen. Due to the fact that estrogen is responsible for 80% of breast cancer cases, many women fear that soy will increase the risk of developing said cancer.

According to numerous and recent evidenced-based research studies, the isoflavones found in soy are not identical to estrogen after all, and rather, act to block the effects of estrogen in breast tissue that would otherwise cause cancer. Soy has the ability to shut down estrogen receptor sites and has been seen to be protective against developing breast cancer, having it recur, and/or becoming fatal. Soy is amongst the top allergens in the world, so knowing whether or not you are allergic and/or sensitive to soy should be the main reason to dictate whether or not this particular dairy alternative is right for you.

Most of coconut milk’s fat content comes from saturated fat, which can be contraindicated for consumption in those who have elevated cholesterol and triglycerides, or who have a heart condition (e.g., hypertension) in which they require a low-fat intake. Coconut milk is fairly low in calories and carbohydrates but does not provide any protein. Most brands fortify coconut milk with vitamins A and D as well as calcium. Some brands contain the seaweed-derived additive called “carrageenan”, which has been found in some almond milk brands, so it’s best to always read the label before purchasing. The good news is that coconut milk is safe for most people who present with nut allergies, aside from of course a coconut allergy.

And last, but certainly not least, is oat milk. Oat milk has become more and more popular over the years as a dairy milk alternative, so let’s see what the hype is about. Oat milk is derived from steel-cut or old-fashioned rolled oats, both of which are packed with wonderful nutrients. During the processing of oat milk, those same wonderful nutrients are often lost, so as a result, they are fortified back in to create a product that provides calcium, vitamins A, D, and B12, and potassium. Oat milk contains a soluble fiber called beta-glucan, which has many cardio-protective benefits. Beta-glucans have the ability to aid in lowering your LDL-cholesterol AKA your “bad” cholesterol.

Original and sweetened formulations of oat milk can be very high in carbohydrates/sugar with little to no protein; however, unsweetened versions of oat milk are preferable. Oat milk is naturally lactose-, soy-, nut-, and in most cases, gluten-free. Oats by nature are gluten-free; however, in the manufacturing of oat products such as oat milk, there’s always a risk of cross-contact with gluten. If you are an individual who presents with Celiac Disease or a non-Celiac gluten sensitivity indicated by a food allergy and sensitivity test, then reading the label is especially important to ensure that the label reads “Certified Gluten-Free”.

All in all, it’s best to choose a milk that works for you, your body, and your overall health needs. Every formulation is different depending on the brand so it’s very important to become familiar with label reading to ensure that you are drinking products rich in vitamins and minerals, preferably high in protein, free of artificial sweeteners and additives that can cause inflammation and negative side effects, and of course free of anything that can cause an adverse immune and/or inflammatory responses in regard to allergens that you identify with.