Which Kind of Milk Is Healthiest?

Milk does a body good according to the 1980s marketing campaign. A simple message, but the reality is more complex. Certainly, there are lots of vitamins in this beverage. But today there’s a wide array of different types of milk with varied health benefits.

These replacement plant-based milk don’t always have the Vitamin D, Calcium, and potassium that is found in cow’s milk. While the taste could be unique, most Americans are missing out on these nutrients so by replacing cow’s milk with a plant-based milk, will be doing them a nutrition disservice.

“All ‘milks’ are not created equal,” says Lise Gloede, a registered dietitian based in Arlington, Virginia. “Nutritional differences are vast. Consider using a plant-based milk (like soy milk) if you have allergies (or a lactose intolerance), but keep in mind that your intake of protein and riboflavin will be less. These are important nutrients.”

The Importance of Calcium

One thing to keep in mind when deciding which milk is best for you is calcium content. Everyone needs calcium for bone health, according to the Mayo Clinic. Calcium helps build and maintain strong bones and also helps your heart, muscles and nerves function optimally. Too little calcium carries health risks. Kids who don’t get enough calcium may not reach their full adult height, and adults may have low bone mass, which is a risk factor for osteoporosis, the Mayo Clinic says.

The recommended daily allowance of calcium varies by age and gender. From ages 19 to 70, men should get 1,000 milligrams of calcium, and 1,200 milligrams if they are 71 and older. Women between the ages of 19 and 50 should get 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day, and 1,200 if they are 51 and older.

Children need varying amounts of calcium depending on their age; infants less than 6 months old should get 200 milligrams daily, according to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development within the National Institutes of Health. The amount rises with age, ranging from 700 milligrams daily for kids between ages 1 and 3 to 1,300 milligrams a day for adolescents between ages 14 and 18.

How Much Calcium Is in Milk?

Different types of milk contain varying levels of calcium. An 8-ounce cup of whole milk has 276 milligrams of calcium, while skim milk has 299 milligrams, says Michelle Dudash, a registered dietitian based in Carmel, Indiana, and the author of “Clean Eating for Busy Families.”

The same amount of unfortified soy milk has 61 milligrams of calcium, while one type of almond milk contains about the same amount. Most plant-based soy milks are fortified with calcium and contain 25% to 50% of the recommended daily allowance of calcium for adults, Dudash says.

Some plant-based milks aren’t as high in calcium, though. For example, calcium in unfortified cashew milk has only about 2% of the recommended daily value of the nutrient, she says.

[SEE: Foods High in Calcium.]

Types of Milk

These days, consumers can choose from a wide array of different kinds of milk, including more than a dozen plant-based options:

Almond milk.

Banana milk.

Cashew milk.

Coconut milk.

Cow’s milk.

Flax milk.

Hazelnut milk.

Hemp milk.

Low-fat milk.

Macadamia milk.

Milk free of A1 beta casein protein.

Pea milk.

Pistachio milk.

Soy milk.

Spelt milk.

Quinoa milk.

Walnut milk.

Here’s what to know about the nutrition facts and health benefits of a variety of milks.

Types of Cow’s Milk

Cow’s milk. Regular cow’s milk provides an array of healthy vitamins and nutrients, including:

— Calcium.

— Niacin.

— Protein.

Vitamin D.

Whole milk from a cow is composed of about 88% water, 5% lactose (carbohydrates), 3% fat, 3% protein and a good amount of the minerals potassium and phosphorus. The American Heart Association and other nutrition experts recommend consuming nonfat milk rather than full-fat dairy.

Low-fat milk. While whole milk contains 3.25% fat, low-fat milk contains 1% fat. One 8-ounce serving of low-fat milk provides 100 calories and 2.5 grams of fat. The same amount of whole milk contains 150 calories and 8 grams of fat. Low-fat milk contains a little more protein than whole milk and more calcium and vitamin D than whole milk, but less omega-3 fatty acids.

Milk free of A1 beta casein protein. Typical cow’s milk contains both A1 and A2 beta casein protein, which are major casein proteins. Casein makes up about 80% of the total protein in cow’s milk. Some research suggests that A1 beta casein may be associated with an inflammatory agent that contributes to gastrointestinal distress.

[See: 12 Health Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet.]

Types of Plant-Based Milks

Almond milk. Like soy milk, original and sweetened types of almond milk contain added sugar, from cane sugar, so it’s best to get unsweetened or “light” varieties, says David Friedman, a clinical nutritionist and board-certified alternative medical practitioner. He’s the author of “Food Sanity — How to Eat in a World of Fads and Fiction.”

Almond milk has a sweet and nutty taste and a silky texture. Although not always equal in nutrient composition, it’s low in calories and chock-full of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins D, E and A, calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, iron and phosphorous, Friedman says. The fat in almond milk is heart-healthy because it contains monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which research suggests can protect against coronary heart disease, he says.heart disease, he says.

Banana milk. Banana milk is a rich, creamy plant-based alternative to dairy products that can be an option for vegans and people with nut allergies, says Lisa Jones, a registered dietitian based in Philadelphia. “You can mix it into your favorite cereal or oatmeal or drink it as a beverage,” she says.

Banana milk contains potassium and magnesium, which research suggests could promote heart health. It also has fiber, which promotes healthy digestion. Banana milk is available at some major grocers and online. You can find recipes for how to make your own banana milk online.

Cashew milk. With its rich, creamy texture, cashew milk is similar to traditional cow’s milk in taste. In fact, it can be used in a number of recipes that call for cow’s milk. One cup of cashew milk has only 25 calories, while sweetened versions contain about 160 to 180 calories. Keep in mind that unfortified cashew milk is relatively low in calcium.

Coconut milk. Be aware that this kind of milk packs more saturated fats than other milk alternatives. “Coconut milk has a nice creamy consistency and a pleasant (coconut-flavored) taste, but doesn’t stack up nutritionally to cow milk and soy milk,” Dudash says.

Coconut milk contains coconut cream, made from coconut meat, water, salt, a thickener such as locust bean gum, an emulsifier like sunflower lecithin and whatever vitamins and minerals — such as calcium and vitamin D — the manufacturer adds, she says.

Flax milk. This option has an earthy and nutty flavor, and will work well in any diet, whether you’re vegan or not, Jones says. You can sub in flax milk into almost any recipe that calls for dairy or plant-based milks, including smoothies and baked goods. You can also drink it straight from the cup. One cup of flax milk has only 50 calories and provides 1200 mg of omega-3 fatty acids.

“Flaxseed milk contains no cholesterol or lactose,” Jones says. That makes it a heart-healthy alternative. Flax milk is associated with lower blood pressure, which helps keep your heart in good shape. This type of milk also helps people feel satiated longer, which can help keep your blood sugar levels under control.

Hazelnut milk. Sweet and nutty, a cup of hazelnut milk provides 70 to 100 calories (depending on the brand). “Hazelnut milk has more than double the protein of standard unsweetened almond milk, making it a moderate addition to your diet at 3 grams per serving,” Jones says. “Hazelnut milk is a delicious and nutritious beverage that provides more than twice the protein of traditional almond varieties.”

Keep in mind, the downside of drinking hazelnut milk is that its fat content is higher and its calcium content is lower than other plant-based milk options.

Hemp milk. This type of milk is made from the seeds of the hemp plant, which also produces cannabis, or marijuana. However, hemp food products are made from seeds that “do not naturally contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis” and cannot produce the high associated with the plant, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Hemp milk is a good source of calcium; one 8-ounce serving supplies 450 milligrams of the nutrient, or 45% of the recommended daily allowance, Friedman says.

Macadamia milk. This type of milk has an extra creamy taste and texture because of its monosaturated fat content, Jones says. A 1-cup serving of unsweetened macadamia nut milk contains just 50 calories, 5 grams of fat and 1 gram of carbs. It also only has 1 gram of protein. “This type of beverage could be helpful if you’re looking to replace some high-carb beverages in your daily routine or want something that’s richly textured without all the sugariness typically found in other beverages,” she says.

Macadamia milk also contains:

— Iron.

— Manganese.

— Potassium.

— Vitamin B6.

[Read: Oat Milk vs. Almond Milk: Which Is Better?]

Pea milk. Overall, pea milk typically doesn’t provide the same amount of nutrients as you’d get from cow’s milk or soy milk. But this shouldn’t be an issue if you consume meat, poultry, seafood or eggs. If you’re a vegan and eat no animal products, be sure you’re consuming a nutritionally balanced eating regimen. Consulting with a registered dietitian who has experience with plant-based eating could be helpful.

Pistachio milk. This type of milk has an earthy flavor. Pistachio milk can be used in a wide array of recipes for:

— Baked goods.

— Homemade ice cream.

— Smoothies.

— Yogurt.

A sweetened 8-ounce cup of pistachio milk has about 92 calories and an unsweetened serving contains 50 calories. The calorie total can vary significantly depending on the brand.

Soy milk. This popular type of milk has a number of health benefits. An 8-ounce serving of unsweetened soy milk from Trader Joe’s, for example has just 4.5 total grams of fat and 2 grams of net carbs. It also provides 7 grams of protein.

Spelt milk. Creamy in texture and nutty in flavor, spelt milk also contains an array of nutrients, including:

— Calcium.

— Iron.

— Magnesium.

— Vitamin B.

— Vitamin D.

— Vitamin E.

One cup of spelt milk contains about 90 calories and 2 grams of protein. It’s important to keep in mind that spelt milk differs from other plant-based milk in that it contains gluten, Jones says. Therefore, people with celiac disease should avoid it.

Quinoa milk. This type of milk is slightly sweet, nutty and has a distinct quinoa flavor, Jones says. One cup of quinoa milk contains about 70 calories, 1 gram of fat, 12 grams of carbs and 2 grams of protein. “Quinoa milk is high in protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals,” she says. “It’s a nutrient-dense food that provides all the essential amino acids.”

Essential amino acids are important for an array of important functions, including:

— Tissue repair.

— Nutrient absorption.

— Protein synthesis.

— Muscle development.

Walnut milk. This milk has a strong flavor that some consumers have compared to maple and toasted walnuts, and has a consistency like chocolate milk, Jones says. One cup of walnut milk contains 120 calories, 11 grams of fat, 3 grams of protein and 1 gram of carbs. Walnut milk is a good source of protein, fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. On the down side, it’s relatively high in fat and low in calcium.

Nutrition Facts of Milks

Nutritional values may vary depending on brand.

Type Calories Total Fat Saturated Fat Protein Sugar % Calcium % Vitamin D
Whole Milk 150 8 5 8 12 30 25
Nonfat Milk 90 0 0 8 12 30 25
Original Almond 60 2.5 0 1 7 45 25
Unsweetened Almond 30 2.5 0 1 0 45 25
Banana 60 3 2.7 1 3 to 12 23 N/A
Original Cashew 60 2.5 0 1 7 45 25
Unsweetened Cashew 25 2 0 1 0 45 25
Original Coconut 70 4.5 4 0 7 10 30
Unsweetened Coconut 45 4.5 4 0 0 10 30
Flax 50 3.5 0 3 to 8 0 (unsweetened);
7 to 10 (sweetened)
30 25
Hazelnut 110 3.5 0 2 14 12 N/A
Macadamia 50 5 1 1 1 45 25
Pistachio 100 8 1 4 1.4 N/A N/A
Quinoa 70 1 0 2 2 30 N/A
Original Rice 120 2.5 0 1 10 30 25
Unsweetened Rice 90 2.5 0 1 1 30 25
Original Soy 110 4.5 0.5 8 6 45 30
Unsweetened Soy 80 4 0.5 7 1 30 30
Spelt 105 to 150 4.6 N/A 1.3 to 2.3 N/A N/A N/A
Walnut 120 4 1 3 5 3 N/A

More from U.S. News

Top Plant-Based Proteins

5 Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance

8 Calcium-Rich, Nondairy Foods

Which Kind of Milk Is Healthiest? originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 03/23/22: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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