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There’s so much controversy over dairy these days.
One camp claims that milk (and all dairy) is one of the worst foods you can eat and should be avoided at all costs, while others claim that if you’re not lactose intolerant, and you have access to organic, pasture-raised dairy – that there is no harm in drinking milk in moderation.
And now there are so many milk alternatives out there it’s hard to keep track: soy, almond, coconut, rice, hemp, oat – who can tell the difference? And how do you know which one is the best / healthiest milk for you?
That’s where this post comes in. This is your guide to all of the milk and milk alternatives out there – to help find the healthiest milk for you!
If you’re enjoying milk, you’re probably using it with cereal on occasion. Be sure to check out my guide on the 15 Healthiest Cereals.
Let’s start with the basics: Regular Cow’s Milk
- Your options include: 0% (Skim/Fat Free), 1%, 2% or Whole Milk
- There is organic (pasture raised), organic (grain fed), and non-organic milk
- The calories (per 8oz glass): Whole Milk has about 150 Calories and 8g Fat. 2% has 125 calories and 5g fat. 1% has 100 Calories and 2.5 g Fat. Skim has 80 Calories & 0g Fat.
- The sugar: All the sugar in plain milk is natural (lactose), so there’s no sugar added
- Flavored milks should be avoided at all costs: Chocolate, strawberry, and other flavored milks (including vanilla) have tons of sugar – sometimes as much as a can of Coke.
- Non-organic milk comes from cows that are fed hormones and antibiotics, and those cows ingest pesticides from non-organic feed — and all of that ends up in non-organic milk. (source)
What does regular cow’s milk offer you? Per 8oz glass you get: 8g protein and tons of nutrients — 30% of your daily value (DV) of calcium, 25% DV vitamin D as well as potassium, phosphorus, vitamin A, vitamin B12, riboflavin, and niacin. Dairy from organic, pasture-raised cows has been shown to have a better omega-3 to omega-6 fat ratio, higher levels of beneficial fats such as CLA, and more antioxidants. (source)
The Bottom Line: There isn’t one answer that can apply to everyone when it comes to milk. If you aren’t lactose intolerant, if you don’t have digestive issues, and if you enjoy milk – drinking it in moderation is fine. Choose organic pasture raised, 1%, 2% or whole milk (because a little bit of fat is good for you). Personally: I’ve never had any issue with milk and I enjoy it, so I add organic, pasture raised 1% milk to my oatmeal and to my tea every day (about 1/2-1 cup total per day).
- Soy in this country is one of the main sources of GMOs, so organic soy is always the way to go. (source)
- There are too many versions and brands of soy milk to list. There’s light, sugar-free, organic, etc. This can get very confusing.
- Most soy milk brands have too much added sugar (up to 12g per 8oz!) and preservatives/thickeners like carrageenan – which should be avoided.
- The best soy milks have two ingredients: whole organic soy beans and water.
- Soy contains endocrine disruptors – and studies are inconclusive over whether soy is harmful or not. (source)
- Many points above about soy milk apply to almond milk: there are many options (light, unsweetened, flavored) and most brands have too many preservatives and thickeners (e.g. carrageenan) and sugar added (up to 12g per 8oz).
- Almond milk has virtually no protein (only about 1g per 8oz). So if you’re looking for a protein packed alternative to milk, this isn’t it.
- Unsweetened Almond milk can be a very low calorie alternative to regular milk as long as you’re getting your protein elsewhere.
- Many points above about soy milk apply to rice milk: there are many options (light, unsweetened, flavored) and most brands have too many preservatives and thickeners (e.g. carrageenan) and sugar added (up to 12g per 8oz).
- Rice milk has virtually no protein (only about 1g per 8oz).
- Rice milk is considered the least allergenic of all the milks since it’s dairy and nut free
- Many points above about soy milk apply to coconut milk: there are many options (light, unsweetened, flavored) and most brands have too many preservatives and thickeners (e.g. carrageenan) and sugar added (up to 12g per 8oz).
- Coconut milk has one of the highest saturated fat amounts per serving (out of all the milks)
- Coconut milk is dairy, soy, nut free
- This milk has virtually no protein – 1g per 8oz serving
- Hemp milk is lower in sugar but higher in fat than the other milk alternatives
- Hemp milk (depending on the brand) does have some protein: more than almond/coconut/rice but less than soy/regular milk
- Watch out for added sugars and preservatives/thickeners (carrageenan)
- Hemp milk offers a well-balanced ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids
- This is the highest calorie milk option – 1 cup has 130 calories
- Many points above about soy milk apply to coconut milk: there are many options (light, unsweetened, flavored) and most brands have too many preservatives and thickeners (e.g. carrageenan) and sugar added (up to 19g per 8oz).
- Oat milk is lactose free