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Got (the Healthiest) Milk?

By Thepickyeater @pickyeaterblog

Got (the healthiest) Milk?

I remember when I was a kid: milk was just milk. There was skim, 2%, or whole, and maybe 1% for those rebels who wanted something in between 2% and 0%. Fast forward 20 years later, and things have gotten so complicated! 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. Think of this as your guide to all of the milk and milk alternatives out there – your guide to finding the healthiest milk for you!

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Let’s start with the basics: Regular Cow’s Milk

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Got (the healthiest) Milk?

Things to remember: 

  • Your options include: 0% (Skim/Fat Free), 1%, 2% or Whole Milk. There’s also organic vs. non-organic. Skim = 0% = Fat Free – they’re all the same thing
  • Whole Milk has about 150 calories and 8g fat (mostly saturated fat – which is bad for your cholesterol/heart) vs. 80 calories & 0g fat for skim, or 100 calories and 2.5g fat for 1%. By switching from whole milk to 1% you can save 50 calories and 5.5g fat per day!
  • All the sugar in milk is natural, so there’s no additional sugar added
  • Stay away from chocolate, strawberry, and other flavored milks (including vanilla) – all of these have tons of sugar – sometimes as much as a can of Coke!
  • Non-organic milk comes from cows that are fed hormones and un-natural substances which some say end up in the milk

What does regular cow’s milk offer you? About 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.

The Picky Eater Recommendation: Drink milk if you aren’t lactose intolerant and can digest it. Choose organic, 1% milk (because a little bit of fat is good for you). If you’re trying to cut calories and lose weight, choose organic skim milk.

Soy Milk

Got (the healthiest) Milk?

Things to remember:

  • There are too many versions and brands of soy milk to list. There’s light, sugar-free, organic, etc. This can get very confusing!
  • A lot of soy milk brands have random sugar added to it. Some brands have up to 12g of sugar! This isn’t naturally occurring in the soybeans – it’s basically like a few teaspoons of sugar in every cup – so watch out for that.
  • Many soy milks also have random ingredients & preservatives added to them, which isn’t the best for you.
  • The best soy milks have two ingredients: whole organic soy beans and water.
What does soy milk offer you? A great alternative for cow’s milk that’s lower in saturated fat (0.5g for 1 cup). 1 cup of soy milk has 90 calories, up to 9g protein and 4g fiber. 30% DV calcium, and 30% DV vitamin D. Soy milk also offers vitamin A, iron, riboflavin, folate, vitamin B12, potassium, and magnesium.aThe Picky Eater Recommendation: If you like the taste of soy milk, this is about nutritionally on par with cow’s milk except that it’s plant based (so it’s great for vegans). Choose unsweetened soy milk that has 0-1g sugar, with two ingredients: whole organic soy beans and water. Westsoy (pictured above) is my favorite brand.aAlmond Milka
Got (the healthiest) Milk?
Things to remember:
  • The things I said about soy milk apply to almond milk: too many brands, too many options (light, unsweetened, flavored, etc), and most brands have sugar added (up to 12g)
  • Almond milk has virtually no protein (only about 1g). So if you’re looking for a protein packed alternative to milk, this isn’t it
  • Almond milk can be a very low calorie alternative to regular milk as long as you’re getting your protein elsewhere.
What does almond milk offer you? A great alternative to milk for those that are allergic to lactose or soy, or vegan. One cup can have only 40 calories, making it a great substitute for milk for those trying to cut back on calories or lose weight. 1 cup of unsweetened almond milk has 40 calories, 3 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 45% DV calcium, 25% DV vitamin D, and 50% DV vitamin E. Almond milk also offers riboflavin, vitamin B12, and zinc. aThe Picky Eater Recommendation: If you’re going to drink almond milk, pick the unsweetened version with only 40 calories for 1 cup. But this isn’t a great alternative for milk because of the lack of protein – so if you only drink almond milk, get your protein elsewhere!aRice Milka
Got (the healthiest) Milk?
Things to remember: 
  • The things I said about soy milk apply to rice milk: too many brands, too many options (light, unsweetened, flavored, etc), and most brands have sugar added (up to 12g)
  • Rice milk is considered the least allergenic of all the milks since it’s dairy and nut free
  • Rice milk has virtually no protein (1g for 1 cup)
What does rice milk offer you? A good milk substitute for super allergy prone people. Other than that, it doesn’t offer much since it’s generally higher in calories and lower in protein than the milk alternatives above. It provides  30% DV calcium, 25% DV vitamin D, and 25% DV vitamin B12. Rice milk also provides phosphorus. a The Picky Eater Recommendation: If you can tolerate regular milk, soy milk or almond milk – drink one of those. If you’re going to choose rice milk – choose the unsweetened kind (0g-1g sugar). And if you’re drinking rice milk only, get your protein elsewhere! Note – Rice Dream above has 12g sugar added and 120 calories because of it, so not the best choice.aCoconut Milka
Got (the healthiest) Milk?
Things to remember: 
  • The things I said about soy milk apply to coconut milk: too many brands, too many options (light, unsweetened, flavored, etc), and most brands have sugar added (up to 12g)
  • Coconut milk is one of the highest in saturated fat per serving
  • Coconut milk is dairy, soy, nut free
  • This milk has virtually no protein – 1g per 1 cup serving
What does coconut milk offer you? A good alternative if you’re allergic to dairy, soy and nuts. Unsweetened coconut milk is a great alternative to use in creamy curry sauces – I use it in Thai curries all the time (the unsweetened version has 50 calories for 1 cup vs. up to 120 calories for 1 cup). Coconut milk has up to 30% DV Vitamin D and 50% DV Vitamin B12. a The Picky Eater Recommendation:  If you can tolerate regular milk, soy milk or almond milk – drink one of those. If you’re going to choose coconut milk – choose the unsweetened kind (0g-1g sugar) & 50 calories per serving. Definitely use unsweetened coconut milk in creamy curry sauces – it tastes great. And if you’re drinking only coconut milk, get your protein elsewhere!aHemp Milk
Got (the healthiest) Milk?
Things to remember: 
  • 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
  • Hemp milk offers a well-balanced ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, and if you’re trying to avoid soy, hemp milk is a good alternative
What does hemp milk offer you? A slightly higher protein alternative to soy or cow milk. 1 cup has 100-110 calories, 6-7 g fat, 1g saturated fat, 2-5 g protein, 30% DV calcium, 25% DV vitamin D, 25% DV riboflavin, and 25% DV vitamin B12. Hemp milk also provides iron, phosphorus and magnesium. a The Picky Eater Recommendation: If you’re not trying to cut calories and like the taste of hemp milk, choose this over almond or rice milk. If you can tolerate cow or soy milk, drink that.aOat Milk
Got (the healthiest) Milk?
Things to remember:
  • This is the highest calorie milk option – 1 cup has 130 calories
  • The things I said about soy milk apply to oat milk: too many brands, too many options (light, unsweetened, flavored, etc), and most brands have TONS of sugar added (up to 19g for 1 cup!)
  • Oat milk is lactose free
What does oat milk offer you? Yet another option! Oat milk does have 2g fiber and 4g protein, so if you’re ok with the higher calorie count, it’s a good option for those that are lactose intolerant. It has 35% DV Calcium, 25% DV Vitamin D, and 30% DV Riboflavin. a The Picky Eater Recommendation: Drink oat milk if you are soy/lactose intolerant, if you like the taste and are ok with the higher calorie count. But you’ll have to supplement the protein since it only has 4g.Phew! I think that’s it! Hopefully this post helps you navigate the crazy milk aisles out there. One thing to note – all of the non-dairy milks above can be bought shelf-stable, which is a benefit if you’re looking to store them for a while.aNow for the final piece: What does The Picky Eater drink? I usually stick to organic, 1%-2% milk. I like soy/almond milk in my oatmeal and sometimes in cereal – so I’ll substitute those from time to time to change things up. But of course, I always choose the unsweetened version of both to avoid the added sugars.a

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