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Milk Roulette - Choosing a Healthier Option
(Part 3 of 3 on Milk)

The last two articles I've talked about some of the myths and realities of drinking milk. I've explained how infants should avoid it, why it's best to buy pasteurized over raw, how milk doesn't really seem to help with osteoporosis and that it doesn't really cause cancer. Up until now, I've only referred to cow's milk.

If you walk into a supermarket, you'll see dozens of products on the shelf with the name "milk" on the label. Here's how to choose between them.


Lower your fat by moving down one step.If you're drinking whole, get 2%. If you're drinking 2%, move down to 1%.

Cow's milk comes in several fat versions; whole, 2%, 1% and fat free or skim. Don't even think about grabbing the whole milk. A single cup has 147 calories, but half come from fat. A quarter of the calories are from saturated fat. You should skip the carton of 2% as well. A cup has only 122 calories, but 36% of those are fat.

Reach for 1% milk, which has only 105 calories and is 21% fat. Fat free is the best, but some people don't like the taste, saying it's more watery. Whatever version you're drinking, just stepping down one level, say from 2% to 1%, will save you a significant amount of fat without sacrificing taste.

Hate Watery Milk?

For those of you who are drinking 1% or fat free milk, but hate the watery consistency, there are now options. Farmland Dairies™ Special Request™ Skim Plus® Fat Free Milk or Hood® Simply Smart both have added protein and a richer, creamier "mouthfeel." They use a process called ultra-filtration to remove some of the liquid and lactose. The result is milk that tastes creamier with extra protein and no added fat. Another option is simply to add powdered milk to non-fat milk and make it thicker yourself.

Lactose and Stomach Cramps

If you're lactose intolerant, drinking and digesting milk can be a problem. The solution is simple.

Buy lactose free milk. You can get it in 1% and fat free versions and it tastes just like regular milk. It even cooks up the same in recipes. In fact, every recipe that calls for milk on WeBeFit.com was tested with lactose free, fat free milk.

If you still want to buy regular milk, then pop a couple lactase enzyme supplements (like Lactaid) right before you eat. Several clinical trials now show they help increase lactose digestion without side effects. Take one before you have something with dairy and the nutrients will go to your muscles instead of winding up flushed down the toilet.

The standard dose for someone moderately lactose intolerant is 2,500 to 5,000 FCC units of lactase before consuming dairy. If you're more sensitive, consider 10,000 to 20,000 FCC units. (FCC stands for Food Chemicals Codex. It's an international standard for purity and identity of food ingredients.)

Soy Milk

Soy Milk is a favorite replacement for people who are worried about cow's milk. It's marketed as a way to reduce cholesterol, doesn't have lactose in it and it contains no animal products. A cup of soy milk looks very similar to whole milk, but with less calories. It has only 100 calories and 36% fat, nearly the same protein as cow's milk but half the sugars. Light soy milk has only 70 calories, 26% fat and 6 grams of protein per cup. There is a slight downside and an upside to soy.

The downside is something called a biological value or BV. Soy protein has a score of 74, while the whey protein from cows milk gets a 104. The higher the number, the better it is at building muscle and preventing lean tissue loss. If you're an athlete or bodybuilder, you want to choose foods that maximize your muscle building potential. Cow's milk with its higher BV score is the natural choice.

The upside is that soy consumption can REDUCE the risk of breast cancer. "Soy intake during childhood adolescense, and adult life were each associated with a decreased risk of breast cancer." Those women who ingested soy had roughly half the risk of breast cancer as the women with the lowest intake. From the study, Childhood Soy Intake and Breast Cancer Risk in Asian American Women. There's a great video on Soy Intake from NutritionFacts.org below.

Rice Milk

Rice milk is nearly devoid of protein. One cup has 120 calories, 18% fat, and only a single gram of protein. What's worse is a third of the calories are from sugar. It's a good source of calcium, but you'd be better off getting that from leafy green vegetables than rice milk.

Almond Milk

Almond milk is a nutritional nightmare. One cup has only 60 calories, but fully half are from sugar, 37% is from fat and the remainder is one single gram of protein. Almond milk fans will point out that it is lactose and gluten free. Well so is water, and it won't weigh you down with fat and sugar.

You might be thinking, "well at least I get some healthy almonds in each serving!" Not really. Almonds typically make up only about 2% of the ingredients in almond milk.  If you really want almonds, get them in nut form.

Coconut Milk

Coconut milk makes almond milk look like a health food. A single cup packs in 467 calories and a heart stopping 50 grams of fat. That's more fat than four McDonald's Cheeseburgers. Coconut milk is something to use with desserts, not something you consume daily.

Hemp Milk or Hemp Seed Milk

Hemp milk is made from hemp seeds. The seeds are ground and soaked in water, which yields a "beany-nutty cream flavored substance" according to Wikipedia. A cup serving of hemp has more calories than fat free milk (110 versus 90), less protein (2 grams versus 8 grams) and more fat (6 grams versus 0 grams). The only advantage is that hemp is lower in sugar (9 grams versus 12 grams).

It won't get you high. Plus you're getting far less protein and far more fat than regular fat free milk. A better option would be to simply add hemp seeds to salads, oatmeal, cereals, casseroles and other dishes. Three tablespoons of hemp seed has almost 10 grams of protein and nearly three grams of fiber. And no, hemp seed won't get you high either.

Now that you know, which milk will you choose?

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5/9/2010
Updated 11/7/2010
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Updated 2/1/2017