Types of Milk to Meet Your Dietary Needs

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Milk is one of the most nutritious and versatile non-alcoholic beverages on the planet. I love pounding back a glass of ice cold water after an intense workout as much as the next person, but sometimes I want to drink something with more substance and taste.

By standard definition, milk is produced from the mammary glands of mammals, but for this article milk also includes products made from plants and nuts.

With recent innovations in manufacturing and processing, we now have milk products from a variety of sources to meet nearly any goal or dietary requirement. The beauty of milk, besides its flavor, is its versatility. Besides drinking milk as a standalone beverage, you can use it in your shakes, smoothies, main dishes, side dishes, and desserts.

Related: Vitamin D Deficiency: Symptoms and Treatment

Milk not only hydrates your body but most products also provide nutrients, vitamins, and minerals critical for recovery and day-to-day functioning. For children and adolescents, milk products also support normal growth and development.

For elderly individuals, milks naturally containing or enriched with vitamin D and calcium can decrease the risk of bone fractures and osteoporosis. For those looking to transform their physiques, milk varieties can support both mass gain and fat loss.

This article examines the nutritional benefits and uses of eight milk varieties, each from different sources. This article should benefit you regardless of whether you want to learn more about your preferred type of milk or want to experiment with new milk products.

Different Types of Milk

Cow’s Milk

CowCow’s milk is the golden standard of milk products. Chances are, when you began reading this article, your instantly thought this article would discuss only cow’s milk. In much of the world, cow’s milk is the preferred milk variety because it’s inexpensive, easy to obtain, a complete source of protein, and naturally rich in the bone-supporting minerals calcium and phosphorus.

Milk is also naturally a good source of riboflavin and vitamin B12. [1] In the United States and most of the developed nations, cow’s milk is also pasteurized to eliminate bacteria as well as enriched with vitamins A and D.

The three most widely consumed varieties of cow’s milk are skim, low-fat, and whole milk. Skim milk, also known as non-fat milk has 0% milkfat. One cup contains 83 calories, 8.26 grams of protein, 0.2 grams of fat, 12.15 grams of carbohydrates, and 5 milligrams of cholesterol. [2]

Nearly all the carbohydrates in milk are naturally occur sugars called lactose, which will be discussed in the next paragraph. Low-fat milk is typically 2% milkfat and offers 122 calories, 8.05 grams of protein, 4.83 grams of fat, 11.71 grams of carbohydrates, and 20milligrams of cholesterol per one cup serving. [3]

Low-fat milk has a creamier taste but significantly more 100% more fat and 400% more cholesterol than skim milk. Whole milk contains approximately 3.25% milk fat and contains 149 calories, 7.69 grams of protein, 7.93 grams of fat, 11.71 grams of carbohydrates, and 24milligrams of cholesterol per one cup serving. [4]

Comparatively speaking, all three varieties contain roughly the same amount of protein and calcium, but whole milk contains the most calories, fat, and cholesterol. Those looking to gain weight should stick with low-fat or whole milk varieties while those on calorie or cholesterol-restricted diets should choose skim milk.

All sugars found in minimally processed white milk are naturally occurring and largely in the form of lactose. While some individuals can process lactose without issue, an estimated 65% of the human population experiences the reduced ability to digest lactose after infancy. [5] A lactose intolerance results when there is insufficient lactase enzyme production by the body.

Consumption of dairy products containing lactose can result in abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence, nausea, and diarrhea. [5] Any individuals experiencing these symptoms should stop consuming dairy products immediately and consult their physician.

Soy Milk

Soy milk was the first and continues to be one of the most popular non-dairy milk products to be massed-produced and sold in grocery stores across the globe. Soy milk results from the soaking and grinding up of dried soybeans in water.

Soy milk offers a complete source of protein without lactose so it appeals to both vegans and those with a lactose intolerance. Like cow’s milk, the soy milk sold in grocery stores is usually enriched with vitamins A and D. Watch out for the added sugars in many soy milk products and ensure you buy the unsweetened varieties.

One cup of unsweetened and vitamin-enriched soy milk offers 80 calories, 6.95 grams of protein, 3.91 grams of fat, 4.23 grams of carbohydrates, 1.2 grams of fiber, and just 1.0 gram of sugar. [6] This variety of soy milk is a good source of vitamins A and D, thiamin, riboflavin, copper, and magnesium. It’s also a great source of calcium and vitamin B12. [7]

Based on this macronutrient profile, soy milk has a comparable number of calories and protein to skim milk but more fat, fewer carbohydrates, and more fiber. Many males avoid the consumption of soy milk products with the concern that it will increase their estrogen and decrease their testosterone levels although.

However, there is limited evidence supporting these claims, especially if you consume soy milk in moderate quantities.

Soy Milk

Almond Milk

Almond milk is my preferred milk variety because I’m lactose intolerance and do not prefer the taste of soy milk. Almond milk is lactose free, soy free, and gluten-free. Almond milk is also extremely easy to make yourself. Simply soak almonds overnight in water with a dash of kosher salt, drain the softened almonds, dump them in to a blender with water and optional vanilla extract, and blend away.

After the almonds are fully blended and the liquid looks creamy and off-white in color, stop blending and pour the liquid through a cheese cloth to strain out the almond chunks. The result, homemade almond milk. Plus, you can take the leftover almond chunks and bake them, creating a toasted and nutty almond meal.

As with soy milk, the manufacturers of almond milk create unsweetened and sweetened varieties to appeal to a larger audience. All almond milk varieties are enriched with vitamins and minerals. One cup of unsweetened and enriched almond milk contains 39 calories, 1.55 grams of protein, 2.88 grams of fat, 1.52 grams of carbohydrates. It’s a great source of calcium as well as a good source of vitamins A, D, and E. [8]

Unsweetened almond milk has half the calories of skim and soy milk which is why it also appeals to those on calorie-restricted diets. For an extra five calories per serving I prefer unsweetened vanilla almond milk, but if you have the caloric wiggle room then go for the chocolate almond milk.

Cashew Milk

Cashew milk has recently entered the non-dairy milk product scene as a creamy lactose, soy, and gluten-free beverage with even fewer calories than almond milk. Like almond milk, cashew milk is produced by soaking cashews in water, grinding these softened cashews with water, and then straining the liquid through a cheese cloth to remove bulk cashew particles.

Manufacturers offer milk products made with only cashews as well as blended products combining both cashew and almond milk. Regardless of which product you pick, look for unsweetened varieties to minimize empty calories from added sugars. One cup of unsweetened and enriched cashew milk contains just 25 calories, 1.01 grams of protein, 1.99 grams of fat, and 1.01 grams of carbohydrates.

Cashew milk is a great source of calcium as well as good source of vitamin A, D, and E. [9] Both almond milk and cashew milk are unique in that they contain more fat-soluble antioxidant vitamin E than any other milk product.

Unsurprisingly, cashew milk contains very few calories which means it also has low amounts of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Those looking for a milk product with a complete and good source of protein should avoid cashew milk. Cashew milk is an excellent choice for those on lactose, soy, calorie, or cholesterol-restricted diets.

Rice Milk

Rice milk is one of the less popular non-dairy milk varieties but that does not mean you shouldn’t try it at least once. This milk variety is not typically found in refrigerated section of major grocery chains, but you may have luck finding it in the organic or health foods sections. Rice milk has virtually zero allergens and is tolerated well by nearly every individual on the planet. It contains no soy, lactose, gluten, or nuts.

One cup of unsweetened and enriched rice milk has 113 calories, 0.67 grams of protein, 2.33 grams of fat, 22.01 grams of carbohydrates, 0.7 grams of fiber, and 12.67 grams of sugar. Rice milk is a very good source of calcium and phosphorus as well as a good source of fat-soluble vitamins A and D. [10] The sugar found in rice milk occurs naturally and contains no lactose.

Based on this macronutrient profile rice milk is not ideal for those looking to consume a dairy product high in protein. In terms of calorie content, it’s middle-of-the-road which means those looking to gain mass or lose fat could easily incorporate rice milk in to their diet.

Since rice milk is high in carbohydrates, I would recommend consuming it pre-, intra-, or post-workout to ensure those carbohydrates are used for recovery and muscle gain rather than fat storage.

Coconut Milk

In the United States, coconut products have exploded in popularity in the past five years. Coconut oil is most commonly used for cooking whereas coconut water is now becoming a go-to choice for post-workout hydration.

Coconut milk is the creamy white inside portion of the coconut. In most contexts, coconut milk is the creamy high-fat and high-calorie substance sold in the Asian foods section of the grocery store. In this article, coconut milk refers to the lightly sweetened and fortified combination of the white coconut meat and water.

One cup of coconut milk contains 74 calories, 0.5 grams of protein, 4.99 grams of fat, 7.01 grams of carbohydrates, and 6 grams of sugars. [11] Depending on the grocery store, you can also find unsweetened varieties with approximately 50 calories per serving. Coconut milk is a great source of calcium as well as a good source of vitamin A, D, and B12. [11]

All the fat found in coconut milk is saturated, which is not inherently bad for you. Much of the saturated fat in coconut milk is in the form of medium chain triglycerides, a unique form of fat that is processed by the body less like a fat and more like a carbohydrate.

Sufficient saturated fat intake is also critical for normal testosterone production and overall hormonal function. You can also find milk products that blend coconut milk with almond milk or cashew milk.

Goat’s Milk

When it comes to milk products from mammals, cows typically get all the attention. Goat’s milk is a great alternative for those looking to consume a milk product from a different mammal.

Although goat’s milk contains lactose, some individuals with a lactose allergy or intolerance report the ability to drink goat’s milk without issue. If you want to experiment with goat’s milk, then I encourage you to start with small amounts and work your way to larger amounts to ensure you don’t send your gastrointestinal tract on a wild ride.

I have seen goat’s milk at some grocery chains but you are more likely to find it at the farmer’s market and specialty grocers. One cup of vitamin-enriched goat’s milk offers 168 calories, 8.69 grams of protein, 10.10 grams of fat, and 10.86 grams of carbohydrates. [12]

These carbohydrates are naturally occurring sugars. Goat’s milk is a complete protein source with high amounts of calcium as well as moderate quantities of vitamin a, riboflavin, and phosphorus.

At 27 milligrams of cholesterol per serving, goat’s milk has a comparable cholesterol content to whole cow’s milk. [13] Goat’s milk is not the lowest calorie milk but it offers a creamy alternative to those who enjoy whole cow’s milk.

Sheep’s Milk

Rounding out our list of milk varieties is sheep’s milk. Chances are you will not find this variety in your typically chain grocery store but it may be available at your local farmer’s market or specialty grocer.

Sheep’s milk is not mean for those on a calorie-restricted diet. One cup is packed with 265 calories, 14.65 grams of protein, 17.15 grams of fat, and 13.13 grams of carbohydrates. [14]

Sheep’s milk is a great source of complete protein, phosphorus, riboflavin, and calcium. It’s also a good source of vitamin C and B12. However, it contains 66 milligrams of cholesterol per serving. [15]

Those on cholesterol-restricted diets should generally avoid sheep’s milk as just one cup contains roughly 22% of your recommended daily cholesterol. For those looking to gain weight and utilize the cholesterol content to support normal hormonal function, sheep’s milk is the most calorically dense of all milks discussed in this article.

While the carbohydrate content is comparable to all three varieties of cow’s milk, it has twice the protein and double the fat of whole-fat cow’s milk. Some individuals with a lactose intolerance find themselves able to handle sheep’s milk without issue but I encourage you to experiment with a small amount before you start consuming cups of this creamy milk beverage.

Sheep’s milk is unique in that it contains the potent antioxidant vitamin C. There are no other milk products naturally containing this vitamin.

What is your favorite type of milk? Let me know in the comments below!

References

1) “Milk, nonfat, fluid, with added vitamin A (fat free or skim).” SELF Nutrition Data, Condé Nast, 2017, Accessed Feb. 2017.
2) “Basic Report: 01085, Milk, nonfat, fluid, with added vitamin A and vitamin D (fat free or skim).” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture, May 2016. Web. Feb. 2017.
3) “Basic Report: 01079, Milk, reduced fat, fluid, 2% milkfat, with added vitamin A and vitamin D.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture, May 2016. Web. Feb. 2017.
4) “Basic Report: 01077, Milk, whole, 3.25% milkfat, with added vitamin D.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture, May 2016. Web. Feb. 2017.
5) “Lactose Intolerance.” Genetics Home Reference, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 7 Feb. 2017, Accessed Feb. 2017.
6) “Basic Report: 16222, Soymilk (all flavors), unsweetened, with added calcium, vitamins A and D.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture, May 2016. Web. Feb. 2017.
7) “Soymilk (all flavors), unsweetened, with added calcium, vitamins A and D.” SELF Nutrition Data, Condé Nast, 2017, Accessed Feb. 2017.
8) “Basic Report: 14091, Beverages, almond milk, unsweetened, shelf stable.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture, May 2016. Web. Feb. 2017.
9) “45179315, SILK, UNSWEETENED CREAMY CASHEWMILK, CASHEW, UPC: 025293002753.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture, May 2016. Web. Feb. 2017.
10) “Basic Report: 14639, Beverages, rice milk, unsweetened.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture, May 2016. Web. Feb. 2017.
11) “Basic Report: 14171, Beverages, coconut milk, sweetened, fortified with calcium, vitamins A, B12, D2.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture, May 2016. Web. Feb. 2017.
12) “Basic Report: 01106, Milk, goat, fluid, with added vitamin D.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture, May 2016. Web. Feb. 2017.
13) “Milk, goat, fluid.” SELF Nutrition Data, Condé Nast, 2017, Accessed Feb. 2017.
14) “Basic Report: 01109, Milk, sheep, fluid.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture, May 2016. Web. Feb. 2017.
15) “Milk, sheep, fluid.” SELF Nutrition Data, Condé Nast, 2017, Accessed Feb. 2017.

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Name: Nick Ludlow

Bio: When it comes to fitness I enjoy reading about historic weight lifters, non-conventional weightlifting approaches, nutritional protocols, and the science behind supplements.