Which milk is best for you?

Almond, soy, skim, low-fat, full cream - the types of milk explained

With so many types of milk and milk alternatives on the market, it can be hard to know which product you should choose. Accredited Practising Dietitian Ashleigh Jones has some tips to help you choose the right milk for your needs.

When it comes to superfoods, it’s hard to look past dairy.  Cow’s milk is an essential source of calcium, protein, iodine, vitamin A, vitamin D, riboflavin, vitamin B12 and zinc in the Australian diet.  This is why the Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend consuming 2 ½ to 4 serves of dairy products or alternatives each day.   In fact, consuming just one serve of dairy per day is associated with a reduced risk of colorectal cancer.  Two serves per day is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke, and three serves is associated with a reduced risk of hypertension.

 

Skim, low fat or full cream milk?

These terms relate to the fat content of milk.  Full cream milk contains 4% fat, while reduced-fat contains 1-2% fat, and skim milk contains less than 1%.  The fat content is directly related to the Calorie content.  Full cream milk contains 70Cal per 100mL, reduced-fat milk contains 53Cal per 100mL, and skim milk contains only 36Cal per 100mL.  This difference in Calories can really add up over a day, so keep this in mind if you’re trying to lose weight.  Cow’s milk is rich in saturated fat, which can contribute to elevated blood cholesterol levels. Reduced-fat and skim milk can be better options for some people who are wanting to manage their calorie intake.

 

Sugar

Looking at the nutrition panel, you may notice that reduced fat and skim milk contain more sugar than full cream milk.  It’s important to note that sugar is not actually added to these kinds of milk. They contain more sugar per 100g because the fat content has decreased. So, the naturally-occurring sugar and protein content has increased proportionately.  If you want to be sure that sugar is not added to your milk, check the ingredients list.

 

Allergies and intolerances

Dairy products are health-promoting and recommended as part of a healthy diet, but some people need to avoid cow’s milk for medical reasons.  People with lactose intolerance should choose lactose-free cow’s milk, as it contains all of the same nutrients as regular cow’s milk without the lactose.  Lactose-free milk is available in full cream, reduced-fat and skim formulations. For people with a cow’s milk protein allergy, calcium-fortified soy milk is the best alternative. It’s the closest match to cow’s milk in terms of nutrition.  Other milk alternatives such as almond milk, oat milk and rice milk are lacking in protein and usually not fortified with calcium.

 

Vegan and plant-based diets

If you follow a vegan or plant-based diet, soy milk is the best alternative cow’s milk.  While products such as almond milk and coconut milk have increased in popularity in recent years, they are naturally low in calcium and often not fortified.  Protein is also an issue.  Cow’s milk is required, by law, to contain at least 3% protein.  There are currently no such regulations for plant-based milk alternatives.  Soy milk is close to cow’s milk in terms of protein content. Other products are usually lower in protein, making them a poor substitute for cow’s milk.

 

Soy milk has fallen out of favour in recent years because of concerns around increasing oestrogen levels (due to soy milk’s isoflavone content) and the risk of thyroid conditions and breast cancer.  However, numerous studies show that eating a diet rich in soy foods is actually health-promoting and protective against some cancers. The concerns around the safety of soy are related to isoflavone supplements, which are much more concentrated than soy milk and other soy-based foods.  Studies show that if you are consuming soy milk, not soy or isoflavone supplements, there are no concerns.

 

Milk for strong, healthy bones

Does milk really help bones? Is a very important question many Australians wonder. Both calcium and vitamin D are critical dietary inclusions for maintaining strong, healthy bones, which are vital for leading a long and active life. In Australia, over 1 million people are living with osteoporosis. After the age of 20, it is more difficult for the body to build bone mass, so continued calcium and vitamin D intake is important throughout your lifetime. Milk is the perfect food to help you do this.  Many people reduce their consumption of dairy products to cut calories when trying to lose weight.  If you are following a reduced-calorie diet and not consuming dairy and alternatives frequently, it’s crucial to choose products fortified with calcium and vitamin D.

 

The bottom line

Cow’s milk is the best option for most people, as it is an important source of protein and calcium.  Those trying to lose weight should switch to reduced-fat or skim milk.  People who are lactose intolerant should choose lactose-free milk.  Those with a cow’s milk protein allergy or follow a vegan or plant-based diet should choose soy milk, as it contains most of the nutrients of cow’s milk.  Regardless of which milk you choose, calcium and vitamin D are crucial, so choose the calcium- and vitamin D-fortified options where possible.

 

Lite n’ Easy recommends the consumption of 1 cup of calcium-fortified skim milk each day in addition to the full 1200, 1500 and 1800 Calorie meal plans.  Click here to learn more about the nutrition behind our food.