As kids, the only decision about milk most of us had to make was whether we wanted to dunk our cookies or guzzle it down after every bite. Regardless of how we enjoy our frothy glass, the one thing that usually remained unchanged was where the milk came from – a cow. Today, however, grocery store shelves are lined with a wide array of milk choices, many of which don’t come from an animal at all, but are derived from plant sources such as almonds, rice and soybeans.
Some milk choices, like raw and organic varieties, cater to individual’s with dietary preferences, while others meet the needs of those with restrictions such as being lactose intolerant, a condition the prevents the body from naturally breaking down and processing the milk sugar lactose.
Whether you have dietary considerations to make or just want to try something new, there are a lot of varieties of milk on the market, and each one offers a different nutritional profile to the table. Since most milk products are fortified with vitamin D -which helps to level the nutritional playing field – and feature flavor profiles very similar to the dairy original, it can become difficult to decide which milk is right for you.
With that in mind, here are the pros and cons of the most popular brands of milk.
Pro: Without question, cow’s milk offers the most calcium of any type of milk product, and has nearly double the amount of protein. High calcium levels in cow’s milk helps to promote the development of strong bones and the remineralization of tooth enamel, which reverses the effects of tooth decay and prevents cavities.
Because cow’s milk comes in several varieties, skim, one percent, two percent and whole – consumers have a number of dietary options in which to choose from. Overall, cow’s milk features the most well rounded nutritional profile of any type of milk on the market.
Cons: Over 40 million Americans suffer from lactose intolerance, which causes such symptoms as diarrhea, bloating, gas and abdominal pain. However, being lactose intolerant doesn’t necessarily mean saying goodbye to dairy forever. According to a study conducted by the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, individuals who suffer from the condition can usually drink up to four ounces of cow’s milk a day without suffering any symptoms.
Milk allergies also can develop in young children. Approximately 2.5 percent of all children in the U.S. suffer from a milk allergy, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma. Fortunately, nearly 80 percent of those children will outgrow their allergy by the age of 16.
Pros: Produce by soaking and grinding soybeans in water, soy milk offers plenty of protein and calcium, while containing no saturated fat. Soy milk also scores favorably as a low calorie drink, and comes in a variety of flavors.
Con: Some research suggests that soy products can inhibit the mineral and protein absorption in the body, which helps to offset some of the advantages drinking soy milk offers. Studies have also found tentative links between drinking soy milk and an increased risk of breast cancer in women. However, both sets of findings require more research before a conclusive cause and effect can be established.
Pros: Commonly consumed in much of the world outside of the U.S., goat’s milk is considered easier to digest for some because of the smaller size of its protein molecules. Goat’s milk offers nearly as much calcium as cow’s milk per glass, and it contains more the essential amino acid tryptophan per serving.
Cons: Like cow’s milk, goat’s milk contains lactose, making it problematic for those with dietary issues. Goat’s milk is often described as having an acquired taste – a combination of sweet and salty – and a strong odor that can put off many would be drinkers.
Pros: Made from a mixture of ground almonds, water and sweetener, almond milk has soared in popularity in recent years. Like milk made from dairy products, almond milk offers a wide variety of valuable vitamins and minerals, and a similar fat content. Almond milk also offers a rich, nutty flavor profiles and comes in different varieties, making it a easy match for nearly everyone’s tastes.
Cons: Almond milk contains very little protein, only one gram per cup, compared with the seven to eight grams found in cow and soy milk. Individuals who suffer from nut allergies cannot drink almond milk, and the beverage lacks the vitamin B found in cow’s milk. Some brands of almond milk also contain high level of added sugar, making them less diet friendly.
Pro: Made from grounded rice grain, this variety of milk has a very low fat content and very few calories. Rice milk typically comes in several flavors, and is soy and lactose free.
Cons: Rice milk offers very little nutritional value when compared to other varieties of milk. The beverage offers no vitamin A or C, and contains very little protein. This makes drinking rice milk more about flavor preference than as a viable dietary alternative when compared to other forms of milk.
Pros: Advocates of raw milk, which is made from unpasteurized cow, goat or sheep milk, claim the beverage fits the bill as nature’s perfect health food since it comes straight from animal to glass without any processing.
Cons: Raw milk can contain potentially life threatening bacteria, such as listeria, E. coli and salmonella. There have been over 800 documented cases of Americans getting ill from consuming raw cheeses and milk since 2000, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Consuming raw milk shouldn’t done lightly without first becoming informed about the risk associated with the decision.