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Dairy aisles have exploded with milk and milk alternative options over the past few years, and choosing the healthiest milk isn't just about the fat content.
Whether you're looking beyond cow's milk for health reasons or dietary preferences or simply want to experiment with different options, you may wonder which type of milk is healthiest for you.
Here are the 7 healthiest milk and milk alternative options to add to your diet.
1. Hemp Milk
Hemp milk is made from ground, soaked hemp seeds, which do not contain the psychoactive component of the Cannabis sativa plant.
The seeds are high in protein and healthy omega-3 and omega-6 unsaturated fats. Thus, hemp milk contains a slighter high amount of these nutrients than other plant milks.
An 8-ounce (240-ml) serving of hemp milk provides the following:
- Calories: 60
- Protein: 3 grams
- Carbs: 0 grams
- Fat: 5 grams
- Phosphorus: 25% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Calcium: 20% of the DV
- Magnesium: 15% of the DV
- Iron: 10% of the DV
Hemp milk is virtually carb-free, but some brands add sweeteners, which increase the carb content. Make sure to check the ingredient label and buy hemp — and any other plant milk — without added sugar.
Sugar may be listed on the ingredient label as brown rice syrup, evaporated cane juice, or cane sugar.
SUMMARY: Hemp milk is made from the seeds of the Cannabis sativa plant. While the beverage doesn't have any psychoactive effects, it provides more healthy fats and protein than other plant milks.
2. Oat Milk
Though drinking milk made by soaking whole oats doesn't offer quite the same health benefits as eating a bowl of whole grain oats, it is very nutritious.
Oat milk is naturally sweet from the oats and high in carbs. It's unusual in that it contains some soluble fiber, which makes oat milk a bit creamier.
Soluble fiber absorbs water and turns into a gel during digestion, which helps slow digestion and keeps you full for longer. It can also help stabilize your blood sugar levels.
What's more, the soluble fiber in oat milk may reduce your cholesterol levels. A 5-week study in 52 men showed that drinking oat milk lowered LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, compared with a control beverage.
Although nutritional values can vary by brand and depending on how or whether the milk is fortified, an 8-ounce (240-ml) serving of Oatly oat milk provides the following:
- Calories: 120
- Protein: 3 grams
- Carbs: 16 grams
- Fiber: 2 grams
- Fat: 5 grams
- Vitamin B12: 50% of the DV
- Riboflavin: 46% of the DV
- Calcium: 27% of the DV
- Phosphorus: 22% of the DV
- Vitamin D: 18% of the DV
- Vitamin A: 18% of the DV
SUMMARY: Oat milk is higher in carbs than most other plant milks, and it also boasts extra fiber. Much of the fiber in oats is soluble fiber, which offers several health benefits, such as reducing your cholesterol levels and keeping you full for longer.
3. Almond Milk
Almond milk is made by soaking almonds in water and then blending and straining away the solids.
It's a tasty nondairy milk alternative for people who either can't tolerate or choose not to drink dairy milk, but it's not safe if you have a tree nut allergy.
Unsweetened almond milk is low in calories and much lower in carbs than cow's milk, making it a good choice if you follow a lower carb diet.
However, note that many brands contain added sugar. Always check the ingredient label and avoid those that are sweetened.
Although almond milk is a naturally good source of the antioxidant vitamin E, it's low in protein and many other nutrients. Many brands are fortified with calcium and vitamins A and D, but the amounts can vary by brand.
On average, an 8-ounce (240-ml) serving of unsweetened almond milk provides the following:
- Calories: 41
- Protein: 1 gram
- Carbs: 2 grams
- Fat: 3 grams
- Vitamin E: 50% of the DV
Many brands contain additives like carrageenan to thicken and prevent separation.
There is some debate about whether carrageenan promotes intestinal inflammation and damage. Still, most of the research on carrageenan and gut health has been conducted in animals and labs.
SUMMARY: Almond milk is a good nondairy milk alternative, but nutritionally, it's quite different from cow's milk. If you're after its lower carb content, make sure you choose an unsweetened brand.
4. Coconut Milk
Coconut milk is squeezed from the white flesh of a coconut. It has a pleasant flavor, and it's a good nondairy milk alternative that's safe if you have a tree nut allergy.
Most coconut milk packaged in cartons is blended with water to give it a consistency similar to that of cow's milk. It has even less protein than almond milk, but many brands are fortified with certain nutrients.
On the other hand, canned coconut milk is usually intended for culinary purposes. It tends to be higher in fat, is unfortified, and has a much more distinctive coconut flavor.
An 8-ounce (240-ml) serving of an unsweetened coconut milk beverage provides the following:
- Calories: 46
- Protein: none
- Carbs: 1 gram
- Fat: 4 grams
Coconut milk is a bit higher in fat than other plant milks, but the medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) in coconuts is linked to some heart health benefits, such as higher HDL (good) cholesterol levels.
Some brands are also fortified with nutrients like vitamins B12, D, and A, as well as some minerals. The type and amount of nutrients added can vary among brands, so be sure to compare the labels.
SUMMARY: Coconut milk has a light, tropical flavor and is a safe dairy-free milk alternative for those who have a tree nut allergy. Because coconuts are a source of healthy MCTs, drinking coconut milk might boost your HDL (good) cholesterol.
5. Cow's Milk
Cow's milk is the most commonly consumed dairy milk and a good source of high-quality protein.
It's naturally rich in calcium, B vitamins, and many minerals. It's also often fortified with vitamins A and D, making it a very nutritious food for both children and adults.
An 8-ounce (240-ml) serving of whole milk provides the following:
- Calories: 149
- Protein: 8 grams
- Carbs: 12 grams
- Fat: 8 grams
- Vitamin D: 24% of the DV
- Calcium: 28% of the DV
- Riboflavin: 26% of the DV
- Phosphorus: 22% of the DV
- Vitamin B12: 18% of the DV
- Selenium: 13% of the DV
- Potassium: 10% of the DV
Nevertheless, the protein in cow's milk is a common allergen. Most children outgrow it, but some people have a lifelong allergy and need to avoid this beverage and foods containing it.
In addition, an estimated 65% of the population has some degree of difficulty digesting lactose, a type of sugar in cow's milk.
SUMMARY: Regular cow's milk is an excellent source of nutrition, but due to lactose intolerance or milk protein allergy, many people have difficulty digesting it or must avoid it altogether.
6. A2 Milk
Approximately 80% of the protein in cow's milk comes from casein. Most dairy cows in the U.S. produce milk that has two main types of casein — A1 beta-casein and A2 beta-casein.
When A1 beta-casein is digested, a peptide called beta-casomorphin-7 (BCM-7) is produced. It's linked to digestive symptoms similar to those of lactose intolerance in some people, including gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.
Certain dairy cows produce milk that contains only A2 beta-casein, which doesn't form the BCM-7 peptide. The a2 Milk Company markets A2 milk as an easier-to-digest option.
A small study in 45 people with self-reported lactose intolerance found that A2 milk was easier to digest and caused less digestive discomfort, compared with regular cow's milk.
Aside from casein, A2 milk is comparable to regular cow's milk. While it's not a good choice if you are allergic to milk protein or lactose intolerant, it might be worth a try if you experience mild digestive problems after drinking regular cow's milk.
SUMMARY: A2 milk contains only A2 beta-casein, and some people find it easier to digest than cow's milk. However, it's not a good choice if you've been diagnosed with a milk protein allergy or lactose intolerance.
7. Soy Milk
Nutritionally, soy milk comes closest to cow's milk. This is partly because soybeans are an excellent source of complete protein, as well as because it's fortified so that its nutritional profile closely resembles that of milk.
Soy is a great option if you avoid dairy but want a milk beverage that's higher in protein.
An 8-ounce (240-ml) serving of unsweetened soy milk provides the following:
- Calories: 105
- Protein: 6 grams
- Carbs: 12 grams
- Fat: 4 grams
- Vitamin B12: 34% of the DV
- Calcium: 30% of the DV
- Riboflavin: 26% of the DV
- Vitamin D: 26% of the DV
- Phosphorus: 10% of the DV
Soy has been the subject of controversy, as most soybeans grown in the U.S. are genetically modified to resist the herbicide glyphosate.
However, regularly consuming soy foods is linked to health benefits, including improved cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
Furthermore, despite claims that soy may increase breast cancer risk because it mimics estrogen in the body, scientific studies suggest that it may reduce this risk.
Some brands produce organic soy milk, which is made from non-genetically modified organism (non-GMO) soybeans and free from conventional pesticides and herbicides.
SUMMARY: If you want a nondairy milk alternative that's higher in protein and nutritionally closer to cow's milk, consider soy milk. Drinking soy milk may also help reduce your cholesterol, blood pressure, and breast cancer risk.
The Bottom Line
All milk and milk alternative options offer various health advantages, such as reducing your cholesterol, boosting your antioxidant intake, or keeping you safe from an allergy or intolerance.
A good strategy may be to mix up the types of milk you drink. That way, you get the best of each of them, especially if you drink them alongside a healthy, whole foods diet.
Remember to check the labels for ingredients like added sugar or unwanted additives and avoid those with undesirable add-ins.
With the exception of soy milk, plant milk is quite a bit lower in protein and other nutrients than cow's milk. While that's not a significant concern for adults and older children, you should consult your pediatrician to check whether plant milk is appropriate for young children.
Reposted with permission from Healthline.
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