Choosing the Best Milk (or Mylk) for your Family: What you Need to Know

Choosing the best milk for familiesIt now seems there are almost as many milk choices as there are varieties of cereal! From organic to oat milk, here are some tips for choosing the best milk for meeting your family’s nutritional needs.

I often get asked which milk (or mylk) is the absolute best milk. In truth, it depends on your own values and individual dietary needs. There is not one recommendation I can provide for everyone, but I hope to provide enough guidance to assist your dairy (or non-dairy) decision at the grocery store or coffee shop.
For each type of milk below I have included benefits and potential concerns. Of course, certain brands may vary as far as added ingredients and nutritional profile, so always check your labels!

Cow’s Milk:

If consuming dairy, I recommend choosing organic, grass-fed milk of the full-fat variety. Fat helps our bodies absorb any vitamin D added to the milk, as it is a fat-soluble vitamin. Dietary fat is also needed for optimal brain development in children. For most adults, research no longer supports avoiding all sources of saturated fat, especially if one’s diet is rich in monounsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids, and fiber, as well as lower in sugar and refined carbohydrates. Why not enjoy the real deal?
For reference, per 8 ounces of cow’s milk, there are 150 calories, 8 grams of fat (5 grams of saturated fat), 8 grams of protein, and 12 grams of carbohydrate. Cow’s milk typically contains around 390 mg of calcium per serving, although it may not necessarily contain vitamin D. Check your label–a brand of organic, grass-fed milk at my local market did not have any added.
Benefits:
  • Boasts calcium and most contain vitamin D.
  • Contains protein and lactose which help boost calcium absorption from the milk.
  • Grass-fed milk contains conjugated linoleic acid, a fatty acid associated with many health benefits. It is also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin K2 (important for bone health).
  • You may be able to purchase locally from farmers in glass bottles that can be reused.
Potential Concerns:
  •  Cow’s milk can promote inflammation for some individuals and should be avoided for those with lactose intolerance or dairy sensitivity. Note: Digestion can be assisted by drinking milk warm with the delicious addition of cardamom and cinnamon. If you suspect milk may be causing inflammation for you, discuss with your healthcare provider.
  • The price tends to be higher than many milk alternatives.

 

A2 Milk®:

Benefits:

  • Comparable to regular whole cow’s milk for calories, carbohydrates, dietary fat, protein, sodium, and potassium per serving.
  •  Good source of calcium and vitamin D.
  • Only contains A2 beta-casein, which may be linked to less health risk than A1 beta-casein.
  • The cows that produce A2 milk are not treated with growth hormones, rBST, or antibiotics. The A2 farms are Validus Certified for animal welfare.

Potential Concerns:

  • The evidence is not entirely strong or clear as to whether or not A1 beta-casein promotes a variety of health issues.
  • This milk still contains lactose for those who may be intolerant, although a few studies suggest drinking A2 causes less bloating and GI upset than milk containing A1 beta-casein.

Almond Milk:

Benefits:

  • Tasty non-dairy milk substitute that is easy to find unsweetened.
  • Often easier on the wallet as many grocery stores carry almond milk with their own label.
  • Much lower in carbohydrates for those monitoring their intake (approximately 1 gram of carbohydrate per 8 ounce serving).

Potential Concerns:

  • Much lower in fat and protein than cow’s milk (approximately 3 grams of fat and 1 gram of protein), so children consuming this milk alternative would benefit from alternate food sources rich in fat and protein.
  • Not typically fortified with calcium or vitamin D (check your label).
  • Some brands contain carrageenan, a seaweed derivative that may promote inflammation and gut-health issues. Look for brands without carrageenan listed in the ingredients.
  • Nuts are a common allergen.
  • Not the best option for those who are environmentally conscience. It takes a lot of water to produce almonds, many of which are grown in California where drought is often an issue.
  • Not as creamy as other nut milks (which in my personal opinion makes a less-than-optimal latte).

Coconut Milk:

Benefits:

  • Tasty non-dairy milk substitute that is easy to find unsweetened and without carrageenan.
  • Contains a type of fat comprised of medium-chained triglycerides which may have some potential health and digestion benefits. I am unsure how much of this fat is present in store-bought coconut milk.

Potential Concerns:

  • Not always fortified with calcium and vitamin D (check your label).
  • Does not contain comparable amounts of calories, fat, protein, and carbohydrates to cow’s milk. If consuming, especially by young children, this should be made up for in the diet via other foods rich in quality protein and dietary fat. As for fat content, this does not apply to canned coconut milk which far exceeds the amount found in cow’s milk!

 

Related: Why our Children Deserve Much Better than the Typical Kid’s Menu

Flax Milk:

Benefits:

  • Dairy alternative that contains a good amount of calcium and vitamin D. The brand I most typically see contains vitamin B12 as well, a benefit to those following vegetarian or vegan diets.
  • Often available unsweetened and non-GMO certified.
  • Contains alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid important for fighting inflammation and for heart health (although ALA must first be converted to DHA or EPA in the body).

Potential Concerns:

  • Does not contain comparable amounts of calories, fat, protein, and carbohydrates to cow’s milk. If consuming, especially by young children, this should be made up for in the diet via other foods rich in quality protein and dietary fat.

Goat Milk:

Benefits:
  • Contains easier to digest and fewer allergenic proteins than cow’s milk. Rich in prebiotics that “feed” the good bacteria (probiotics) in our gut.
  • Contains less lactose than cow’s milk does, a factor helpful for those with an intolerance.
  • Boasts lots of calcium and potassium. Comparable to whole milk for dietary fat, sodium, protein, and carbohydrates per serving.

Potential Concerns:

  • The strong taste may not be as pleasing for little palates.
  • Might not contain as much vitamin D per serving (the one at my local grocer does not. It contains 15% the Daily Value of vitamin D versus approximately 25% in other milks.)

Hemp Seed Milk:

Benefits:

  • Non-dairy alternative that boasts a creamy, nutty flavor. Can easily be found unsweetened, calcium-fortified, and without carrageenan.
  • Considered a source of complete protein that the body can easily digest.
  • Contains almost as much dietary fat as cow’s milk (6-8 grams, although in some brands less fat is found in unsweetened varieties—check your label!).
  • Contains the omega-3 fatty acid ALA (see note for flax milk above).

Potential Concerns:

  • Might not contain as much vitamin D per serving as cow’s milk or other dairy alternatives.
  • Does not contain comparable amounts of calories, protein, and carbohydrates to cow’s milk.

Oat Milk:

Benefits:

  • Full-fat version likely contains comparable calories and grams of fat to cow’s milk.
  • Super creamy non-dairy milk alternative that is typically fortified with calcium and vitamin D.
  • Nut and gluten-free option for those with allergies (although oats do not naturally contain gluten, some milks may be processed in a facility with wheat—check your label!).

Potential Concerns:

  • Higher in carbohydrates than most milks (15-16 grams per serving compared to 12 grams per serving in cow’s milk and much less in other non-dairy varieties). While this is not necessarily “bad,” might be important or folks who are monitoring carbohydrate levels to consider.
  • Organic oat milks not as easy to find, although I have seen some that are not labeled as organic indicated as “GMO-free.”
  • Full-fat version of one brand I looked contains added fat from rapeseed oil (canola oil). I don’t recommend consuming this type of oil often as it can be extremely processed with bleaching agents and deodorizers mixed in.

Pea Milk:

Benefits:

  • Comparable to cows milk for grams of protein per serving.
  • Boasts more calcium than cows milk (popular brand advertises 50% more) and a good source of vitamin D.
  • May have added DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid important for reducing inflammation in the body.

Potential Concerns:

  • Does not contain quite the amount of fat as cow’s milk does (approximately 4.5 grams per serving). If consuming, especially by young children, this should be made up for in the diet via other foods rich in dietary fat.

We’ve discovered OWYN Dairy-Free Milk if you’re thinking about a pea-based vegan milk.  This vegan-non-dairy flavored milk combines pea, organic pumpkin seed, quinoa, and organic flax oil, to help you and your little ones maintain and develop healthy bodies. Along with 5 grams of protein, each serving delivers a hidden superfoods greens blend (Kale, Spinach, and Broccoli) and 400mg Omega 3s, which are known to be anti-inflammatory on the body.

Rice Milk:

Benefits:
  • Least allergenic of all the other milk and milk alternatives offered.
  • Easy to find unsweetened, organic, non-GMO, and options fortified with calcium and vitamin D.
Potential Concerns:
  • Rice milk may contain high levels of arsenic and no more than 4 ounces per day is recommended. I do not recommend rice milk or rice cereal for children or pregnant women for this reason.
  • Contains nearly double the carbohydrates per serving of cow’s milk at 22 grams (see note about carbs under oat milk).
  • Not comparable to cow’s milk for fat and protein. If consuming, especially by young children, this should be made up for in the diet via other foods rich in quality protein and dietary fat.
  • Most brands I reviewed contain canola oil (see note found under oat milk) or carrageenan (see note under almond milk).

Soy Milk:

Benefits:

  • Comparable to cow’s milk for protein content.
  • Tasty non-dairy milk substitute that is easy to find unsweetened and without carrageenan.
  • Often contains other vitamins and minerals (magnesium, vitamin B12, vitamin D, vitamin A).
  • The brand I looked at was quite a bit lower in sodium than most of the other milk options available (70-90 mg compared to 110–140 mg in other milks), a factor that might be important for those monitoring salt intake.

Potential Concerns:

  • Does not quite contain the amount of fat as cow’s milk does (approximately 4.5 grams per serving). If consuming, especially by young children, this should be made up for in the diet via other foods rich in dietary fat.
  • If not organic, the soybeans used to make the milk are likely a genetically-modified (GMO) crop.
  • Soy is a common allergen.
  • Those with a thyroid issue or on thyroid medication should speak with their healthcare providers about processed soy conception intake and medication timing.

 


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