Which is the best type of milk for you? – A Nutritional Look at Milk Varieties
It wasn’t too long ago when the only choice you had for milk was fat-free, skimmed or whole fat. People didn’t worry too much about the nutritional value, many were just concerned with the taste and texture. Nowadays almost every time I go to the supermarket I see that the milk section has expanded. You can find milk products now that will accommodate almost every dietary need, but what are the benefits of all these types, which one is the most nutritional? The choice is sometimes mind-boggling so let’s take a look into some of the most popular varieties and see how they compare head to head. I have chosen 8 of the most popular varieties, including all of the varieties I have used here on SmoothFuel.
Disclaimer: The data that I have used for this small insight has been collected primarily from the USDA food database. Use the following data as a guide. Many manufacturers nowadays fortify milk, a process which adds vitamins and minerals. Manufacturers may even add ingredients to sweeten it. These two processes can dramatically change the nutritional properties so be sure to carefully check the nutritional information when you come to actually buy some. In addition, depending on where the milk has come from and how it has been prepared the nutritional values will change. As there is such an incredible variety we can expect each brand and variety to be slightly different nutritionally speaking. The data below is for unsweetened, non-fortified milk.
The 8 varieties that we will analyze are Whole, Skimmed, Fat-free, Almond, Soy, Oat, Coconut, and Rice.
Milk Comparison – Macro Nutrients
Starting with the total amount of calories it is quite clear to see that there is one variety that has significantly higher calories than the others. Coconut milk has around 230 kcal per 100 grams, this is 5.75 times higher than the average of the others. The reason for this, its high-fat content, which we will look at soon. The milk with the lowest amount of calories is almond milk. Almond milk comes in at just 15 kcal per 100 grams. A very small amount, so it is great for those looking to control their calorie intake.
The winner, or loser depending on how you look at it, is coconut milk, with over 23 grams of fat. Coconut milk has over 7 times as much fat compared to whole milk. 21 grams of this is in the form of saturated fat. Compare that to whole milk that has 1.9 grams of saturated fat. Unsurprisingly fat-free milk has the lowest amount of total fat. Most others have around 1 gram of fat with much smaller amounts of saturated fat. Skimmed milk contains 0.6 grams. Oat and soy contain around 0.2 grams. Almond milk and rice milk do not contain any saturated fats.
When it comes to protein we can see a clear distinction from the animal based and plant based kinds of milk. Animal-based milk has a higher average amount of protein than their plant-based companions. There is very little difference, just o.22 grams, between whole, skimmed and fat-free with respect to protein. Rice milk was the worst performer. It contains a very small 0.28 grams of protein. The best plant-based protein milk was soy, it contains 2.86 grams per 100 grams which is almost as much as whole milk.
Milks are not a good source of fiber. Of the kinds of milk we are looking at, the 3 animal-based milks do not contain any fiber, the others contain less than 0.5 grams per 100 grams with the exception of coconut milk which has 2.2 grams.
Animal-based milk contains lactose which is a type of sugar. The 3 animal-based milks for all intents and purposes contain the same amount of sugar, about 5 grams (the actual values vary by just o.2 grams). Oat milk and rice milk also contain about 5 grams of sugars (they do not contain lactose). Almond milk does not contain any sugar and soy has just 0.4 grams. Coconut milk has 3.3 grams of sugar.
Milk Comparison – Micro Nutrients
I think it’s better to show you the micronutrient values in a table rather than a chart. You can see the complete milk comparison table below which contains all of the data although I’d like to highlight calcium as it is frequently discussed.
We can easily see that most have very similar amounts of calcium except for almond milk which has about an extra 70 mg per 100 grams and for soy and coconut milk have about 100 mg less than the average.
Milk Comparison Table – Macro and Micro Nutrients
I could not find a reliable source that contained sufficient information about the vitamins and minerals in oat milk.
What’s the best type of milk for me?
In short, there is no “best” type. Each milk contains a variety of macro and micronutrients that vary in quantity. Look at your diet and see what you are lacking. Choose a milk that helps fill the gaps, it is that simple. Don’t just limit yourself to one either, consume a variety. Many people enjoy coffee with coconut milk, I eat oats with oat milk and if you are looking for a post-workout smoothie that is high in protein and calories reach for the whole milk.
Weight loss/Calorie control
Winner: Almond Milk
Avoid: Coconut Milk
Almond milk has the lowest amount of calories compared to the others. It also has no saturated fat at all. In addition, it tops out for calcium content and contains fair amounts of other vitamins and minerals. Coconut milk is all the rage at the moment. It is often toted as being a great source of healthy fats. Saturated fat is often demonized, I also during preliminary research read about saturated fat as a nutrient that should be reduced. However recent research is changing how we should view saturated fat. Instead of being avoided like the plague it should be viewed as something that provides neutral health benefits. Next week’s nutrition article will look into this change in more depth.
Vitamins and Minerals
Winner: Whole/Skimmed/Fat Free milk
Loser: Rice Milk
There is not much in it, to be honest. Rice milk is not a bad option as it does contain substantial amounts of vitamins and minerals. Animal-based milks naturally contain higher amounts of vitamins and minerals, the job of cow milk is to give a calf everything it needs to grow so it’s not surprising to see such levels.
High Protein/Weight Gain
Winner: Whole milk
Avoid: Almond milk
Whole milk is a staple for those looking to add an extra few calories to their daily diet. If protein is your only concern and you are worried about consuming too many saturated fats switch to fat-free milk. Almond is both low in calories and low in protein.