Utterly Confused: What milk should I choose?

Jillian Pancio, Dietetic Major ’19, University Health Center Nutrition Peer Educator

Dairy has been getting a bad rap lately. I am here to provide you with some basic facts so that you can make a well informed choice that best fits your health and lifestyle.

Milk has many nutritional benefits and provides 9 essential nutrients. Essential nutrients are compounds that the body can’t make or can’t make in sufficient quantity. These nutrients must come from food, and they’re vital for disease prevention, growth, and good health. Milk contains calcium, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids.

  • Calcium plays a major role in maintaining healthy bones and teeth, cell signaling, blood clotting, muscle contraction and nerve function.
  • Protein in milk is important to fight diseases, build muscles and maintain healthy hair and nails
  • Carbohydrates in milk give your body energy to fuel the hundreds of vital process’s your body is performing 24 hours a day.

Additionally milk is rich in many nutrients that are essential for stronger bones (Vitamin D, Phosphorous), converting food into energy (B vitamins), for a stronger immune system, and for healthier skin (Vitamin A). Also the fats in milk constitute essential fatty acids, which are important components of every single body cell. Therefore, as a nutrition coach, I encourage my clients to incorporate milk and other dairy products into their healthy diet. Deciding which milk option to pick can be challenging because the campus dining halls have numerous milk options.

Milk Options

Nutrition info for each milk type is for 1 cup.

Soy Milk
4g fat, 4-12 g protein, 30% Calcium, 30% Vitamin D
Soy milk is made from soybeans that have been soaked in water. Soy milk is a complete protein, with very little fat and no cholesterol.

Skim Milk
0 g fat, 8g protein, 30% Calcium, 25% Vitamin D
Whole milk and skim milk have the same nutrients; the only difference is the fat content.

1% or 2% Milk
1% = 2.5g fat, 8g protein and 2%-= 5g fat, 8g of protein, 30% Calcium, 25% Vitamin D
The 1% or 2% percent is the percent of the total weight of the milk that is fat, not the amount of fat in a serving.

Chocolate 2% Milk
3g fat, 8g of protein, 30% Calcium, 25% Vitamin D
Chocolate milk doesn’t have any extra fat; the chocolate does add calories (around 60) and some caffeine.

5g fat, <1g protein, 45% Calcium, 25% Vitamin D
The solid, white flesh of the coconut is mixed with water to create coconut milk. Although it can be part of a healthy diet, compared to other milks coconut milk has a higher amount of saturated fat.

2.5 g fat, 1g protein, 30% Calcium, 25% Vitamin D
Rice milk is grain milk that is made from processing brown rice. There is less protein and calcium in rice milk than cow’s milk.

2.5g fat, 1g protein, 45% Calcium, 25% Vitamin D
Grinding almonds with water and draining out the pulp makes almond milk. Almond milk typically has less protein and calories than cow’s milk.

All of the above milk options can be incorporated into a healthy diet. When making your decision, the varying nutrient composition is something to consider, including the price difference. As an example, the protein content in soy and cow’s milk is higher than in almond, coconut and rice milk. Although calcium and vitamin D are similar in all of the milks, the calcium in cow’s milk is naturally occurring.

How can I incorporate dairy into my diet?

In the morning you could try having:

  • Milk with your cereal or in place of the water when making oatmeal
  • Yogurt and fruit smoothie
  • Whole wheat toast with a slice of melted cheese

For lunch, consider having:

  • A slice of cheese on your sandwich
  • Feta or goat cheese on your salad
  • A glass of milk

Besides having a glass of milk at dinner, you could use:

  • Yogurt as a topping on your baked potato
  • Make a salad dressing with low-fat yogurt
  • Add cottage cheese to your casserole

Some great snacks that include dairy are:

  • Yogurt with granola
  • Cheese with whole wheat crackers
  • Cottage cheese with fruit

How much dairy should I eat?

Maintain bone health in adulthood by striving to get 3 cups a day.

What counts as a cup of dairy?

  • 1 cup of milk or soy beverage
  • 8 oz of yogurt
  • 1½ ounces of natural cheese
  • 2 ounces of processed cheese

To learn more about milk and the nutritional benefits, reserve your free session with a Nutrition Coach today by calling 301-314-5664 or [email protected] or learn more online.