Ah, milk. One of the most demonised foods of the past decade. Is it bad for you or is it a superfood in disguise? What are the best alternatives if you ARE lactose intolerant?
There are so many options in the fridges and on the shelves than ever before and it’s just making people more confused, which is the best choice for myself and my family?
So here is my shopping guide to milk!
(1) Cow’s milk
Cow’s milk is a nutritious food, an important source of protein from the whey and casein proteins as well as minerals including phosphate and (of course) calcium.
There are numerous myths about milk, one of them is about that full-cream milk is “full of fat”. Full-cream milk has 35 g fat per litre (or 3.5%), lite varieties have 1.5% and skim milk contains less than 0.5% fat – these numbers are relatively small. Reduced-fat is recommended for most people due to numerous sources of fat in the diet (such as takeaways, cakes, pastries and biscuits).
And no, skim milk does not contain “added” sugar. The “sugars” in milk is lactose which affects many people and is basically the same across all cow’s milk varieties.
Full-cream cow’s milk is the only recommended option for children aged between 1-2 years old (except if they have a cow’s milk protein allergy), and low-fat milk can be used after 2 years old.
(2) A2 Milk
A2 milk contains only the A2 beta-casein protein, as the name suggests. This rose to popularity as there were claims that the A1 protein caused autism, schizophrenia, heart disease and diabetes which has very limited supporting evidence. Paying more for A2 would, therefore, have limited benefits on health.
(3) Long-life (or UHT) Milk
Why does this milk get to stay on shelves and not in fridge? This is because of the process of heating the milk has undergone giving it a longer shelf-life. UHT stands for ultra-high temperatures (132 degrees Celsius to be exact), compared to refrigerated milk which is heated to 72 degrees. This process called pasteurisation is mandatory by law, and kills bacteria in the milk protecting us from getting sick – I would not recommend raw milks that find their way onto the market, especially for children, pregnant women and the elderly.
Long-life milks are nearly identical to fresh cow’s milk and it is simply more convenient for some people to be able to store milk at room temperature for months.
(4) Lactose-Free Milk
Lactose-free milk products contain the enzyme lactase which breaks down lactose (the sugar found in milk products) so that it can be more easily digested for those who experience symptoms of lactose intolerance.
It is important to keep in mind that those who are lactose intolerant can build up their tolerance level, and most adults can tolerate a cup of milk across the day, without symptoms.
(5) Soy milk
Soy milk was the first popular dairy-free milk alternative. It’s important to note that soy milk and full-cream cow’s milk have similar calorie, protein, fat and carbohydrate content, although slightly lower in saturated fat (the kind that isn’t too good for your heart), as it is a plant-based milk. Keep in mind when buying soy milk is to choose a brand that is calcium-fortified (to at least 100 mg/100 mL), that is has added calcium to ensure it’s an adequate replacement for cow’s milk.
Soy products contain phytochemicals (only found in plants) which can help regulate cell growth and cholesterol levels. There has been more research into the estrogen-like compounds produced by soy and its role in breast cancer.
(6) Almond/other nut milk
Almond milk and other nut milks have soared into popularity in the last few years, popping into nearly every cafe to make sure they cater to the demand of dairy-free coffee drinkers. These “milks” are mostly water with crushed nuts (often less than 10%) and therefore offer little energy or protein. Many almond milks currently on supermarket shelves are NOT calcium-fortified, so always check to nutrition label before buying. Young women, in particular, avoiding dairy and using almond milk instead in their adolescent and young adulthood years are putting themselves at risk of osteoporosis later in life as they are not laying down sufficient calcium to keep their bones strong.
(7) Coconut milk or blends
Coconut milk was once reserved for curries and creamy stir-fries, it has now entered the milk market. Coconut milk contains a similar calorie content to cow’s milk. However, it is lower in protein, fat and calcium and higher in carbohydrates.
(8) Oat milk
Oat milk is a cereal-based milk alternative, again you have to check the calcium content to make sure it’s a suitable alternative otherwise it contains similar levels of energy and protein compared to full-cream milk. Oat milk also contains a type of fibre called beta-glucan which can help to lower cholesterol, however, it is not rich in calcium. This milk may not be appropriate for people with coeliac disease.
(9) Rice milk
Rice milk is the most hypoallergenic of all milk alternatives. Lower in energy, fat and protein it provides little resemblance to cow’s milk. It is much higher in carbohydrates contributing to its renowned sweet taste. Many rice milks are fortified, but always double-check the label.
(10) Flavoured milks (cow’s or plant-based)
This truly falls into the “sometimes” food category. But flavoured milks and other milk drinks can be great pre- or post-workout snacks, filled with protein, carbohydrates and calcium to get you going for a gym sesh.
Milk and dairy are an important part of the diet providing calcium and phosphate for strong bones and teeth and rich in protein. Children, teenagers and older people all need plenty of dairy foods to build bone and prevent bone loss in later life.
If you can tolerate cow’s milk, it is the most nutrient-dense option packed with lots of vitamins and minerals. Whilst the lactose-free alternatives are aplenty, it is known that lactose increases calcium absorption so drinking milk. If you choose another type of milk, check the calcium content matches cow’s milk so that your bones don’t suffer later in life.
If you like this “A shopping guide to…” idea, let me know there are so many other foods/products this can be applied to that I’d love to write about!