Milk Mysteries

Image by @FangXiaNuo via

Last June, we asked, “How well do you know milk?” This year, to acknowledge Dairy Month, we have a follow-up question. When you approach the dairy section, do you think, “How did it become so complicated?” The many options and popular dairy alternatives create confusion and raise questions about what’s best to choose. The answer depends on what you’re looking for. Here are the factors to consider.

For a balanced option

An 8-ounce serving of cow’s milk offers:

  • 12 grams of carbohydrate
  • 8 grams of protein
  • 0-8 grams of fat (depending on the variety)
  • an array of vitamins and minerals

It’s also naturally free from added sugar. The simplicity of a glass of milk makes it easy to overlook, especially among adults. However, a hydrating glass of milk is the easiest way to consume a balanced blend of nutrition. It’s also an affordable post-workout drink. The dairy alternative beverage that comes closest, nutritionally, to this is soy milk.

For protein

If you’re seeking protein, then cow, soy, or protein-enhanced options are your best choices. Most dairy alternative beverages are very low in protein. This recipe for oat milk, however, offers almost 10 grams of protein per serving.

For calcium and vitamin D 

When it comes to calcium and vitamin D, you can count on most beverages in the dairy case. Cow’s milk, regardless of the variety, is naturally rich in these important micronutrients. A glass of cow’s milk fulfills about 25% of your daily calcium needs and 15% of your vitamin D. Alternative beverages are also well-fortified with calcium and vitamin D. Eight ounces of almond milk, for example, doesn’t offer more vitamin D than cow’s milk. But it does provide close to 35% of your daily calcium requirement.

For more omega fats

Omega-3 fatty acids play many important roles within our bodies, including helping to maintain our heart health. However, many of us aren’t consuming enough omega-3s, leaving us potentially low in this essential fat. Choosing beverages that contain omega fats helps you build up and maintain an adequate supply. For example, cow’s milk and dairy alternative beverages are enhanced with two types of omega-3 fats:

  • DHA (for neural health)
  • EPA (to lower risk of heart disease)

Some milks (grass-fed, for example) claim to offer more omega-3 fatty acids than other milks. It is true that a cow’s diet may impact the fat composition of their milk. However, that can be difficult to quantify and is often inconsistent. 

For lactose-intolerant individuals

Some of us are deficient in lactase enzyme. This leaves us unable to digest lactose, the natural sugar found in cow’s milk. Lactose intolerance doesn’t necessarily mean an individual must avoid dairy. It just means they need to choose lactose-free beverages (either dairy-free or a lactose-free milk). Alternatively, a lactase supplement taken prior to consuming traditional cow’s milk usually allows for comfortable digestion.

For those with a dairy protein allergy

Individuals with a dairy protein allergy must avoid all dairy foods and any products that contain casein and whey. These include breads, crackers, and more. Thankfully, milk is one of the nine major allergens included on the “contains” statement along with a product’s ingredient list. When deciding on a dairy alternative beverage (or yogurt), be sure to choose Guiding Stars rated options. They’ll be the lowest in added sugar and saturated fat, and rich in micronutrients like calcium, vitamin D, and others.