From skim-plus to ultra-pasteurized, the dairy aisle is stocked with a wide variety of options. And we're just talking about cow milk. When you add milk alternatives like soy, almond and goat milks to the mix, your selection nearly doubles.
So what is the best milk to drink? Here's how the competitors stack up.
1) Skim Milk
(80 calories, 0g fat per 8 ounces)
Good choice if: You want to lose weight
Skim milk is jam-packed with several vital nutrients including calcium, vitamin A, phosphorus, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and the antioxidant selenium. According to a recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people felt fuller and ate fewer calories after drinking skim milk than after drinking a fruit drink. Researchers say the proteins in skim milk can reduce hunger. Plus, fat-free milk has 40 fewer calories per cup than 2 percent milk and none of the saturated fat.
2) Lactose Free Fat-Free Milk
(90 calories, 0g fat per 8 ounces)
Good choice if: You're lactose intolerant
Thirty million Americans are lactose intolerant, meaning they can't properly digest lactose, a natural sugar in milk and milk products. Lactose free milk is cow milk with added lactase, an enzyme that breaks down lactose, so it's easier to digest. Lactose-free milk has the same nutritional value as regular milk, but it's usually more expensive. Most lactose-intolerant people will tell you it's worth the higher price.
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3) Rice Milk
(120 calories, 2g fat per 8 ounces)
Good choice if: You're vegan or lactose intolerant
Made by blending rice with water, rice milk's mildly sweet taste and smooth texture make it a popular non-dairy option. Like other dairy alternatives, rice milk is lactose-free so it's a godsend for those with lactose-intolerance. In fact, rice is considered one of the least allergenic foods. On the plus side, rice milk is often fortified with vitamins and minerals including vitamin A and B12. The downside: It provides very little protein and has more sugar than other non-dairy beverages.
4) Low-Fat Goat Milk
(100 calories, 2.5g fat, 1.5g saturated fat per 8 ounces)
Good choice if: You're allergic to cow milk or need a healthy snack
Tangy goat milk is finally getting a chance to show its horns. When Spanish researchers compared cow milk and goat milk, they found that goat milk contained more heart-healthy omega-3 fats, bone-building calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium, as well as conjugated linoleic acid, which may aid in fat loss. Goat milk also contains smaller fat globules, making it easier to digest for some than cow milk. Opt for low-fat goat milk to save 70 calories and 5.5 grams of saturated fat.
5) Hemp Milk
(110 calories, 7g fat per 8 ounces)
Good choice if: You're iron deficient Made by blending hemp seeds and water, groovy hemp milk is rich and creamy with an unmistakable nutty flavor. This drink has more superstar omega-3 fatty acids than other non-dairy milks, and it's a great source of iron, which is totally absent in cow milk. Pennsylvania State University scientists found that iron deficiency can impair cognitive functioning in women—no surprise, since it's necessary for delivering oxygen to brain cells. Choose unsweetened hemp milk to avoid too many added sugars.
6) Almond Milk
(70 calories, 2.5g fat per 8 ounces)
Good choice if: You're vegan, allergic to soy or lactose intolerant
Almond milk has a creamy consistency similar to soy milk and a slight nutty taste that works well in smoothies. It's lactose-free and full of heart healthy flavonoids that can help lower cholesterol. An 8-ounce serving of this nut milk provides up to half of your daily requirement of vitamin E, the nutrient that promotes healthy skin. But with only 1 to 2 grams of protein per cup compared to 8 grams in cow milk, almond milk is no protein powerhouse.
7) Soy Milk
(105 calories, 4g fat per 8 ounces)
Good choice if: You're lactose intolerant or lack protein in your diet
The original non-dairy beverage, soy milk contains more hunger-fighting protein than all other faux milks—about 7 grams per cup. While there's controversy on whether soy is a cancer promoter or fighter, new research comes down on the side of it being protective. Soy milk has its disadvantages, though. Non-digestible carbohydrates called oligosaccharides may cause stomach pain and gas in some people. As with other non-dairy milks, look for unsweetened brands fortified with calcium and vitamin D to keep your bones strong.
8) Low-Fat Chocolate Milk
(170 calories, 3g fat per 8 ounces)
Good choice if: You do a long, tough workout
British scientists found that people who downed chocolate milk after an intense workout were able to bike up to 50 percent longer after a 4-hour rest period than when they drank a sports drink. The combination of carbohydrates, protein and electrolytes in chocolate milk helps your muscles recover faster. But since chocolate milk is also high in sugar, save it as your go-to post-workout drink and stick with unsweetened milk during other times.