Milking it:  Which variety is best for you

It’s a juggling act for baristas. A latte with soy? Or is almond or rice milk trendy this week? We unlock some milk myths.

We’ve been drinking it for thousands of years, but in recent times cow’s milk seems to have fallen out of fashion. Along came hip, healthy- sounding milks to fill the void and our coffee cups. But with so many milk products on the market, it’s hard to know which variety is the best for us.

Cow’s milk

According to Bupa’s accredited practising dietitian Rosalyn D'Angelo good old fashioned cow’s milk is superior to any other milk on the market.

“Regular cow’s milk is a powerhouse of nutrition,” says D’Angelo. “If you have no trouble digesting cow’s milk it’s the best option.”

D’Angelo says it’s a great source of calcium, protein and vitamin D, which helps absorb calcium into your bones.

“If you’re a person who can’t digest lactose, yes, cow’s milk can cause you issues, so my suggestion would be to chose lactose-free cow’s milk because it’s nutritionally identical in terms of protein and calcium. It’s just lactose free,” says D'Angelo.

Cow’s milk is higher in saturated fats than the nut milks, so D'Angelo recommends choosing reduced fat milk.

Milk myth: Some believe when the fat is removed from milk, the goodness goes with it. This isn’t true according to D'Angelo, who says reduced fat and skim milk still have all the nutrients found in full fat varieties.

Soy milk

Soy milk is a great source of plant protein, which makes it a good choice for vegetarians or those wanting to boost their protein intake.
It has almost as much protein as cow’s milk, but D'Angelo says soy is naturally quite low in calcium.

“If you’re going to chose soy milk, it’s a healthy option; you’d just choose calcium fortified soy milk,” says D'Angelo.

D'Angelo says it’s also important to be careful of the sugar content, and recommends using the free Food switch app to find the best option on the supermarket shelf.

Fact: Isoflavones, a class of phytoestrogens found in soy milk, mimic the role of oestrogen. Around the time of menopause soy products may help reduce the effects of menopause.

Almond milk

While almonds are naturally a good source of calcium, D'Angelo says almond milk doesn’t have anywhere near as much calcium as cow’s milk.

“In terms of the calcium content you’re looking at about 180mg per serve versus 300mg for a glass of cow’s milk or fortified soy milk.”
Almond milk is very low in protein, but on the upside it’s also free of cholesterol, saturated fat and lactose.

 “It just doesn’t quite match up to cow’s milk in terms of calcium and protein.”

“You’d be better off having almonds as part of a healthy diet, and then getting your calcium and protein from diary, but it’s a preference thing.”

If you chose to drink almond milk, D'Angelo recommends looking for a product which is calcium fortified.
cup of coffee

Rice milk

This milk, made from a fermented grain or flower, is a good choice for those with a nut allergy or for vegans.

D'Angelo says rice milk is very low in protein and calcium, so she recommends calcium-fortified varieties.

A2 milk

There are two types of beta-casein protein found in cow’s milk. A1 and A2. A small percentage of people have trouble digesting A1 protein, which is how A2 milk was born. 

According to D'Angelo A2 milk is no better for you than cow’s milk, unless you have trouble digesting A1 protein.

“It’s nutritionally identical in terms of calcium and protein. It’s just only got A2 protein and it’s more expensive because they’ve handpicked the cows.”

The verdict

D'Angelo says while it may have fallen out of fashion, ordinary cow’s milk is our best source of calcium.

She says calcium essential for bone health to prevent serious long-term conditions like osteoporosis, but also for muscle contraction, heart and enzyme functions. 

According to the Australian Dietary guidelines men and women aged 19–50 years should have two and a half serves of reduced fat dairy products every day.

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