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Published on June 29, 2016

What type of milk should you be drinking?

There seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding milk. So what's the real truth?

The real truth is that any type of milk can healthfully fit into a balanced diet, but the type that is best for you depends on your taste and your diet as a whole. Each type of milk has a different profile of nutrients, all of which are important to maintaining health when consumed in moderation.

  • Whole-fat dairy — Whole or 2% milk contains protein, calcium, vitamins A and D and saturated fat. Although typically only recommended for young children, new studies are showing that adults who consume full fat dairy typically eat less at meals and stay satiated longer than those drinking low-fat dairy. This type of milk would be ideal for someone who drinks minimal dairy, someone looking to increase calories or for children under the age of two.
  • Low- or non-fat dairy — Skim or 1% milk contains all the protein, vitamins and minerals that whole milk contains, but it has much less saturated fat. This type of milk is typically more heart-healthy than full-fat milk. It is ideal for someone who often runs low on protein intake, consumes a lot of dairy products or is looking to cut down on saturated fat intake.
  • Soy — Soy milk is a plant-based milk product. Unsweetened and unflavored soy milk has a similar amount of protein and calories as dairy milk, but the type of fat it contains is polyunsaturated instead of saturated. It is ideal for someone looking to decrease saturated fat while still maintaining protein. Keep in mind that plant-based milks have sweetened or flavored versions, which also contain added sugar.
  • Almond — Almond milk is another example of a plant-based milk product. It typically has fewer calories than other milk products, but that is because it also has significantly less protein. However, like soy milk, it also has more calcium than dairy. Most of its fat comes in the form of monounsaturated fat, which is a very heart-healthy fat. This type of milk is ideal for someone who gets adequate protein elsewhere in their diet.

Keep in mind that these are generalizations and nutrient content can very brand-to-brand for each milk product. It is also important to note that this is only a small sampling of the types of milk currently on the market. Sheep's milk, goat's milk, hemp milk, coconut milk and flax milk are also examples, each having their own unique nutrient profile.

The best way to decide which type of milk might be best for you is to read the nutrition label, keep an open mind (and taste buds) and, of course, consult your registered dietitian.

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