When trying to lose weight, it’s important to keep an eye on your protein intake. Without an adequate amount, you’ll lose muscle. To achieve a healthy weight loss, foods that provide you vitamins, minerals, and protein- like those in a whole foods diet– should be the majority of what you eat. Many people overlook the benefits of milk as a protein source. It can be incorporated in many ways- from smoothies, with overnight oats, or instead of coffee creamer. Cow’s milk isn’t the only option either. Alternatives are plentiful.
With any milk option you’ll want to keep an eye on the amount of total fat. The American Heart Association and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourage the consumption of low-fat dairy to help limit the quantity of saturated fat. Not all dietary fats are created equally, after all. Even some plant-based milk options (like coconut milk), are high in saturated fat.
Which milk options will benefit a healthy diet and weight loss? Today we’ll share a few options.
This is a staple in households as it has many nutritional benefits. Calcium, phosphorus, B vitamins, potassium and vitamin D are just some of the important nutrients found in cow’s milk. It’s also an excellent source of protein. Drinking milk and dairy products may prevent osteoporosis and bone fractures and also help you maintain a healthy weight. Some studies have also shown that drinking a glass of low fat or skim milk daily can help lower blood pressure. The USDA shares the nutritional value of a 2-cup glass of 2% milk:
- Calories: 122
- Protein: 8.23 g
- Carbohydrates: 12 g
- Fat: 4.66 g
- Calcium: 309 mg
- Magnesium: 29.4 mg
- Potassium: 390 mg
- Zinc: 1.05 mg
- Folate: 4.9 mcg
- Choline: 44.6 mg
- Vitamin B12: 1.35 mcg
- Vitamin A: 203 mcg
- Vitamin D: 111 IU
Sources share that some research has found a link between low levels of vitamin D and obesity, but it’s not yet clear whether low vitamin D is a contributing factor for obesity or whether obesity is a contributing factor to having low vitamin D. While the exact role of vitamin D in weight loss isn’t precisely understood, it is clear that vitamin D is an important element for our overall health, so pick a milk option that is fortified with the nutrient.
Older studies in which participants self-reported their dairy consumption had initially questioned if consuming cow’s milk increased the risk for cardiovascular disease, but studies as recent as 2018 have shown that’s not the case. One source1 explains, “In fact, the evidence shows that milk products, including those that are higher in fat such as cheese, may help to protect cardiovascular health.”
Cow’s milk is most widely supported for weight loss, due to the amount of research behind it and its nutrient profile. If you’re on a calorie-restricted diet but still want the benefit of traditional dairy milk, choose a 2 percent milk over whole. Either way, you’re still getting 8 grams of protein per cup.
Don’t let lactose intolerance keep you from enjoying cow’s milk either. There are many brands that now ultra-filter their product to remove the lactose. You can then still get all the nutrients without the negative side effects. Lactose-free milk is still a great source of protein, calcium, vitamins, and minerals. Interestingly, there is also another type of cow’s milk that only contains the A2 protein- typically cow’s milk contains both A1 and A2 proteins. A recent randomized controlled2, crossover study looked at the gastrointestinal discomfort of people who had self-reported lactose intolerance. The researchers found the people had less discomfort with the A2 milk over the conventional milk, according to 2016 research in Nutrition Journal.
Some consider Almond milk and other nut milks trendy. Known for its low calorie content (30 calories/cup of unsweetened milk), it is also free of saturated fat and lactose. While these may be positive aspects, one huge miss is that it lacks protein (only 1 gram/cup). Although it is a healthier alternative to a sugary drink, some critics point to the amount of water it takes to produce one liter- nearly 17 times more water to produce than it takes to produce a liter of cow’s milk. In areas where almonds are grown, like in California, that increase in water demand has a serious impact on the local ecosystem.
If you opt for almond milk, check that it isn’t loaded with sugar. Since almond milk is often used as an alternative to dairy milk, most manufacturers will add vitamins and minerals to the final product so dairy-free consumers don’t miss out on valuable nutrients.
People who are allergic to almonds or nuts should avoid almond milk.
Per cup, unsweetened almond milk has:
- about 30 to 60 calories
- 1 gram of carbohydrates (sweetened varieties have more)
- 3 grams of fat
- 1 gram of protein
Goat’s milk has gained popularity as the protein in the milk is easier to digest than that in plant-based milks. While slight, goat’s milk also contains less lactose than cow’s milk (roughly 1% less). The reason behind why it may be easier to digest is again the type of protein in the milk. Research has found that people with lactose intolerance may have an easier time digesting goat’s milk because of the lower levels of A1 protein3.
This alternative to cow’s milk also has similar nutrient’s as cow’s milk as far as the protein and calcium. But, it doesn’t have as many vitamins or folic acid, according to a review in Journal of Dairy Science.
A benefit of goat’s milk is that it contains more blood pressure-lowering calcium and linoleic acid when compared to cow’s milk. Linoleic acid has been shown to improve blood sugar regulation, reduce body fat and help maintain lean body mass.
Soy is a popular milk alternative as it helps you feel full due to its higher amounts of protein (7 grams per cup). If you choose an unsweetened type, you also don’t have to worry about added sugar. When choosing a soy milk option, select one that is fortified with calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12 at a minimum, even better if it contains vitamin A, potassium, and vitamin B.
Due to a very similar nutritional profile to low-fat cow’s milk, it was included as a “dairy” in the USDA’s 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Barbara Schmidt, RDN, the nutrition lifestyle program specialist at Norwalk Hospital in Noralk, Connecticut says, “I call the soybean the incredible, edible bean. With all nine essential amino acids, soy milk is a good source of protein and is balanced in fats and carbs”.
Some people are concerned that most soy produced in the United States comes from GMO plants4, but there are brands available that produce their product with non-GMO soy.
Be aware that soy is a common allergen for both adults and children.
Below is a table that gives a quick overview of the general nutritional composition of a variety of milk options.
|8oz cup||Cow, 2%||Goat||Soy||Almond||Coconut||Oat||Rice||Hemp||Flax|
There is no lack of options when it comes to milk choices. The bottom line- no matter what you choose, check that it is low in saturated fat, doesn’t have added sugar, and is fortified with nutrients to best support your health.