Not all milk is created equal. These days, grocery stores are stocked with a gamut of different milks ranging from whole-fat dairy milk to myriad alternative milks made from almonds, cashew and more. So how do you choose which one is best for your health?
Kelsey Tiller, a registered dietitian at Tidelands Waccamaw Community Hospital, says when it comes to dairy milk, fat content is what you need to be looking at most.
“The American Heart Association recommends the maximum amount of saturated fat you consume each day is 13 grams,” she says. “Full-fat dairy is a source of saturated fat, and if you are consuming cheese, yogurt and meat as well, it can be difficult to stay under that guideline with full-fat milk.”
To make sure you are staying below 13 grams of saturated fat a day, Tiller recommends people find balance by choosing a combination of low-fat and full-fat options. For example, people might want to enjoy skim milk with breakfast but choose whole-fat yogurt for a snack.
Milk for children
For children older than 2 years of age, the American Heart Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend a dairy milk with a fat content of 1 or 2 percent. Children under the age of 2 should be breastfed or consume whole milk or water.
But fat is an important macronutrient for growing children, so in some cases it may be better to keep giving your child whole milk even after his or her second birthday.
“If your child is a picky eater and doesn’t get much other fat or dairy from his or her diet, it may be beneficial to stick with whole milk,” Tiller says. “This conversation should happen with your pediatrician or registered dietitian.”
Iron-dense foods vs. calcium-heavy foods
Consuming drinks or foods that contain a lot of calcium such as milk can actually inhibit the body’s ability to absorb iron.
To make sure you and your loves ones are getting the nutritional benefits from both calcium-heavy foods and iron-dense foods, it’s best to consume them separately.
“This is especially important for children, who often consume milk with meals,” Tiller says. “And mealtimes happen to feature the most iron-dense food choices with meat, dark leafy greens, potatoes and beans and lentils.”
As such, she says, it may be better to consume a beverage other than milk during at least some meals.
Alternative milk concerns
Nowadays, many people have chosen to forgo dairy milk and replace it with “milks” that are made from nuts like almond or cashew or plants like hemp.
However, many alternative milks lack protein and are high in added sugars. And, although alternative milks are often fortified with vitamins and minerals, these nutrients don’t always make it out of the bottle.
“Many times, these vitamins and minerals settle at the bottom of the carton or stick to the sides,” Tiller says. “So, it is very important that you shake the carton well before pouring to get the nutrients.”
At the very least, Tiller says people should be looking for alternative milks that are fortified with calcium and vitamin D and that have little to no added sugar.
“Dairy milk naturally contains highly bioavailable and high-quality sources of protein, calcium, riboflavin, vitamin E, vitamin A, folate, thiamin, niacin, B6 and B12, and it is standard to find it fortified with vitamin D,” Tiller says. “So picking an alternative that is as close as possible to this nutrient profile will help ensure you are picking a good option.”
If you are concerned about you or your family’s dairy intake, you should speak with your doctor or a registered dietitian, Tiller says. He or she can help you make the right choice for your diet and lifestyle.