Which is the healthiest type of milk to buy?

Written by Accredited Practicing Dietitian Themis Chryssidis

From Sprout Cooking School & Health Studio

Posted: Nov 24 2022

In recent years you must have been living under a rock to miss the rise in different types of milks now available on the supermarket shelves or behind the coffee machine at your favourite café. Now, if you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, and whether you should be reaching for an alternative, then carry on reading below before you make your decision, and don’t stress because, well, there’s no point crying over, well, you know…

What makes milk, milk?

Milk is a liquid produce by mammals and contains a mixture of protein, fat, water, vitamins and minerals.

The health benefits of traditional cow’s milk

Cow’s milk is an excellent source of protein, phosphorus, vitamin B12 and potassium. These nutrients are important for bone and muscle development and may also work to reduce risk of bone fractures. Furthermore, despite containing saturated fat which is often linked to increased cardiovascular disease risk, saturated fat found in milk is not believed to have the same effect, possibly due to the health benefits of other nutrients such as calcium and potassium which may reduce blood pressure.

Is raw milk safe?

Raw milk cannot legally be sold in Australia. All commercially available milk in Australia is pasteurised to destroy potentially harmful bacteria including Salmonella, Listeria and E. coli. Raw milks or products made from raw milk are especially harmful for people with developing or compromised immune systems such as children and elderly people.

Does skim milk have sugar added to it?

No. When producing skim milk, the top layer of fat is literally skimmed from the liquid. As a result, when you remove the fat, the ratio of protein, natural occurring lactose and every other nutrient found in milk increases per 100g.

Other mammals stop consuming milk soon after birth, so why do humans continue drinking milk throughout life?

I have a better question, why not? There is absolutely no evidence to suggest humans should cease drinking milk after childhood, in fact, quite the opposite due to its health benefits. Unlike many other mammals, humans possess the relevant enzymes required to break down and absorb lactose and the many other nutrients in milk throughout life. Of course, if you stop consuming milk, the production of the required enzymes often reduces which may for a period of time, during reintroduction, impact your ability to digest cow’s milk.

The nutrition status of other “milks”

The term milk refers to the lacteal secretion from a mammal. Plant based “milks” obviously do not come from animals, hence their nutrition status is very different. Referring to these products as “milk” is technically incorrect, however widely accepted as they are easily interchanged for cow’s milk.

Plant based milks for example soy, almond, oat, coconut and rice milks contain no lactose, which for some people may make them easier to digest. They do not contain cholesterol and all except coconut milk do not contain saturated fat. However, they are generally also lower in protein, calcium and potassium, and most plant based milks have sweetened options which contain added sugar. Soy milk is the most nutritionally complete of the plant based milks as it contains similar amounts of most nutrients to cow’s milk.

So, why consume alternate milks?

There are many reasons individuals choose to consume alternate milks, from health reasons to religious or personal beliefs and taste preferences, but whatever the reason, like any food or food group, “restrict responsibly”. Understand what nutrient you are removing from your diet and ensure you replace these using other foods and continue to monitor your health status accordingly.

Generally speaking, plant based milks do not have the same nutritional benefit as cow’s milk, but if you are going to consume plant based milks ensure you choose unsweetened and calcium and protein fortified options.

The verdict

Cow’s milk offers a more nutritionally complete option. Provided you can and want to consume cow’s milk, this is an affordable and readily available highly nutritious food, which can be consumed regularly as part of a healthy diet with little health concerns. Plant based milks are often considerably more expensive, less readily available but the benefit is they do not need to be stored in a refrigerator and last longer. If you choose to consume plant based milks, ensure you compare varieties and brands because unlike cow’s milk which is one product with minimal intervention, plant based milks are produced according to the manufacturer’s recipe and can vary considerably in nutrition composition.

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Themis Chryssidis is an Accredited Practising Dietitian at Sprout Health Studio – a multidisciplinary health care studio in Adelaide. He has a Bachelor of Psychology, a Masters of Nutrition and Dietetics and a Cert IV in Fitness.

Posted: Nov 24 2022


The information contained here is of a general nature and does not take into account your personal medical situation. The information is not a substitute for independent professional medical advice and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or used for therapeutic purposes. Should you require specific medical information, please seek advice from your healthcare practitioner. Health Partners does not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information provided. While we have prepared the information carefully, we can’t guarantee that it is accurate, complete or up-to-date. And while we may mention goods or services provided by others, we aren’t specifically endorsing them and can’t accept responsibility for them.

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