Got Milk? How to Select the Best for you Family

04.04.2012 / Blog Posts Health and Wellness

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By Jane Jakubczak MPH, RD, CSSD, LDN; Redskins Dietitian

One of the most common questions I hear from my clients is: "Which is healthier, soy milk or cow’s milk”?

The first question I ask in return, “ Are you lactose intolerant and/or are you a vegetarian?”

If the answer to either question is “yes” I recommend soy milk and encourage them to choose a fortified brand. Think you may be lactose intolerant? Click here for more information.

If the client is not lactose intolerant or vegetarian, then my next set of questions includes, “which type of milk do you enjoy the taste more”?

As you have seen in previous blog entries, enjoying food is a high priority for me so the enjoyment factor needs to be taken into consideration when making this choice (plus, I know you will drink more if you are enjoying it!)

Once I rule out lactose intolerance, allergies or vegetarianism and assess the enjoyment factor then we can get to the nutritional comparison of each:

Cow's Milk

Cow’s milk is an excellent source of calcium.

The calcium from cow’s milk is well absorbed because of the Vitamin D and the lactose it contains, both facilitate absorption in the digestive tract.

Cow’s milk is a complete protein, meaning it contains all the essential amino acids needed to build protein.

Cows milk is also fortified with a host of other essential nutrients. To review the breakdown of nutrients in milk visit

Whole Cow’s milk does contain a significant amount of fat (8 grams per serving) as well as cholesterol. To avoid the artery clogging fat, be sure to select skim or 1% milk to reap the benefits of cow’s milk without paying the high price of saturated fat and cholesterol. See last week's nutrition post on whole vs. skim here. In terms of cost, cow’s milk tends to be the least expensive.

Soy Milk

Soy milk is technically not “milk” but a beverage made from soybeans. Soybeans are soaked in water, finely ground and strained. The soy milk is made from the liquid this process produces.

Soy is the only plant based protein that is a “complete” protein and a natural dietary source of isoflavones (to learn about the importance of isoflavones in women’s health, including heart health benefits, click here).

Soy milk is not naturally a significant source of calcium or B Vitamins. Soymilk contains fat (approximately 4 grams per serving) however it is the “healthy” type of fat. Be sure to choose a soymilk that is fortified with calcium, Vitamin D and B vitamins, especially B12. When soymilk is fortified with these nutrients, it is often to the levels of cow’s milk. Don’t forget to shake your soy milk before enjoying, calcium and other nutrients settle to the bottom of the carton.

So you can see that both Cow’s milk and Soy milk have their pros and cons. My recommendation is to first decide which one you enjoy the taste best. Then if you choose cow’s milk, make sure it’s skim or 1%.

If you choose soymilk, make sure you choose a brand that is fortified with calcium, vitamin D and B vitamins.

Either way, I encourage you to enjoy 16-24 oz of your “milk of choice” everyday. Here are some ways I include milk in my day:

• I drown my cereal in the morning with a good dose of milk – even when I have oatmeal, I replace the water in the instructions with the same amount of milk
• I use milk in my smoothie for a post-run recovery drink
• I enjoy a glass of ice cold low fat chocolate milk as an evening snack

I’d love to hear which type of milk WOW members enjoy and how they incorporate this important staple into your daily diet! Please share in the comment boxes below.

Make it a healthy week!

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