EAT THIS

Browsing in the milk aisle

Posted July 18, 2011, at 6:14 p.m.

Got milk? Almond, coconut, cow, goat, hemp, rice or soy? Worldwide, the most popular milk choice is goat’s milk. Our preference for cow’s milk in this country puts us in the global minority.

The grocery store is a perplexing place these days. There are so many choices, people are often confused about what they should or shouldn’t be drinking. Just because something is on the grocery store shelf doesn’t mean it needs to be in your grocery cart and go home with you.

Originally, alternatives to cow’s milk were sought because of milk allergies. Now, though, the decision is often made for other reasons, including flavor, saturated fat content, calorie content, dietary preference and vitamin and mineral content.

Almond milk

Almond milk contains no cholesterol or saturated fat. It is lactose-free. An 8-ounce glass contains about 60 calories and 2.5 grams of fat, but only one gram of protein. Some brands are fortified to provide you with some calcium. A cup of almonds is a great source of omega-6 fats, but you don’t get the same benefit in a cup of almond milk. After water and sweeteners have been added, the amount of actual almond milk in commercial products is quite low.

Cow’s milk

A cup of cow’s milk contains 8 grams of protein. It also has about 300 milligrams of calcium and is fortified with vitamins A and D. This is more calcium and double the protein of any other type of milk. Cow’s milk is available as whole milk with about 3 percent milk fat; low-fat with 1 percent, 1.5 percent or 2 percent fat; and fat-free. Calorie content varies with the fat content — a cup of whole milk has about 150 calories and a cup of fat-free is about 90 calories.

Goat’s milk

Often, goat’s milk is chosen because of an allergic reaction to cow’s milk, but almost everyone who is allergic to cow’s milk will be allergic to goat’s milk as well. Goat’s milk has more saturated fat, total fat and calories than cow’s milk and similar levels of cholesterol. It contains lactose. The taste is different from cow’s milk, but many people find they prefer it, especially when it is very fresh.

Coconut milk

As you’d expect, coconut milk is made from the ground meat and juice of coconuts. It is rich, creamy, tasty and a staple in Indian and Thai cooking. Coconut milk is low in cholesterol, calcium and protein, but definitely not in calories: One cup has about 467 calories. It is high in saturated fat.

Hemp milk

Who ever had the idea to make milk out of cannabis? If nothing else, it is a challenge to produce legally. Hemp milk is low in saturated fat and cholesterol and is lactose-free. Hemp milk is fortified with calcium and vitamins A and D. I am told that hemp seeds are dark in color, similar to flax seeds, so hemp milk would probably be dark brown. You could pretend you were drinking chocolate milk, I guess.

Rice milk

Rice milk, made from ground rice, is an acceptable product for most vegans and vegetarians. It doesn’t contain any lactose and is very low in protein, fat and calories. Rice milk lacks vitamins A and C. It is tasty, but it is no nutritional powerhouse.

Soy milk

Soy milk is made from soaking soybeans and them grinding them with water. It is high in protein and calcium and contains no cholesterol and negligible amounts of saturated fat. Soy milk is often fortified to be nutritionally comparable to cow’s milk. It is often used as an alternative for people who are allergic to cow’s milk, and it can be substituted for cow’s milk in most recipes. However, allergy to soy is one of the most common food allergies.

Still confused about what to drink? Most people — adults and children alike — can’t go wrong with a glass of skim or 1 percent cow’s milk — a great source of protein, calcium, and vitamins A and D, and very low in fat. Bottoms up!

Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian who lives in Athens. Read more of her columns and post questions at bangordailynews.com or email her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.

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