Milky Way Mysteries: Answered!
With so many milk options now available, how do you know which milk is best for you and your health?
Words: Kimberly Gillan
Cow’s milk or soy? Vitamin-enriched or extra calcium? The wide array of milk alternatives in the supermarket these days – not to mention a wide variety of opinions and information – can leave consumers feeling overwhelmed and confused. Here’s a rundown to help you navigate the milk maze.
Dairy Milk: Calcium, Protein, Carbohydrates and more
People have consumed cow’s milk for centuries, but this dietary stalwart has had a bad rap in the past few years, with suggestions that it contributes to weight gain, mucus production, asthma and even acne1.
According to Kate Gudorf, spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, most of the bad stories are simply not true.
“Dairy provides really beneficial nutrients to our diet,” she says. “It has calcium, which is important for bone health, and it’s also a good source of protein, which is important when you’re trying to lose weight, because
it keeps you satisfied and full. It also provides carbohydrates, potassium, phosphorous and Vitamins A and D.”
Dairy’s biggest downfall is the notion that full-cream options contain saturated fat, which some studies suggest can increase cholesterol levels1.
“If you’re looking to lose or maintain weight with a low-kilojoule eating plan, low-fat or skim milk might be your best option,” says Gudorf.
Soy Milk: Protein, Carbohydrates and Phytoestrogens
Soy milk is made from soybeans and contains protein and carbohydrates, which help strengthen bones and muscles, plus give you energy2.
“In terms of nutritional profile, soy and dairy generally have a similar fat, kilojoule and carbohydrate content,” says Gudorf, adding that “regular soy is higher in fat but it’s not bad saturated fat”.
Given that soy doesn’t naturally contain calcium, Gudorf recommends choosing a calcium-fortified soy milk for healthy teeth and bones. Soy is a good option for vegans, as well as those who are lactose intolerant.
“Lactose is the sugar in dairy, and some people lack the enzymes to break that sugar molecule down – whereas soy milk is naturally lactose free,” explains Gudorf.
Soy is also often recommended for menopausal women, because it contains phytoestrogens, which have been shown to help reduce hot flushes2.
Cow’s milk, soy or one of the many alternatives … ultimately, your milk preference will be determined by what works best for you.
Here are some additional milk varieties to consider.
- Almond milk is made from ground almonds and is lactose and gluten free3, low in saturated fat and contains Vitamin E. Again, you need to make sure you choose a calcium-fortified option.
- Goat's milk has a similar nutritional composition to cow’s milk, but it has a different protein structure, which can make it easier for some people to digest4.
Information provided in this article is not medical advice and you should consult with your healthcare practitioner. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest.