When we were kids, milk was anything but complicated. We poured it on our cereal, dunked cookies in it, and it exclusively came from cows. Now, the milk section holds a diverse range of options, with animal milk from cows and goats, and plant-based sources, such as rice and almonds. But how do you know what's really healthiest? According to Tamara Melton, dietician and spokesperson for Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, it really depends on what you're looking for.
Need More Protein?
Favor milk from an animal. Goat and cow's milks have similar amounts of protein, about eight grams per eight ounces, Melton says, while almond milk only has one gram of protein per 8 ounces.
"Unsweetened almond's milk only has about 30 calories per eight ounces, to skim milk's 90 calories per eight ounces," Melton says. Goat milk has even more calories than whole milk from a cow.
What About Sugar?
Almond milk has less sugar than both cow's milk and goat's milk. According to Melton, traditional milk has at least 12 grams of sugar per eight ounce serving while almond milk has no sugar at all. The caveat is that most of the sugar from animal's milk is in the form of lactose, she says.
Need a Vitamin Boost?
"Goat's and cow's milk has similar amounts of Vitamin D. Goat's milk has less Vitamin B12 than cow's milk," Melton says. "They have similar amounts of calcium and Vitamins D and E." These vitamins can also be found in other natural foods, instead of multivitamins.
Lactose is the other major concern for parents, since 30 to 50 million Americans are affected by the inability to digest the natural milk sugar. According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, those with lactose intolerance can typically drink up to four ounces of milk several times a day without experiencing symptoms. While goat's milk and cow's milk contain lactose and might be options in moderation, almond milk is the safest choice.
Melton does note that goat milk should not be given to babies under the age of 1.
"The nutrient profile isn't appropriate for children whose main source of energy is coming from milk," she says. But older children can safely try goat milk as an option.
All these different milks have various pros and cons for children's healthy growth, but where your child might draw the line is the taste. While cow's milk is the most well-known option, both almond milk and goat's milk have distinct flavors. Almond milk also has a rich, nutty taste and comes in several flavors. Goat's milk has a strong odor and has a combination flavor of sweet and salty.
For those steering away from cow's milk, Melton advises to remember that "just like any kind of an 'alternative' food—it may have a bit of a different flavor, but it just takes some time to get used to it."
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