DEAR DOCTOR K: I hear that dairy milk, which I’ve been drinking all my life, may not be healthy. Should I switch from dairy milk to a different kind?
DEAR READER: When I was a kid, every mother (surely including mine) believed that dairy milk was healthy. Television commercials called dairy milk “nature’s most perfect food” and intoned “you never outgrow your need for milk.”
In the decades since then, we’ve learned that saturated fats in the diet raise blood cholesterol levels – and that, in turn, increases the risk of heart disease and strokes. Dairy milk has a little more than 3 percent butterfat, much of it saturated fat. That’s why over the past 30 years, grocery stores have started to carry reduced-butterfat dairy milk: 2 percent fat, 1 percent fat and skim milk (very little fat).
These days there is a variety of nondairy, fortified milk beverages on the shelves of most grocery stores – and plenty of my friends and patients swear by them. Here’s a guide to help you choose the milk that’s best for you:
• Dairy milk is a good source of calcium and vitamin D, which promote bone health. Many dairy milk products are also fortified with other vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin A and phosphorus. (Nondairy milks that are fortified can also be good sources of these vitamins and minerals.) The more butterfat, the higher the calories, total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol.
• Soy milk is almost identical to dairy milk in its nutritional content. Most brands have moderate amounts of fat, which make them similar in calories to lowfat (1 percent) dairy milk. Soy milk is also fortified with vitamin D, vitamin A and calcium. Soy milks are much higher in protein than other nondairy milks.
• Nut milks come in varieties such as almond, walnut or hazelnut. They are lactose-, soy- and gluten-free. The unsweetened versions are also lower in calories than other milks. However, they provide much less protein than dairy and soy milks.
• Grain and seed milks. Rice, oat and quinoa milks are examples of grain and seed milks. They have higher total carbohydrate and sugar contents..
On my website, AskDoctorK.com, I’ve put a table showing how the various milks compare in nutritional value.