Which Milk is Healthiest?

Dairy products are one of the most controversial foods around. Critics of dairy products insist that they are unhealthy, damaging to the environment, and loaded with chemicals and pollutants. Proponents of milk, cheese, yoghurt, and cream insist that the fat and protein in the products are healthy, and that most milk is safe to drink.

In the last decade or so, multiple "milk alternatives" have become readily available in supermarkets, grocery stores, and health food stores. Products like almond milk, soy milk, rice milk, and even hemp milk have become popular among vegans, vegetarians, and the milk-averse. But is milk really all that bad? Which milk is healthiest? Here's what you need to know:

Cow's Milk

Cow's milk is the best of the milks when it comes to protein. Each 8-ounce glass of milk contains roughly 8 grams of protein, and just under 150 calories. Not only does milk contain lots of protein, but it delivers a hefty dose of calcium and Vitamin D. On the downside, it's fairly rich in saturated fat, which is natural considering that it comes from a cow. While saturated fat isn't a danger to your heart, it is a high-calorie ingredient. Cow's milk also contains lactose, a form of sugar that can cause negative allergic reactions.

Almond Milk

If you've got a nut allergy, almond milk is DEFINITELY off the table. Almond milk isn't technically milk, but it's ground almonds mixed with water and with flavors and vitamins added. You get around 30 calories per cup of almond milk, making it a lower-calorie option than regular milk. You'll find that it has a decent flavor compared to other milk alternatives. Sadly, it hardly contains any protein--just 1 gram per cup. The heart-boosting benefits of almonds come from the fat and fiber, most of which is removed during the milk-making process. Almond milk may be far less healthy than the raw, unprocessed almonds.

Rice Milk

For those who can't process dairy, nuts, or soy, rice milk is one of the best options. You'll find that most rice milk is enriched with Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, calcium, and other nutrients, ensuring that you get all the nutrients you need for your day. Rice milk is also a gluten-free drink, so pretty much anyone can enjoy it. However, there is virtually no protein in rice milk, so it's not really a healthy replacement for milk if you're drinking it to increase protein intake. Also, studies have shown that milk is likely to contain toxins such as arsenic, so it may not be too safe.

Soy Milk

Soy milk delivers almost as much protein as regular milk--roughly 7 grams of protein per regular-sized cup. The flavonoids in soy milk may be able to help fight cancer, making it a potentially awesome alternative to cow's milk. On the downside, it contains phytoestrogens, plant-produced hormones that can cause low testosterone levels in men and excessively high estrogen levels in women. Most soy milk also contains a good deal of sugar to offset the "bean" flavor.

Hemp Milk

The benefits of hemp milk lie in the polyunsaturated fats you get in each cup, roughly 4 grams per serving. These fatty acids can help to reduce inflammation, boosting circulation and improving heart health. Sadly, hemp milk contains just 2 grams of protein per cup, and there's no dietary fiber in the drink. You'd be better off eating the hemp seeds in their natural state. Not only are the seeds rich in fiber, but they're also a good source of protein and fatty acids.

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