Take charge of your health. Sign up for HealthyWomen newsletters:
Healthy Living > drinks

The Facts About Milk

By Sheryl Kraft

Created: 05/12/2011
Last Updated: 10/28/2019

Share on:

I have milk on the brain lately. It all started this past weekend when my dad was visiting. I went food shopping (as I always do before his visits—he loves to eat!) and picked up some almond milk, after hearing people tell me how good it was. Before dad arrived, I opened the carton and poured myself a tiny bit to taste. It was delicious! A tiny taste became a full glass. I was surprised at how good it tasted and was excited to discover something new.

Anyhow, once my dad was settled, I enthusiastically offered him a glass. He looked at me quizzically. "How can they get milk from almonds?" I didn't have the answer, but I was now determined to find out just how it was possible to get milk from this nut. And then I started wondering about all the other milks on the market. (I mean, once milk was just that…milk. Now there are so many varieties out there, it's downright confusing.)

Turns out, it's quite simple to make almond milk. Roasted almonds are blended with water and then strained. The resulting liquid is enriched with various nutrients like calcium, vitamin D and the antioxidant vitamin E. The liquid may be sweetened or flavored. There's no cholesterol, saturated fat or lactose (which is why it didn't bother my tummy the way regular milk does). Calorie-wise, it's a pretty good deal: one cup of the unsweetened variety has just 60 calories. As for protein, I'll have to find my protein elsewhere because almond milk has none.

This morning, I poured some into my blueberry-laden cereal. (Yay! Blueberries are back!) Later, when I have my evening cup of decaf, I'll try it in my coffee.

Wondering about other milks, I did some research and here's what I found:

Soy milk. Its base is extracted from mature soy beans, then mixed with water and some sort of natural sweetener. It is available in sweetened and unsweetened, as well as flavors such as vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and even green tea and coffee. Soy milk is naturally low in saturated fat and has no cholesterol and is slightly thicker than cow's milk. It's safe for people with dairy allergies or those with lactose intolerance. (If you are lactose intolerant, you can still get plenty of calcium from foods like canned salmon or sardines with bones, broccoli and other leafy green veggies, oranges, almonds, Brazil nuts and dried beans, soy milk and tofu.)

Traditional cows' milk. After the cow is milked, the milk passes through the pasteurization process, where it's heated, then quickly cooled, to kill bacteria like E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria. Milk is an excellent protein source and provides calcium and vitamins D and K. Because of the protein that it contains, it helps build muscle; many experts suggest drinking a glass after your workout. Whole milk, scientists found, boosts muscle protein synthesis (an indicator of muscle growth) 2.8 times more than drinking skim milk does. However, whole milk is high in fat and can raise cholesterol. Even if you go for the low-fat variety, it makes a great post workout drink, says Trish Martin of the Golden Door Spa.

And milk may even be helpful for weight loss: one study from the University of Tennessee found that overweight people who drank three servings a day of calcium-rich dairy lost more belly fat than those who followed a similar diet but didn't drink milk. Milk proteins apparently have a fat-burning effect (that's why taking calcium supplements won't do the same thing here). Do you suppose it works as well if you dunk cookies into that milk? Doubtful.

As for antibiotics, if you're uncomfortable, you can purchase antibiotic-free and hormone-free milk, or select USDA-certified organic milk. These cows feast on organic feed and pesticide-free grass. Some studies have found that organic milk contains higher concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, although other experts will not vouch for any nutritional difference between organic and regular milk. Organic milk is pasteurized just as regular milk is.

Rice milk. This is made from a mixture of partially milled rice and water and is least likely of all milk products to trigger allergies. It's available in various flavors which include chocolate, vanilla and carob. Like soy milk and almond milk, it doesn't have to be refrigerated until you open it. Rice milk contains no protein, but as a plus, also contains no saturated fat or cholesterol.

Raw milk. It comes from a cow, too, but the difference is that it is not pasteurized. And it contains more calories and fat than pasteurized whole milk. While advocates say that pasteurization destroys beneficial bacteria and other things that aid digestion, health experts are wary of unpasteurized milk, saying that it puts you at risk of serious food-borne illness or serious infection. A word of caution: the CDC reports that raw dairy products caused 82 percent of milk-borne illnesses between 1973 and 2008; they say a glass of raw milk may contain milk from hundreds of cows.


What I want to know though is do these other milks taste like regular milk?

Well, I can only speak for soy and almond milk, and they don't really duplicate the taste of cow's milk...but they do taste great!

Count me as a milk fan. I like regular with a little chocolate mixed in post workout. But our family has started drinking almond milk too. It's tasty on cereal but not so much in savory cooking...

I could see that it probably wouldn't do well in cooking; must be something about the texture and perhaps even more than that, maybe something about the chemistry of how it reacts to heat (I'm guessing).

I've always wanted to try almond milk - and you've convinced me. Next time I'm at the co-op, will pick up a container. I do love both soy milk and rice milk. I've always been a little wary of raw milk, so will probably "steer" clear from that one (yeah, I couldn't resist).

Steer clear...good one, Jane!
Glad I convinced you to try almond milk. Let me know how you like it.

I'm a raw milk advocate! (Grist disagrees with the accuracy of the CDC reports on raw milk illnesses: http://www.grist.org/food-safety/2011-02-10-what-will-the-fda-do-about-t...)

I've tried and liked almond milk (oh, esp CHOCOLATE almond milk) but the stuff I've found isn't organic. Bummer.

Thanks for sending the link, Kris. I must say that it's all rather confusing! But you drink it, and I"m assuming you haven't gotten sick since you are an advocate. Everybody says different things...it's enough to make your head spin.

Thanks for sending the link, Kris. I must say that it's all rather confusing! But you drink it, and I"m assuming you haven't gotten sick since you are an advocate. Everybody says different things...it's enough to make your head spin.

I'm a big fan of certain varieties of soy milk (Silk, particularly), especially the chocolate-flavored one. And, though many people love rice milk, I haven't developed a taste for it.

I like soy milk, too, although I haven't tried the chocolate-flavored one (I'm afraid I'll get hooked on it!). Haven't tried rice milk yet; something tells me it is not as good...but I could be wrong.

I love almond milk. It goes in my coffee and on my cereal every day.

Just tried it in my coffee and now I am officially an almond milk convert!

We use rice milk for "milk" at home, mostly on cereal. Almond milk is something I want to try - the chocolate version! I've never been a plain milk liker, but always loved chocolate milk (it was the only way my mother could get me to drink milk as a kid!). Soy milk doesn't agree with my stomach. I've heard this can be an issue for some.

Well, I say chocolate milk is better than no milk at all. And now I'm tempted to try the chocolate version of the almond (or rice - which will be new for me!) milks.

Great idea for a post! I discovered almond milk when a guest at our B&B requested it. But, what I really wanted to say is you forgot to warn readers to avoid milk from cows that have been injected with rBGH, a hormone created by MONSANTO to get cows to produce more. I always ask whether the milk I buy contains it or not. It is a genetically-engineered hormone. God! Can't they just leave well enough alone?

Thanks for pointing that out, Alexandra. It is a good thing to look out for, for sure.

I've used Rice Milk, but only on cereal (not for drinking). We cannot do Almond Milk because of a weird nut thing my hubby has going on, but he LOVES coconut milk, so I've been buying that too. Still ... I do love regular cow's milk.

We once had a neighbor with goats, and we sometimes got raw goat's milk, but she moved and the goats are gone.

I haven't come across coconut milk, Roxanne. Where do you find it? And I"m curious about the goat's milk and what it tasted like?

I'm curious about goat and sheep milk...

This got me thinking...I wonder what constitutes the definition of milk? Is it any white liquid? Or, say--could oj be milk too? After all, it's oranges and water--as opposed to almonds and water or soybeans and water. Hmm...
But I'm inspired to try almond "milk" just to see what it tastes like.

That is an interesting thought, Sandra! Never thought of it quite that way...orange "milk?".

Thanks for your review of almond milk, I've been wanting to try that. I've bought organic, antibiotic free milk for decades now.

It'll taste a lot different than the milk you're used to drinking, but I think you'll really like it as much.

Just so you are aware, if you are purposely purchasing milk that is labeled "antibiotic free," and you are paying more for it than any other milk, you are being taken advantage of financially. FDA regulations do not allow any trace of antibiotics in milk. In fact, the milk is tested before it ever leaves the farm, and it has to be dumped if there is any sign of antibiotic residue. Cows do have to be treated if they are sick, but they are kept separate from the healthy cows so the milk will not be comingled. The USDA and FDA state that organic food is no more healthy or safe than conventionally produced food. You can confidently consume whatever brand of cow's milk you wish and know that it is a safe, healthy source of protein, calcium, and many other nutrients!

Almond milk is so very easy to make at home - although I do keep a few cartons around for emergencies/laziness. Here's a quick tutorial for homemade almond milk:

Thanks for sending this link, Casey. It looks so easy, and I'm sure it beats the store-bought brands.

I like almond milk too, also I like coconut mil because it going well whit cereal.

That's a milk I haven't tried - coconut milk. Do you make your own or buy it? I'll bet it's yummy!

I pour almond milk over my morning cereal combined with fresh strawberries, blueberries and a handful of pecan pieces. Delicious!

I'm coming over for breakfast - sounds delicious!

Too funny: Back from a trip yesterday and no time to shop, so opened a carton of almond milk for breakfast. My son was happy to drink it straight up or in his cereal but we both agreed the brand I'd bought was too sweet to mix with chai.

I Love when they try to make you fearful of NON pasturized milk. I get MINE from a Farm it's from ONE Cleaned Cow and it's better for you than ANY of the other choices yet they make it out that it's bad for you Actually my son drinks it for his Autism and started talking 7 days after starting on it and hasn't been sick AT ALL since he started drinking it. Take that....

There are a lot of misconceptions regarding the consumption of milk by the grownups. Biologically, it is said that, a grown up will not be getting much benefits other than fat contents by consuming traditional cow milk.



Add new comment