Thursday, November 3, 2011

All Sorts of Milk

Let's talk about milk.  I know it was my favorite drink as a kid, and it's an extremely important liquid in anyone's diet.  Milk is rich with nutrients, protein, and all sorts of other goodies that will keep you healthy and happy for years to come.  But when you usually buy milk, you may notice how many different choices there are.  Some doesn't even come from the good ol' moo-cows either, which to some people doesn't make much sense.  Are these "alternative" milks better for you?  Or are they lacking certain ingredients that may cause them to leave your body starved of milk's otherwise great health benefits?  Let's figure it out.

1%, 2%, and Whole Milk:  These varieties of cow's milk have been around FOREVER.  And there's good reason, because they're some of the most beneficial meal accompaniments you could ever have.  Whole milk basically means the natural fats remain in the liquid, so it tastes much thicker and creamier.  There are 150 calories in whole milk, 120 in 2% milk, and 100 calories in 1%.  All three varieties have 8 grams of protein and quite a few nutrients.  As we all know, cow's milk is filled with calcium, Vitamin A, and Vitamin D.  It's also rich with Riboflavin and Phosphorus, and while not quite as significant as the amount of these vitamins, milk provides a good dose of almost every other vitamin across the board.  Milk really is a kid's best friend, and that's why so many doctors suggest feeding milk to growing children.  It will support muscle growth, bone strength, and load them up with the nutrients they need to develop.

But what about the fat?  There's a little bit of a debate about this one.  A lot of the fat in Whole milk is healthy fat, but there's plenty of saturated fat as well.  Now, saturated fat isn't inherently bad, but you want to limit your intake of it, therefore I don't suggest drinking a LOT of whole milk every day (I'd limit it to one 8oz glass.)  The good thing about this fat though is that your body can more readily absorb the nutrients in milk with all that fat present, because a lot of the vitamins and other nutrients are FAT SOLUBLE.  You'll absorb a lot more Vitamin A and D from whole milk than its fat diluted counterparts.  

Skim Milk:  This milk is my personal favorite, and it's what I drank every lunch and dinner growing up.  It's basically cow's milk with all the fat skimmed off.  It comes in around 80 calories a cup, and still has 8 grams of protein.  While you may be sacrificing the good fats, you're also eliminating the saturated fats, which in my personal opinion is a good trade off.  I personally drink milk for the protein, but those looking to pack on a little muscle with a few more calories should probably look into a higher fat variety like those discussed previously.

Fat free milk actually may contain slightly more nutrients than whole milk, just because the fat takes up so much space in the liquid itself.  When it's gone, there's more room for the good stuff.  Like I said before, the absorption may not be quite as prevalent as with whole milk, but because skim milk still has lactose in it, Calcium is still readily absorbed.  And it's been suggested that a good amount of calcium in your diet may actually cause your fat burning metabolism to increase.  That's a great incentive to get a little more milk in your diet today!

Soy Milk:  This was the first alternative milk I'd ever learned about.  It was always an interesting concept to me, milk that doesn't come from a cow?  Who would've thought.  But this milk has always been a great alternative to those who are lactose intolerant (they can't digest the sugars in dairy milk.)  How is Soy Milk made?  Well basically, Soy beans are pureed very thoroughly, then the solids (called Okara) are strained out.  The "milk" is then boiled for about ten minutes, and voila!  Soy milk.  

Soy milk has around 8 grams of protein, and a LOT of fiber compared to dairy milk.  It's also rich in Isoflavones, which are thought to help prevent cancer.  This sounds all fine and dandy, but as healthy as these Isoflavones are, they're one reason why I personally don't drink soy milk.  Isoflavones are very close in chemical composition to the hormone estrogen, which basically fights the male body's natural testosterone levels.  While this is by no means serious if soy milk is consumed in average quantities, it's still a factor that may cause a decrease in muscle growth, or actual muscle depletion.  As a lifter, this is NOT something I need, and if any of you are looking to build some muscle I don't suggest soy milk as a dairy alternative.  

Soy milk does have fat, a little more than 2% dairy milk actually, however without the bad cholesterol.  The fat in Soy milk is unsaturated, and therefore heart healthy.  All in all soy milk is a good alternative milk for those with lactose intolerance, though I do believe there are better choices.  

Rice Milk: I hadn't ever heard of rice milk until one of my workout partners from high school was talked into going on a week long "cleanse."  He wasn't allowed to consume gluten, and the cleanse said that rice milk was a great alternative to gluten rich dairy milk.  I went over to his house that weekend, and he let me try a little.  It wasn't bad, it had a real unique taste that I enjoyed.  Rice milk is made from boiled brown rice that's pureed, then strained of the remaining solids.  It tends to be pretty translucent, but also naturally sweet from the rice flavor.  It has much less protein than dairy milk and soy milk, at around only 1g per cup, but it also has more carbohydrates than dairy, making it a great energy source.

Rice Milk is often fortified with Vitamins found in dairy milk, such as vitamins A and D.  It's also naturally VERY low fat at only around 2g of unsaturated fat per serving.  Calories in a cup?  Around 120, so it's about the same as drinking 2% dairy milk.  It is vegan safe, and lactose intolerant safe, and therefore makes a great alternative milk to those who cannot drink dairy.  What's great about rice milk is that it also can be an alternative milk to those who are allergic to nuts.  Soy and Almond Milk are both not safe in this regard, which puts rice milk a step ahead.  If you're looking for a new taste, or a different alternative milk, I suggest giving rice milk a try.

Almond Milk:  This happens to be my favorite alternative milk out there.  It's got a naturally "nutty" flavor and is extremely low calorie if you get the unsweetened kind.  Unsweetened almond milk is about 40 calories a cup, sweetened is 60 calories per cup, and vanilla sweetened is around 90 calories a cup.  Almond milk is extremely rich in healthy, unsaturated fats and is probably one of the most heart healthy liquids you could drink.  It still doesn't have too much protein, at only a gram per serving, so I don't usually drink it as a muscle building tool.  I will however mix it with protein powder if I'm looking for a nice slow muscle feed, because the natural fats in almond milk will help to slow the absorbtion of otherwise fast absorbing whey protein.  It also adds a nice creamy flavor.  

Almond milk is loaded with the same vitamins as dairy milk including:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin D
  • B Vitamins
  • Calcium
  • Phosphorus
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese
  • Potassium
The unsaturated fats in almond milk will also help these vitamins to readily absorb into your body for easy usage.  If you're looking to cut back on carbs, almond milk is a great choice, containing only 8 grams of carbohydrates per serving as opposed to 25 grams in rice milk.  It also has a little less sugar than rice milk, if the unsweetened kind is purchased.  All in all Almond milk is another great alternative to dairy milk, particularly because of all the nutrients it offers at such a low calorie density.  

So there you go....MILK, both traditional and non-traditional.  My opinion?  Try a few alternative milks, and switch it up every now and then.  Don't be afraid to try each and every one, they all taste fine, and each has their own unique set of nutritional benefits.  Fellow gym rats?  I suggest sticking with dairy.  Looking to drop a few pounds?  Try almond milk.  Want something sweet and unique?  Try rice or soy.  Every one has their place, see if you can give each one a try.

Keep chugging, wipe off that mustache, and as always, good luck!

1 comment:

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