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Diet Diva

Get advice on healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss from expert dietitian Tara Gidus. 

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Cow's Milk or Soy Milk?

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I get asked this question quite often: Which is better for me, cow's milk or soy milk? The answer is a bit complicated.

Cow's milk is obviously an animal protein vs soy coming from a plant source. Cow's milk contains all essential amino acids and has 8 grams of complete protein and 12 grams of carbs per cup of milk. The calories vary depending on the amount of fat in the milk. Whole milk has 8 grams but fat free (also called skim) has none. Milk is a naturally nutrient rich food and an excellent or good source of calcium, Vitamin D (fortified into it), riboflavin, niacin, phosphorus, and Vitamin B12.

The negative to milk is that it can be an allergen and causes intolerances in some people. Lactose intolerance is quite common, but often people think they have to avoid all dairy products. Numerous dairy products like cheese have very little lactose and are tolerated well. Check out this brochure on ways to include dairy for lactose intolerance. Milk allergies are actually quite uncommon, but they do exist for some people who are allergic to the milk protein. If you are not allergic or intolerant, low fat or fat free cow's milk is a great option and nutrient rich.

Soy milk is not exactly milk, but it looks like milk. It is made from soybeans that have been soaked, ground, and strained. It is also a complete protein, meaning it contains all of the amino acids. It is a plant based complete protein. Most soy milks on the shelves today are fortified with Vitamin B12, calcium, and Vitamin D to closely match the nutrients in co
w's milk. One advantage to soy is that it has no cholesterol and is low in saturated fat. In addition, the FDA has an approved health claim that allows soy foods to say that they may help lower cholesterol if 25 grams of soy is eaten daily. It is also heart healthy because of the naturally occurring plant sterols in the milk. Soy milk has 7 grams per cup (some brands have a little more). Watch the calories in soy milk because some has a lot of added sugar.

My favorite soy milk is Silk. I love the light chocolate and the vanilla. They have a new variety called Silk Heart Health. This one has added plant sterols and recent study published in the journal Lipids in Heart Health and Disease found that people who drank 3 servings of Silk Heart Health daily for 4 weeks lowered their cholesterol by 7%.

Bottom line

Cow's milk can be a very healthy part of anyone's diet as long as you stick to the low fat or fat free milk. Soy milk can also be a great option and some people like the taste of the vanilla or other flavors. Soy milk may have additional heart health benefits that cow's milk does not provide.

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About the Author


MS, RD, CSSD, LD/N

Tara Gidus is a nationally recognized expert and spokesperson on nutrition and fitness.

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