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Table Sources: Conis E. October 2009. Poring over facts about milk: cow's, goat's, soy, almond, rice and hemp.,0,486524,full.story. Lactose Free Organic 1% Milk,

Which type of milk is best for you?

Whole milk or fat free? Lactose-free milk? Almond, soy or rice milk? Learn more about the different types of milk and what to consider, so you can choose the best type of milk for you and your family to drink. It used to be that the main type of milk available was whole milk. Now there are many different versions of cow milk--whole milk (full fat), reduced fat 2%, light 1%, skim or fat-free milk 0%, and even lactose-free milk. There are also a variety of alternatives to cow's milk with almond, soy and rice milk as some of the leading choices. Other newer types of milks are oat and hemp milk.

There are many reasons why someone would choose one type of milk over another. Two key reasons are the nutritional content of the different milks and health or personal reasons. In looking at the components in the different types of milks, you can discover several dietary reasons why you might choose one type of milk instead of another.

Comparisons of Different Milks

Six different types of milk are compared in the table below: whole cow milk, skim cow milk, lactose-free milk, almond milk, soy milk and rice milk. The table compares the different calories, fats, protein, carbohydrates, cholesterol and major vitamins and minerals in these six different types of milk.

Definitions of the Types of Milk

Whole milk is cow's milk with none of the fat removed, so it is high in saturated fat and in calories. Mosby's Medical Dictionary defines whole milk as milk that contains 3.5% fat, 8.5% nonfat milk solids, and 88% water. Whole milk is a good source of protein, calcium, several vitamins and minerals.

Skim or fat free milk is cow's milk with the fat removed, reducing the number of calories in a 1 cup serving from 150 in whole milk to just 90 calories. Fat free milk has all of the benefits of whole milk--a good source of protein, calcium, vitamins and minerals--without the saturated fat and calories. Skim milk is the preferred milk source recommended by dieticians.

Lactose-free milk is processed so the lactose, the natural sugar found in milk products, is broken down. Lactose-free milk is a good source of protein, calcium, vitamins and minerals. The fat and cholesterol contents vary depending on whether the lactose-free milk is 2% fat, 1% fat or fat-free. Lactose-free milk allows those who are lactose intolerant to still drink dairy products.

Almond milk is made from ground almonds. It is free of cholesterol, saturated fat and naturally lactose free. Even though almonds are a good source of protein, almond milk is not. Almond milk is also not a good source of calcium. Almond milk is lower in calories than other milks.

Soy milk is made from soybeans. It is free of cholesterol, contains minimal amounts of saturated fat and no lactose. Soybeans and soy milk are a good source of protein, calcium and potassium. Soy milk contains a similar amount of protein as cow's milk. It is lower in calories than whole milk.

Rice Milk is made from rice. It is free of cholesterol, saturated fat and is naturally lactose free, but is very low in protein. Rice milk has a milder flavour than almond or soy milk. Rice milk manufacturers promote their product as being safe for people with milk allergies, soy and nut allergies and lactose intolerance.

Considerations when Choosing a Type of Milk

There are several factors to consider when choosing a type of milk to drink. One key factor is age or stage in life; another is whether or not there are health reasons or personal reasons for drinking a specific type of milk or avoiding other types of milk.

There are certain phases in life in which getting the nutrients found in milk is essential. For children over two years, teens, pregnant women and elderly, the recommended amount of milk from dieticians are three servings a day. These are all stages in the life cycle when getting calcium and vitamin D for bone growth or bone maintenance is important. Skim milk and other milks fortified with calcium and vitamin D would meet the needs of these groups.

Children under the age of two are the only group in which whole milk is the recommended milk because their brains are still growing and developing. Not only do young children need the vitamins and minerals found in milk, but they also need the additional calories from fat; this is why whole milk is recommended for children under two, who have transitioned off of breast milk or formula. However, for babies and children with true milk allergy and are unable to consume cow's milk protein found in milk and dairy products, alternate "fat sources" can be discussed with your pediatrician or allergist.

Other factors that influence the type of milk one may choose to drink include whether someone has high cholesterol levels, is lactose intolerant, has a milk allergy or is following a vegetarian diet. Avoiding whole milk with high saturated fats is important for someone trying to reduce cholesterol levels. Someone with lactose intolerance will want to choose lactose-free milk or one of the alternative milk forms. Vegetarians choose alternative milks like almond, soy or rice milk to avoid animal milk products. Which type of milk you chose to drink may depend a lot on your taste preferences.

When deciding on what milk to drink, consider the nutritional composition of the milk that you want to use, the reasons for consuming milk, along with any specific health and personal reasons for choosing a particular type of milk; these factors will help you make the most educated milk choice.