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The new dairy dilemma

NutritiCare Systems Dietician Lorie Butler. | SUBMITTED PHOTO

Nutrition Care Systems Dietician, Lorie Butler. | SUBMITTED PHOTO

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What kind of milk should you drink?

Here are a few of today’s options.

Milk from cows. Whole, low-fat, or fat-free. All are great sources of calcium, protein and vitamin D and are easily absorbed into the body. Fat-free is recommended by most physicians.

Lactose-free is another dairy milk that has had the sugar lactose, which can cause digestive problems in some people, removed.

Soy milk. Good source of protein and calcium. Its fat is the good kind — unsaturated — whereas milk from cows has saturated fat. Downside: most “milks” from plants have added sugars to make them more palatable. Look for products that are “non-GMO” if you don’t want your soy from genetically modified plants.

Almond milk. Not the most nutritious of the plant milks, with less protein and calcium of cow’s milk and soy milk, but many like the flavor.

Rice milk. Low protein content and higher carbohydrates make this alternative milk one of the least recommended by nutritionists.

Coconut milk. As much saturated fat as whole milk, and the American Heart Association recommends lowering saturated fats as much as possible in our diets. Not very high in protein, but it is low in carbs.

Hemp milk. Not a lot of protein, but good amounts of “healthy” omega-3-fats.

Sources: National Institutes of Health (,, and dietician Lorie Butler

Updated: May 18, 2013 6:11AM

Milk used to be such a simple thing. There was one choice from the grocery store’s refrigerated shelves, or you could have a bottle delivered to your door each morning. If you wanted chocolate milk, you made it yourself.

Today, there is a plethora of milk choices. Some don’t even come from a cow. Lorie Butler, a Morris Hospital and Walnut Grove Village dietician who works with Nutrition Care Systems, says in Europe, they don’t even call them “milk” if they come from vegetables.

They call them almond drinks or soy drinks.

“Cow’s milk is a wonderful food,” Butler said, “if you go low-fat or fat-free. It has good protein, the carbohydrates our bodies need, calcium, and added vitamins A and D.”

Milk from mammals, she said, is the only milk doctors recommend for children because of its high protein and calcium content.

Vegetable milks have less protein, unless the manufacturer adds extra.

And new research indicates that low-fat chocolate milk contains just the right amount and types of protein and carbohydrates to make it a perfect post-exercise recovery drink.

“It’s fabulous for recovery after exercise,” Butler said. “It replaces depleted carbohydrates, it’s easy to absorb, it has electrolytes, and it has the protein content muscles need to grow. You’re not going to get that in sports drinks.”

Soy milk is a drink that has skyrocketed in popularity the past few years. It’s a good choice for those who cannot tolerate the lactose in regular milk, Butler said, or for vegetarians and vegans. It has a good amount of protein and calcium, she said, although not as much protein as milk. For those with thyroid problems, however, it’s best to talk to a physician before switching over to soy.

Almond milk is another that is gaining popularity, partly due to research indicating almonds are good for health. Some almond milks only have an average of four almonds in one cup, however, and Butler said most don’t have sufficient protein to give to children on a regular basis.

“It does have a sweet, refreshing flavor, though,” she said, “and it’s great in coffee or on cereal. When you put it on a high-fiber nutritious cereal that you might find bland otherwise, I’m sold on it.”

Butler isn’t as sold on rice milk, which she says is high in carbohydrates and low in protein. In fact, she doesn’t recommend it at all for her diabetic patients.

Hemp milk is probably the newest alternative and one Butler says might give almond milk some competition. It has protein, good carbohydrates and can be as good a recovery drink as chocolate milk.

There are a couple of alternatives she’s not quite as happy about. Coconut milk can be a source of “bad” saturated fat, she said.

And unpasteurized, or “raw” milk, should be avoided.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, raw milk can carry harmful bacteria, mycobacteria, parasites and viruses that can cause severe diarrhea, stomach cramping, vomiting, and some chronic disorders such as kidney failure. Pasteurization heats milk just long enough to kill disease-causing germs, and the CDC reports that pasteurizing does not reduce any of the health benefits milk has to offer.

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