Got Milk?

I confess: I drink milk. The kind that comes from cows.

Photo: law_keven

I drink my milk non-fat, and I make an effort to buy the kind without hormones. I get most of my daily calcium and good chunk of my protein from it. But the main reason I drink milk is because I like it.

So is this a good thing, or a bad thing? Should I be looking at alternatives, like soy milk, almond milk, hemp milk, goat milk, rice milk, or who knows, maybe bat milk?

After reading what seems like hundreds of studies and articles over the years, I still have no idea what to think. Studies are always saying good things or bad things about cow's milk. Will cow's milk make you more likely or less likely to have a heart attack? Will it contribute to inflammation or lower your risk of colon cancer or help you lose weight or give you prostate cancer or strengthen your bones or will it cause a pesky nest of snakes to come sprouting out of your head?

Damn, time to cut down on the dairy.

Most mainstream health and nutrition sources seem to consider nonfat or 1% milk to be part of a healthy diet, at least if you're not lactose intolerant. And there was a research review of milk studies over the summer that said milk drinkers were at 10-15% lower risk of death from chronic diseases like stroke and heart disease than non milk drinkers. I liked that one.

But plenty of other folks say stay the heck away, that milk isn't meant for adults to drink and we've all been brainwashed by the dairy industry. Charlotte at the Great Fitness Experiment did an informative post a while back on milk's Dark Side. A Harvard study a few years back found that milk drinking didn't seem to prevent forearm and hip fractures in elderly people. And the folks at Experience Life got me all confused over the summer by saying: if you do drink cows' milk, you should be drinking the fatty kind, not nonfat.

So originally I was gonna collect up all the research I could find about cow's milk and health, and then assess how convincing each study sounded, and then try to come to some sort of rational conclusion about how whether it's good for me or not. But you know what? Honestly, I'm just way too lazy for all that I'm not sure it would make any difference.

Because I think most people have pretty much made up their minds whether they want to drink cow's milk or not. For a lot of you, there's no choice--you're lactose intolerant. Or you're vegan. Or, on the flip side, you're a spokesperson for the National Dairy Council.

But even for the rest of us who don't have a medical issue or a nutritional agenda, I think there's a tendency after a while to just pick a side and pretty much stay there. For me, for example, it would take about 10 "milk is terrible for you" studies in a row before I'd have the energy to rethink my milk habit. And with the studies swinging back and forth almost every day, I don't think that's gonna happen.

However, I did find myself in search of a cow's milk alternative for a very particular purpose: to put in my tea. While studies have come to opposite conclusions on this issue, there were at least a couple of them that suggested that cow's milk could interfere with those powerhouse miracle antioxidants in tea. Horrors! Because whether the tea is green, white, red, or black, I MUST have milk in it or it tastes yucky. (Unless it's summer, in which case I drink it iced and combine it with fruit juice. This is really just a cold-weather dilemma).

So I tried soymilk, but I kind of have mixed feelings about refined soy products. Plus it got all curdly whenever I tried to squeeze lemon or lime in there, which is a good thing to do with tea to boost the antioxidants. (I know some of you are thinking: wait, milk AND lemon in tea? Isn't that against the law?)

Anyway, all this is to say that I finally solved my milk and tea problem. I tried some vanilla flavored, unsweetened almond milk--and it worked out great!

Awesome! Crabby Likes Almond Milk--We Were So Worried!

The stuff tasted fine (a little nutty, but I happen to like nuts), it didn't curdle up when I added lime or lemon to the tea, it seemed to last a really long time in the fridge even after I opened it, and, as a bonus: it had only half the calories of nonfat milk!

But my tea experiment got me wondering: is almond milk in the same ballpark, nutritionally, as cow's milk?

Well, as it happens, the L.A. Times recently did a nutritional round-up of a bunch of different milk alternatives. They looked at the pro's and con's of cow's milk, goat's milk, soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, and even hemp milk.

The article runs for many, many pages, and it's a great resource. So being lazy, I'll send you over there to research the milk-alternative of your choice rather than try to summarize it all here. But if you're curious about almond milk, here's the deal on that one:

  • Almond milk contains no cholesterol, saturated fats, or lactose.
  • It's low calorie. (While the article says a glass has 60 calories, the unsweetened vanilla-flavored kind I get is 40 calories for an 8 oz glass).
  • But it has way less protein and calcium than cow's milk: depending on the brand, just 1 gram of protein and maybe 20% of calcium.
  • While almonds themselves may have Vitamin E and omega 6's, there are not a lot of almonds in almond milk, and almond milk itself may not have any Vitamin E, and little Omega 6. (But I thought we needed to beef up Omega 3's, not Omega 6's? Aren't Omega 6's a little bit bad? Now I'm so confused!)
  • Many people who have nut allergies can't drink almond milk.

So I'm not giving up my moo juice anytime soon, but it's nice that almond milk works in my tea. And it's nice to see so many new alternatives out there.

What about you folks--what, if anything, do you put on your cereal or drink with your cookies?

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