The milk man: which milk for your mouth?

Monday, April 27, 2009
Image: Getty
Rice, almond, soy milk — just the sight of the milk aisle in your local supermarket can be enough to make your head spin. Olivia Richardson and Jennifer Pinkerton look at which milk does what in the health stakes.

Cow's milk
What it's good for:
"It's the most bio-available [easily taken up by the body] form of calcium, so your body will absorb it very well," says Lucinda Dobson from Nutrition Australia. "Three 250ml serves of cow's milk will provide our daily calcium requirements."

Watch out: Can cause allergies, not suitable for vegans and the lactose intolerant, and full-fat milk is high in saturated fat. If you are concerned about fat content, substitute with skim milk.

Use it:

  • On natural muesli
  • In smoothies
  • In baking recipes

    Soy milk
    What it's good for:
    Soy milk is low-GI, and contains phytoestrogens (which may help prevent chronic disease), protein and a reasonable amount of calcium.

    Watch out: The calcium isn't as easily absorbed as the type in cow's milk. "Even if soy milk is fortified and has the same amount of calcium as cow's milk, the bioavailability is reduced, so you'd absorb less calcium than you would from cow's milk. You just need to drink more soy milk/soy-related products to get enough calcium," Dobson says.

    Use it:

  • As a milk substitute in smoothies and on cereal
  • As a free-standing drink with a piece of rye toast as a low-GI afternoon snack
  • Warmed up and mixed with a hint of honey on a grey day as a substitute for hot chocolate or coffee

    Rice milk
    What it's good for:
    People with lactose intolerance and allergies may prefer rice milk. It also contains a lot of carbohydrates, which is good for pre-exercise energy.

    Watch out: "It's low in protein and very high in carbohydrates. It has a high-GI rating of 79 [in comparison, soy milk is 40 and cow's milk is 30], so if you were diabetic, you wouldn't want to be having too much rice milk," Dobson says. "It's also naturally low in calcium, so look for calcium-enriched brands."

    Use it:

  • Rice puddings
  • Cereal
  • Porridge
  • Smoothies

    Almond milk
    What it's good for:
    It has a creamy taste and is a source of essential fatty acids and protein. It's beneficial for people with constipation, Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis and gastroenteritis.

    Watch out: It doesn't contain much calcium and isn't suitable for people with nut allergies.

    Use it:

  • Hot drinks
  • Baking, smoothies
  • Healthy cakes
  • On cereal

    Coconut milk
    What it's good for:
    It's low in cholesterol and sodium, and is a source of magnesium and protein.

    Watch out: It's high in sugars and saturated fat.

    Use it:

  • In Thai curries (preferably select the low-fat variety)
  • Pumpkin soup (a swirl on top)
  • Tropical smoothies — tip: dilute with water to reduce the fat content

    Be your own milk man

    Banana milk
    Blend a ripe banana with 1 cup of very cold water and a ½ teaspoon of vanilla until smooth. Use immediately. Add nutmeg and cinnamon for a spicy drink, or use in a banana cake as a cow's milk substitute.

    Almond milk
    Rinse 1 cup of almonds then soak in 3 cups of water in the fridge overnight. Blend the almonds with the water until smooth. Strain the mixture through a strainer and press the milk out of the remaining oats with a spoon. The milk should last 3-5 days in the fridge.

  • Brought to you by Blackmores.

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