Although most commonly thought of as a non-alcoholic nightcap and natural sleep aid, warm milk offers health benefits no matter when you drink it. Warm milk doesn't have a health edge over milk served cold, but you'll still get lots of nutrients, like high-quality protein and calcium, that can benefit your overall well-being. And warm milk works well with a variety of flavors, so you can make tasty "lattes" and milk beverages with nutritious ingredients for added benefits.
Warm Milk Nutrition Basics
Whether you drink your milk warm or cold, you'll take in nutrient-dense calories. Skim or nonfat milk, not surprisingly, contains fewer calories per serving -- 83 per cup, or significantly less than the 122 calories in 2 percent milk -- which makes it your best bet if you're on a weight-loss diet.
These calories come from a mix of healthy protein and carbs and, if you go for reduced-fat milk, some fat. Each cup of warm milk has about 12 grams of natural sugar, which fuels your muscles and brain, plus 8 grams of complete protein, which contains all the amino acids you need for cellular and tissue growth. Complete protein is especially important for staying fit and healthy. It nourishes your muscle tissues, keeps your immune system strong and even helps you make essential hormones. If you choose warm milk that has a bit of fat in it -- like 2 percent milk, with 5 grams of fat per cup -- you'll also get an energy boost.
Health Benefits for Your Bones
Warm milk, just like milk served cold, is great for your bone health. Your body can use the amino acids in milk to make proteins like collagen, which contribute to your bone structure and prevent brittleness that could otherwise raise your risk of a bone fracture.
And each cup of nonfat warm milk contains 30 percent of the daily value for calcium. Your body needs calcium along with phosphorus and magnesium -- two other minerals found in warm milk -- to make hydroxyapatite, the mineral that makes up your bone tissue. Hydroxyapatite keeps your bones hard and dense, so they're more resistant to fractures. Most commercial brands of milk also come fortified with vitamin D, which contributes to bone health by helping you absorb and use calcium.
Other Potential Health Benefits
Capping your day with a glass of warm milk offers other benefits, too. Milk is a great source of vitamin B-12, and each cup supplies about one-fifth of your daily value. Boosting your B-12 intake is important for feeling energized; B-12 helps you make healthy red blood cells, so your tissues have a fresh supply of the oxygen they need for your day-to-day activities. Vitamin B-12 is also good for nerve health, and the many B-complex vitamins in milk -- including riboflavin and vitamin B-5 -- work together to support your metabolism.
If, however, you're counting on warm milk as a sleep aid, you might be disappointed, according to Go Ask Alice, a health service provided by Columbia University. While milk does have some sleep-promoting compounds -- like melatonin and tryptophan -- they're present in such small amounts that it probably doesn't affect your slumber. Drinking warm milk may relax you, however, and relaxation can help you drift off into dreamland, even if the milk itself doesn't induce sleep.
Spice Up Your Warm Milk
Adding nutritious ingredients to your warm milk can boost health benefits as well as flavor. Stir a dash of ginger and cinnamon into your milk as it heats for "gingerbread" milk. Both spices come packed with antioxidants and, as noted by the University of Maryland Medical Center, might even help lower your cholesterol, though more research is needed to know for sure. Make "golden milk" by adding dried or fresh turmeric with a small amount of honey for sweetness. Like cinnamon and ginger, turmeric contains beneficial antioxidants. It also helps relieve inflammation -- an important health benefit, since excess inflammation is linked to obesity and heart disease. If you're not sensitive to caffeine, try steeping black or chai tea in your warm milk for a sugar-free tea latte.