If you're trying to lose weight and don't want to cut milk out of your diet, you may need to consider your dietary plan. The best milk for weight loss will depend entirely on the type of diet you're following. Cow's milk products tend to have a large amount of carbohydrates, while milk alternatives from plant-based sources tend to be comparatively lower in calories and have different ratios of macronutrients.
Calories in Milk Products
Milk is typically considered a healthy food rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming about three cups of dairy products like milk every day.
Despite its nutrient-rich content, milk might not be your favorite food if you're dieting. Each cup (240 milliliters) of skim milk has 91 calories, while reduced fat milks like 1 percent milk and 2 percent milk have 120 and 139 calories per cup, respectively. Whole milk has almost twice the calories of skim milk, with 161 calories per cup. Many people counting calories might find that 273 to 483 calories per day is simply too much to allocate to milk-based products.
While dairy products are typically considered to be products made from cow's milk or other animal milks, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans considers fortified soy milk to be an equivalent product to cow's milk. This is because the nutritional profile of fortified soy milk is comparatively similar to cow's milk. Fortified soy milk products are fairly low in calories, with about 109 calories per cup.
The Healthiest Milk Alternatives
If you're already getting your dairy intake from other sources but still want to drink a healthy type of milk, there are a variety of plant-based alternatives that might be suitable for your diet. Many plant-based milks are fairly new products that have just entered the market.
Unsweetened almond milk is the lowest-calorie milk with just 26 calories per cup (236 milliliters) and is considered a healthy milk alternative. Flax hemp milk has recently been gaining in popularity, with just 46 calories per cup. With 79 calories per cup, pea milk is also quite popular. This product is considered one of the healthiest milk alternatives for people looking to increase their protein and reduce their carbohydrates.
Coconut milk, which has about 74 calories per cup, has been popular for some time now. However, unlike most other alternative milk products, coconut milk products can vary widely. If you choose a canned coconut milk product (rather than one in a carton), you could end up consuming as much as 445 calories in a single cup. Ultimately, the healthiest milk for you isn't just based on calories, though. The best milk for weight loss comes down to your dietary choices. Milk products higher in fat, protein or carbohydrates can all be suitable for a healthy diet.
Low-Carb Milks for Dieting
A December 2018 study in the Journal of the College of Family Physicians of Canada reported that ketogenic diets can help people lose about 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) more than low-fat diets. Like low-carb diets, ketogenic diets focus on carbohydrate reduction for weight loss and compensate by adding more dietary fat. People following such diets consume between 20 and 50 grams of carbohydrates per day, which means that fat is the main macronutrient in their diet.
Unfortunately, all cow's milk products are rich in carbohydrates, with between 11 and 15 grams of carbohydrates per cup (240 milliliters). Few people following strict ketogenic diets would be willing to drink cow's milk, given its substantial carbohydrate content. In fact, most ketogenic and low-carb diets recommend that people get their carbohydrates from fiber-rich sources like vegetables, as dietary fiber consumption is essential for the health of your digestive system.
The healthiest milk for low-carb and ketogenic diets is a plant-based product: coconut milk. However, you should be cautious about the type of coconut milk you choose. Certain sweetened, fortified products may be diluted, resulting in a product that has about 5 grams of fat and 7 grams of protein per cup (240 milliliters). Canned coconut milk products typically have far more fat, as they are less diluted, and may have as much as 48 grams per cup. However, some canned coconut milks can be similar to cream, which means it's unlikely you'd need a whole cup if you were to consume this type of product.
Read more: 18 Fat-Rich Foods That Are Good for You
High-Protein Milks for Dieting
A June 2015 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that high-protein diets can also support weight loss. These diets may be similar to low-carbohydrate diets, increasing your protein intake and reducing your carbohydrate consumption. However, high-protein diets may alternatively require that you lower your fat intake, instead. High-protein diets may also be able to help you lose weight even without rearranging your macronutrients — increasing protein is more important than reducing fat or carbs.
If you're looking for a milk that's suitable for a high-protein diet, certain cow's milks and pea milk are likely the best options. Both 1 percent milk and 2 percent milk are the best sources of protein from milk products, with 10 grams of protein per cup. However, you should be aware that 1 percent milk has 15 grams of carbohydrates and 2.5 grams of fat per cup, while 2 percent milk has 14 grams of carbohydrates and 5 grams of fat per cup. This means that cow's milk products are not suitable for high-protein, low-carb diets, but may be fine for other protein-rich diets.
If you've adjusted your macronutrient intake to be higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates, pea milk may be a better choice than cow's milk. With 8 grams of protein, 4.5 grams of fat and 2 grams of carbohydrates per cup (240 milliliters), pea milk provides the most protein and least carbohydrates of any alternative milk product.
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release: Basic Report: "16241, Silk Plus Omega-3 DHA, Soymilk"
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release: Full Report (All Nutrients): "45223290, Silk, Unsweetened Almondmilk, Upc: 025293003842"
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release: Basic Report: "14171, Beverages, Coconut Milk, Sweetened, Fortified with Calcium, Vitamins A, B12, D2"
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release: Basic Report: "12118, Nuts, Coconut Milk, Canned (Liquid Expressed from Grated Meat and Water)"
- USDA Branded Food Products Database: Full Report (All Nutrients): "45232450, Skim Milk, UPC: 853655005032"
- USDA Branded Food Products Database: Full Report (All Nutrients): "45289712, 1% Milk Fat Low Fat Milk, UPC: 717544204817"
- USDA Branded Food Products Database: Full Report (All Nutrients): "45226447, 2% Milk Fat Reduced Fat Milk, UPC: 717544204923"
- USDA Branded Food Products Database: Full Report (All Nutrients): "45235682, Whole Milk, UPC: 034538345210"
- USDA Branded Food Products Database: Full Report (All Nutrients): "45205506, Organic Flax Hemp Milk, UPC: 661799264372"
- USDA Branded Food Products Database: Full Report (All Nutrients): "45359839, Unsweetened Nutritious Pea Milk, UPC: 855643006083"
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "The Role of Protein in Weight Loss and Maintenance"
- Journal of the College of Family Physicians of Canada: "Ketogenic Diet for Weight Loss"
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: "Dietary Fiber"
- Health.gov: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020"