Milk is one of the most nutritious edibles on the planet. That’s why you see it everywhere, in every culture, in every cuisine, forming an integral part of diet in almost every part of the earth. But milk also comes with its own ‘bad rap’ – it has a certain reputation for being responsible for weight gain.
Now if you are trying to drop those crucial pounds on the scale, or trying to trim those extra inches around your waist, you might want to avoid anything that has the faintest possibility of resulting in weight gain. But what if this makes you lose out on some essential nutrients? Compromising on your health and nutrition for weight gain is not a smart move at all. The smart thing to do is to understand if milk really does affect your weight loss regimen adversely, or if there is more to this.
Milk as a Recommendation for Weight Gain
Yes, milk is recommended as a dietary addition if you are looking to GAIN weight, but wait – this need not seal its fate for you. If you look carefully at why milk is recommended to athletes, for example, for weight gain, you can see that there is more to the story. Milk is usually recommended as the preferable alternative to other high calorie weight gainers, so that the athlete can put on muscle mass. Since milk contains other essential beneficial nutrients like protein and calcium, this is an ideal alternative to empty calorie foods. The whey protein and casein in milk promote your ability to build lean muscle mass. If you still want to get the nutrients but avert the risk of weight gain from ilk, what you may need to do is just stay off the high fat variants.
Also keep this very interesting fact in mind- we know milk can improve muscle mass and help you build lean muscle. Now, muscle determines your metabolic rate, so if you gain muscle, you improve your metabolic rate; that is, you burn fat more efficiently. Putting on muscle gives your metabolism a kick start and ensures that you are burning fat more consistently and that you can maintain your weight or even achieve your weight loss goal more effectively. This means that milk, which helps build muscle, actually does contribute to weight maintenance, as well as weight loss.
Does That Mean You Can Have Milk Without Restrictions?
Well, no. The point is that if you are aiming for weight loss and general good health, you DO need to have a balance in whatever you consume. Too much of a good food is still harmful just like consuming a bad (nutrient-less, empty calorie) food is. Also, the fact remains that milk DOES contain calories, so ingesting too much of it, that is, loading your body with more calories than you are burning, inevitably leads to weight gain. That’s exactly why you should pay heed to how much calorie intake you are adding to your diet when you add milk to your meals.
How do you do that?
- By keeping track of how many calories you consume overall each day- An American Journal of Nutrition research paper (published 2016) showed that even with regular consumption of high fat milk, the study subjects showed a lower predilection for weight gain/obesity. The conclusion was that the high calorie content of high fat milk resulted in a fuller feeling that prevented snacking in between meals. One way to manage weight without avoiding a milk-based diet would be to keep a watch on the overall calorie count you take in one day so that you enjoy the nutrition of milk but do not overload yourself with calories. Just substitute other high calorie meals with low cal or zero cal ones and add high fat milk instead so that your daily overall calorie count remains unchanged.
- By restricting the total amount of milk consumed per day- any food, no matter how nutritious, can result in ill effects if you binge eat. The same applies to milk as well. Restrict yourself to the recommended quantities of dairy per day, which stands at three cups. Keep in mind that this includes all varieties of dairy products (milk, cheese, butter etc.), so if you are increasing your milk intake, then cut down on other forms of dairy.
- By opting for milk that has fewer calories- This way, you get to enjoy the benefits of the various nutrients that milk contains but without the baggage of extra calories that can throw your weight loss regimen off. It’s the perfect solution! This is also a solution that those who cannot consume dairy products owing to lactose intolerance can think of by opting for no- lactose milk variants. This way you still can opt for certain kinds of milk and gain from the nutrition it has to offer.
What Kind of Milk Should You Take?
There are quite a few options at hand for you, and some of them are not dairy products at all. But let’s start with the most common kind consumed by a majority of Americans- cow’s milk. Cow’s milk is practically a staple diet across the country, and you will find that it is a part of the daily meal across ages here. If you are the kind to store a gallon of milk in your refrigerator at any given point of time, the first question you must ask yourself is: do you know what kind it is? A surprising number of people either do not know or do not understand exactly the difference between the cow’s milk variants available in stores. Here is what you need to know:
Typically, you would find four types of cow’s milk in your local store’s dairy section:
- Whole milk or 3.25% milk
- Reduced fat milk or 2% milk
- Low fat milk or 1% milk
- Skim milk or fat free milk
The percentage that you see next to the milk type tells you how much fat content each has, with skim milk having zero fat. What you should also know is that, while these variants have different fat contents, they all come packed with the goodness of eight grams of protein plus calcium, potassium, and other necessary nutrients. The amount of fat content in each impacts the caloric value you get with each serving of the specific variant. That means, the skim milk adds the least number of calories to your daily diet, while whole milk adds the most number of calories. If you are looking for a low calorie dairy option, you would go for either of the last two variants.
Confused with the percentages? Let’s simplify it:
- Whole milk or 3.25% milk has 3.25% milk fat of the total weight of the milk. In a glass of whole milk (that is, 8 ounces), you have 8 grams of fat and 150 calories.
- Reduced fat milk has 2% milkfat of the total weight of the milk. In an 8 ounce glass of it, you will have 5 grams of fat and 120 calories.
- Low fat or light milk has 1% milkfat, 2.5 grams of fat per 8 ounces, and also 100 calories.
- Skim milk or fat free milk has 80 calories and no fat in each serving of 8 ounces. It also has the same 8 grams of protein as the other milk types.
As you can see, no matter which kind of milk you choose among these, you do get your protein intake. Proteins being essential building blocks, it is important for you to get enough of it, so you need not cut milk out of your diet even if you are avoiding calories. Just choose the right milk variant instead.
The Case for Skim Milk
If the thought of consuming too many calories makes you unhappy, skim milk is the best option for you. A common fallacy about skim milk or low- fat milk is that this kind contains more sugars. The exact opposite is true in reality because skim milk has lower sugar content than the full fat version.
The major advantage that you derive from switching to low fat or skim milk is still its low calorie count and the fact that this aspect does not affect its nutritional value significantly in other ways. So by switching to low fat, you avoid the 150 calories that you ingest with full fat and nearly cut it down by half. That’s significant!
Also keep this in mind. Your body needs protein on a regular basis, and if you are not getting it through many other sources, milk is one of the easiest ways in which you can ensure you get enough of it. Skim milk offers a simple way for you to get your protein without calories adding on to it.
It is not just protein that you add to your body with skim milk. This kind of milk is considered one of the most nutrient dense edibles you can choose to have. It has an impressive list of vitamins and minerals as well. If you want to ensure you get enough calcium in your diet, skim milk is one of the best ways to do that. This is especially important for women who have crossed the age of 40 and who may be at an increased risk of osteoporosis. This milk variant is one of the richest calcium sources you may find; about 300 mg of calcium is present in every cup of milk you drink.
For the Lactose Intolerant
Dairy products become a big “NO” for those with lactose intolerance. But this does not mean they have to lose out on the other nutrients that milk offers. Lactose-free milk is the perfect option for them to choose.
Lactose-free milk is still cow’s milk with all its inherent goodness. It is just that the lactose has been broken down. This is the natural sugar content in milk, and its removal ensures that lactose intolerant people can have this milk without any issues and get the benefits of proteins, calcium, vitamins just as those who can eat regular dairy products.
What Milk to Avoid
Even if you can tolerate lactose with no trouble, you would do well to avoid sweetened milk at all times. Your body does NOT need extra sugar, and in sweetened milk, you have plenty of sugar added. Milk in its natural form has an inherent sweetness that makes it tasty enough. If you do not like the taste of plain milk, you can add protein powders to make it more palatable for you while avoiding sweetening agents.
Another good way to make milk tasty if you dislike it is to make milk shakes or smoothies. Use fruits like apples or peaches or strawberries to add natural sweetness to the beverage and you have a nutrition filled, no-added-sugar, tasty, and wholesome meal on your hands. Thick shakes and smoothies can actually make a great breakfast alternative, especially if you are in the habit of having something with a high calorie count as your first meal of the day. Add nuts to your shake or smoothie, and you are sure to stay away from snacking for a longer time since they make the shake far more satisfying and keep hunger pangs away for longer.
Non-Dairy Milk Alternatives
There are also other milk varieties that you can opt for if you want to steer clear of dairy completely. If you are lactose intolerant or you do not like the taste of dairy, these could be the ideal options for you.
Low fat and filled with nutrition, soy milk is a fantastic alternative if you do not like or can’t tolerate dairy. Soy comes packed with the power of protein. Pay attention to the labels and get soy milk that is organic and non-GMO so you avoid processing to the maximum. Also avoid sweetened soy milk variants because you do not want to load your body with artificial sweeteners.
Soy milk has about 7 grams of protein to cow’s milk’s 8 grams. It also contains 4 grams of fat and a mere 80 calories, so nutrient wise, it is a good match for full fat milk but comes without the latter’s calorie content. The aroma and taste of soy milk are quite unusual, and it may take you a little while to get used to it.
Said to be a really tasty alternative to milk, almond milk is also quite popular. With just 39 calories and 2.5 grams of fat, this is a really low-fat milk alternative option, but it also has less protein content (1 gram) than both cow’s milk and soy milk. Typically, the almond milk you get from the store contains added sugar, so make sure you look for the unsweetened variety if you are going for this alternative.
The advantage with almond milk is the taste and texture that makes it well liked by most. It may be low on protein, but it has a wealth of other nutrients that make it a healthy option. For example, it has several vitamins (A, E, D) alongside zinc, calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium. The fat that this milk contains is the good kind, meaning that it can make your heart healthier. You don’t have to buy this milk from the store; you can easily make it at home with soaked almonds.
With the goodness of beta-glucan, oat milk comes loaded with fiber, which is great for your digestion and also good for your cholesterol. This milk is quite light and has a natural sweetness. Flavor-wise, oat milk ranks high, but in the protein comparison, it is not as great, with about 2 to 2.5 grams of protein. This kind of milk also usually comes with flavoring, so make sure you check the label and go for the non-flavored, non-sweetened variant if oat milk is your choice. This does help give you a fully satiated feeling for a longer time, so avoiding snacking is easy if you have just had a glassful of oat milk or cereal with oat milk.
Although it does come from the same plant that marijuana is derived from, there is no need to worry that you will get high on hemp milk. This milk is, in fact, the almost perfect substitute for those who are used to skim milk, for its taste and texture match closely. Hemp milk contains about 70 calories, 5 to 8 grams of fat, and about 3 grams of protein. The biggest advantage of hemp milk is its fatty acids- omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acid alpha linolenic acids. Since your body does not produce either, you need to take them through food items, and hemp milk is one good way to do that.
The fact is that milk is an essential requirement for your body- even if you are trying to lose wight. Cutting it out of your diet entirely can leave you lacking in certain necessary nutrients. The critical factor here is to choose the right kind of milk that suits your tastes, your budget, and also your caloric requirements- be it cow’s milk or non- dairy alternatives.