Tips to Live By

PODCAST: Which Milk Is the Best Fit for You?

March 5, 2024


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The phrase "Got milk?" has taken on new meaning in recent years. Cow's milk hasn't gone anywhere of course, but the options have expanded to also include soy milk, almond milk, oat milk — even milk made from peas. Whether it's going in your coffee, cereal, oatmeal, smoothie or a glass by itself, which type is best for you? In this episode, we "pour over" everything there is to know about traditional and plant-based milks.

Expert: Kelly Gaines, Registered Dietitian

Interviewer: Zach Moore

Notable topics covered:

  • Whether milk really builds strong bones
  • Pasteurized, homogenized, filtered: What does it all mean?
  • Is whole milk too high in fat? And more questions about cow's milk, answered
  • What does "organic" mean on a milk label anyway?
  • Ultra-filtered milk: Too good to be true?
  • How to think about milk if it's just going in your coffee
  • Moo-ve over dairy milk: A plant-based milks deep dive
  • Is almond milk as healthy as its proponents claim?
  • Some plant-based milks have protein and added sugar problems
  • The plant-based milks Gaines recommends the most and least


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Episode Transcript

ZACH MOORE: Welcome to On Health with Houston Methodist. I’m Zach Moore. I’m a photographer and editor here, and I’m also a long-time podcaster.

KATIE MCCALLUM: I’m Katie McCallum. Former researcher, turned health writer, mostly writing for our blogs.

ZACH: And Katie, do you drink milk?

KATIE: Yeah Zach, I drink milk.


ZACH: Okay.

KATIE: I mean, I’m not gonna say I drink a lot of it but, you know.

ZACH: Do you have a favorite kind of milk?

KATIE: My milk journey has actually been like a winding path that’s changed over the years. So, somewhere in my mid 20’s, like, milk started, kinda, hurting my stomach.

ZACH: Okay.

KATIE: I started trying all the plant-based milks, and so I have, like, tried almost every option that’s out there and I’ve, kinda, come back towards, like, once they started making the lactose free dairy milks, that’s where I went back ‘cause I love the -- Like, that’s the taste of milk I like, I never was a big fan of plant milks. So now, I’m back on, like, a lactose free dairy milk. And every now and then, I splurge, and I get the ones that are called, “Ultrafiltered.” They’re pricy, but I like those just ‘cause they have, like, extra protein and stuff in them.

ZACH: Do you have a favorite plant-based milk?

KATIE: [Sighs] I don’t know. I don’t really like any of them, I’m gonna be perfectly honest. Like, they all just don’t taste like anything that I really want. How ‘bout you? I mean --

ZACH: There is a different taste to them, I agree. And I’ve had a milk journey myself.

KATIE: Talk us through this milk journey.

ZACH: Well, you know, when you’re a kid, you just drink whatever’s at the school cafeteria, you know, we all have the little cardboard boxes and straws.

KATIE: Well, when we were kids, there weren’t plant milks really yet. Maybe soy and then --

ZACH: Your choices were white milk, chocolate milk, strawberry milk.


KATIE: Yeah, and then maybe like a 1% and a whole milk…

ZACH: Yeah.

KATIE: And, like, if soy was around, I don’t think that became popular till, like, my teens and then now, like, there’s a million options obviously.

ZACH: So, Katie, do you drink a lot of milk. I don’t know, like, you either -- With your cereal, or with your cookies, and like, that sort of thing. I don’t know if it’s just the way of things, but as you get older, you drink less milk. Maybe we’re just speaking for ourselves here, but you just don’t drink as much milk as when you’re younger. And you’ll hear me mention this in our conversation today with our expert. But I heard a factoid a few years ago that humans are the only animals that drink milk, not only beyond their own adolescence, but drink milk from other animals. And it’s like, wow. That really blew my mind. That was like a question everything you thought you knew kind of statement.

KATIE: I don’t think I would think of that on my own. But, like, as you say it, like, makes sense.

ZACH: So, I was like, “It’s weird, maybe we should be drinking plant-based milk.” And so -- So, I experimented with some, you know, almond milk --

KATIE: Well, I don’t think any other species are drinking plant-based milks either, so.

ZACH: [Laughing] So, I think I’ve come back around, especially after this conversation you’re about to hear us have with our expert today. I’m just gonna go back to dairy milk.

KATIE: What was it? What was your -- What was your go-to before this conversation?

ZACH: Well, probably almond milk.

KATIE: Okay.

ZACH: With extra protein. Because that’s a very important component that is missing in a lot plant-based milks, right? I mean, and there’s a lot of great reasons to drink plant-based milk if you have certain, you know, reactions to dairy products and whatnot. But also, they’re missing some properties that you need.

KATIE: People -- Yeah, I will say. Even when I -- You know, when I was realizing, like okay, dairy hurts my stomach, let me switch to a plant-based milk. I really did think they were, like, nutritional equivalents. Like, oh, I’m just gonna swap in some almond milk or some soy milk. And, like, some of them are pretty good, but then I -- Like, yeah, I was shocked when it was like, oh this thing that you think is, kind of, just like milk is really not like milk…

ZACH: Right.

KATIE: No. But we’re gonna talk about that today.

ZACH: We are. We talked to Kelly Gaines, she’s a registered dietitian here at Houston Methodist and we went through all the different kinds of milk with her. And tried to determine what might be the best fit for you. Let’s get into it.

[Sound effect signaling beginning of interview]

ZACH: I wanna start off with a big question, what are your milk drinking habits? Do you like it? Do you have a preferred kind of milk, and has that changed at all over your lifetime?

KELLY GAINES: So, I do drink milk. I drink skim milk, ultrafiltered at home. When I was a kid, I did grow up drinking skim milk, but, you know, that’s always, kind of, controlled by your parents, right? So, that’s what my parents put in the house so that’s what I had. I drank a lot more milk as a kid than I do now as an adult. Now, I just, kind of, use it in my coffee or, you know, maybe just a little bit with something on occasion or in cooking, like when I make pancakes or something.

ZACH: Right.

KELLY: So, I don’t drink a ton of milk just by itself.

ZACH: You don’t go home after a long day and pour yourself a nice, tall, cold glass of milk anymore, huh?

KELLY: Not usually.

ZACH: [Laughing] Now, how important is it, and of course, everything is relative, so when I say how important, you know, relatively speaking, is it to drink milk? Because regardless of the type of milk, and we’ll go down those types shortly. That “Got milk?” campaign, right? It’s been going on for decades now, it’s got some really clever and effective commercials and posters with famous celebrities and characters, even fictional characters. So, there’s definitely been, you know, a big push, if you will, for it in the public consciousness. Do you think, like, we need that as a society? Like, do we need to be reminded, like, “Hey, by the way, drink your milk.”

KELLY: [Chuckles] Yeah, that’s a great question. So, the U.S. dietary guidelines do recommend that we drink, or that we have two to three servings of dairy a day. And from a health standpoint, low-fat and fat-free dairy products are healthier for us. So, milk is, kind of, an easy way to have those options. You can also get that through yogurt, but when you look at something like cheese, which a lot of people love cheese and I would say probably most people get their two to three servings from cheese a day, cheese isn’t as healthy because it’s higher in fat and it has all the sodium that’s been added to it, so from that stand point, yeah, encouraging people to get their dairy servings from milk can be a slightly healthier way to go. But it is interesting because when you look at the rest of the world, other countries drink way less milk than what we do. You know, maybe just one cup a day as opposed to, like, the two to three servings that they’re recommending here, and they even have lower calcium recommendations in other parts of the world than they do here in the U.S. So, yeah. Marketing, right?


But it’s a way -- You know, they are trying to get us our calcium.

ZACH: Right. Now, on that same note, you know, we’ve always heard that milk will, you know, keep your bones strong and help prevent osteoporosis. Now, in recent years, I’ve seen studies that attempt to question that, like, it’s not so cut and dry, maybe it’s -- What is the current understanding, you know, in the medical field of the correlation between milk and osteoporosis?

KELLY: Yeah, so you’re right. There have been a few studies in recent years that say, “Well, maybe, you know, all this calcium that we’re having isn’t helping with our bone-mineral density quite as much as we thought it did, but there’s way more research that says it does. But it is primarily in our youth, right? So, it’s our childhood into our adolescence where we’re building all this bone-mineral density and then once we get into adulthood, not really so much.

ZACH: I feel like you see these studies that come out every few years, like, you know, “Eating a box of chocolates a day could be good for you.” One of those, like, almost contrarian studies. And I mean, there’s definitely a place for that, we should always be exploring hey, is this current medical understanding is it still accurate? As we evolve and learn more, but people always wanna talk about the hot, new study that, “Hey, everything you thought you knew was wrong,” and that’s not necessarily the case here.

KELLY: Definitely.

ZACH: Now, a factoid I heard a few years  ago that -- It really stuck with me and I wanted to talk to you about it is that, you know, humans we’re the only species that, not only do we drink milk from another species, but we drink it past our adolescence. Why is this?

KELLY: Yeah, that’s, kind of, like an evolutionary adaptation sort of thing, right? So, we as a human species started raising livestock and domesticating these animals as a food source, which is great in times of food shortage. Being able to drink milk from other animals was actually even a source of clean water for us in times where we didn’t have access to clean water. So, milk is actually 87% water, like, whole milk is. So, if you think about it from that standpoint, like, it’s a survival kind of thing, right? Like, we figured out a way to have a more consistent source of nutrients available to us versus having to go, like, hunt and gather and potentially not find food. We were able to start raising livestock and feed ourselves that way.

ZACH: Yeah no, and that’s an excellent point just thinking about having a liquid, right? I mean, even in the old days, you had to go drill a well, only so much water, I’m just gonna have some milk instead of some water.

KELLY: Absolutely, yeah. Yeah, and you’re not worried so much about contamination, right?

ZACH: Excellent, excellent. Now, let’s go down the kinds of milk. There’s a lot. There’s a lot more than I thought. Looking at this I was, “Okay, you got your cow’s milk, and then, I don’t know, like almond milk, and then maybe like a couple other ones,” but there’s a lot more. So, let’s go down the list. ‘Cause kinda what I wanna talk about here to inform the listeners too is like, if -- You go to the grocery store and you’re standing in front of the big freezer, like, what is the best fit for you for milk? Because there are so many choices these days. Like you said, when we were kids, it’s like, “Oh, what does mom have in the refrigerator? Two percent? Sure, okay, I’ll eat that with my cookies when I get home from school.” And you don’t really think about it. Or the little -- You know, there’s only so many little boxes, little cardboard in the cafeteria. You know?

KELLY: Right.

ZACH: And nowadays, like, so many kinds of foods, there are so many options when it comes to milk. But let’s start with the old, reliable cow’s milk. So, there’s whole milk, and it is fair to call this the most standard milk?

KELLY: Maybe the most traditional milk, I would say. More people that I talk to drink 2%. It’s, kind of, been engrained for a while now, I think, that, you know, whole milk is too high fat. So, people are willing to go to 2% and they view that as a healthier option, but whole milk is definitely, I would say, the more traditional milk.

ZACH: You know, is it the same as vitamin D milk? ‘Cause some of these milks, I feel like I see interchangeably.

KELLY: They do. They sometimes market whole milk as Vitamin D milk but all of the dairy milks are fortified with vitamin D so they could all be called Vitamin D milk really.

ZACH: Okay, interesting.

KELLY: Yeah.

ZACH: Good to know. Yeah. And really it just depend -- Like you said, it’s marketing, it’s like, “What label are they gonna put on it? Who are they trying to appeal to?” You know? Vitamin D is its own conversation, we actually did a podcast about it not too long ago. So also, all of these cow’s milk, they’re typically pasteurized and homogenized. What does that mean exactly?

KELLY: So, the pasteurization process is to kill bacteria, right? So, it helps it be more shelf stable, it makes sure that when they’re, you know, milking the cows and all of that that, you know, it’s not contaminated with anything so that it’s safe for the consumer to drink. There are a couple different types of pasteurization as far as how high they heat the milk to, the temperature, and the length of time, because if you have noticed, sometimes you can see milks that are shelf stable, right? That aren’t refrigerated. So, there are a couple different types of temperatures that they can use. So high heat pasteurization makes it shelf stable for even longer. But yes, it’s just a way of keeping it safe for the public to consume, right? Killing that bacteria and yeast and molds too. Homogenization is where they actually break down the fat that’s in the milk and make the fat globules smaller in size so that the milk’s not separating so much. So, the milk that we buy from the stores, right? It doesn’t really separate with the fat on the top.

ZACH: Right.

KELLY: But if you think about fat in water, normally fat would separate.

ZACH: Mhm.

KELLY: So, it’s really just for mouth feel, like, taste preference, visual preference when you’re buying your milk.

ZACH: Okay. Yeah, again, and some of these things, you see it on a label, and we don’t think about it. Like, so many words we just see, like, “Pasteurized,” and we’re like, “Okay, I mean, I guess that’s a good thing.” But now we know what it means. I didn’t know before, so thank you.

KELLY: And if you think about from a pasteurization standpoint if you’ve thought about, like, raw milk at all, like, sometimes if you go to farmer’s markets, you can get raw milk from local farmers that’s not pasteurized, and that’s always, kind of, the little, like, iffy, you know, concern with purchasing raw milk is that you don’t know if it’s gonna make you sick or not, so.

ZACH: Now, you mentioned 2% milk, 2% fat.

KELLY: So, it means that it has 2% fat in the milk…

ZACH: Okay.

KELLY: As opposed to whole milk, which is 4% fat.

ZACH: When I think back to, like, what milk I drank, like, you mentioned earlier, like when I drank it as a kid as we all -- You know, not everyone, but I think we all drank more milk when we were children, probably. I just remember it being 2%. It was like -- The particular brand that we got wherever was always like the blue carton and I was like, “That’s how I know. Get that blue 2% carton.” And talking about what’s the standard or whatever, 2% seems to be the go-to. If there is a milk that -- If you go to the gas station looking for milk and they have a much lesser selection, you’re probably gonna find 2% there.

KELLY: Yes, probably so. And I think for a lot of people, it has to do, again with that mouth feel and the thickness, right? So, the people that I talk to, 2% is close enough in thickness to whole milk that they’re still willing to drink it but 1% starts to get a little bit too thin for them.

ZACH: Hmm. Yeah, let’s talk about 1%. So, it’s -- That’s also known as low-fat milk.

KELLY: It is. And that has to do with just, sort of, the definitions of low-fat milk that have been set by the FDA, right? So, a low-fat product has less than three grams of fat, so low-fat milk has less than 3 grams of fat. 2% milk would be considered a reduced fat milk because it has less fat than the original product.

ZACH: Got you. Again, all these terminologies that, just, depending on what label they put on it, right? ‘Cause I’m like, “Well, if it’s low-fat, how is that different than reduced fat?” But low-fat would be the lowest amount until you get to something like skim milk, I guess, which is…

KELLY: Non-fat.

ZACH: Okay.

KELLY: Zero fat. Yeah.

ZACH: Fat-free milk?

KELLY: Fat-free milk, exactly. And you’ll see it marketed all three of those ways, right? Skim, non-fat, fat free.

ZACH: That’s why I need clarification here, so thank you. Now, what’s the process of removing the fat? It’s the same process, they just remove all of it instead of half of it, or?

KELLY: Correct. So, actually -- And as I was, like, reading this, just to, you know, confirm some of the details and things, I didn’t realize that they removed all fat from milk and then add it back in.

ZACH: Wow.

KELLY: And they do that actually so that they have a standard product so that you don’t risk having some milks that, you know, are 4.5% fat or 3.5% fat. So, they actually remove all fat from the milk and then add it back in depending on whether they’re making whole milk, 2%, 1%.

ZACH: Interesting. You would not think they would do it that way, but that does make sense for the control element of it all.


ZACH: Okay, gotcha, gotcha. So, we’ve done whole milk, 2% milk, 1% milk, skim milk. Organic milk. Now, now organic products have been a big health trend in recent years. What is the difference  here between organic milk and all these other milks we talked about so far?

KELLY: Yes, and that’s a great question. So, organic milk means that the cows have been raised organically.

ZACH: Okay.

KELLY: Meaning that that have access to pastures for a certain amount of time during the year. Like, more pasture time than just being kept, you know, cooped up, being given feed. But then also, their feed has to be organic. Meaning that only organic pesticides and things like that would be used on the grass that they’re eating or when they are fed, you know, corn or something -- some kind of grain, that that would all be organic. And then it also applies a bit to antibiotic use. So, in our standard milk products, they can give a cow an antibiotic and then they wait, you know, 96 hours or however long it takes for the antibiotics to get out of the cow’s system before they would resume, you know, using that milk for our food supply. But with organic cows, they’re not allowed to use antibiotics at all. They can only use an antibiotic on the cow if the cow needs it to survive, and then the cow is sold, and it can’t be used for organic milk anymore.

ZACH: Okay, interesting.

KELLY: Yeah.

ZACH: Alright, so let’s talk about lactose free milk. In my research, I found that 60-70% of the population has some form of lactose intolerance, is this accurate?

KELLY: So, it’s correct. It’s technically that they have some form of lactose malabsorption. So, what happens is -- And this is actually historically, it was more like 100% of the human population that after, kind of, this infancy childhood age, we would stop producing the lactase enzyme that helps us break down lactose. So, symptoms of that, right? Are gonna be things like the, you know, constipation and bloating and gas and some of those, like, discomforts that we can have. But so, what happened when we were mentioning earlier how we started, you know, raising livestock and that sort of thing. So, some cultures actually evolved to continue producing the lactase enzyme into adulthood, but it’s only like 36-ish percent of the human population that actually has that, it’s technically like a gene mutation, that allows us to continue producing the lactase enzyme and digest it. But not everyone that has lactose malabsorption necessarily has symptoms, so it might be that they continue to produce really small amounts of the lactase enzyme so they could drink, like, a tiny bit of milk in their coffee, right? And not have any symptoms from it. It’s -- Then it’s more just a volume thing for them, right? If they sit down and drink, like, that whole glass of milk after work that they would have the symptoms from it.

ZACH: Okay, so what is the process of making milk for the lactose intolerant?

KELLY: Yeah, so a lactose-free milk, what they’ve actually done is they add lactase enzyme to the milk itself…

ZACH: Okay.

KELLY: So, it breaks down the lactose in the milk before the person even drinks it.

ZACH: Wow, okay. And is there any significant taste difference between this and the other milks?

KELLY: Not really. Most people don’t think that there is. Some people think that maybe it tastes slightly sweeter, just because the lactose is broken down into even more simple sugars, but most people don’t think it tastes any different.

ZACH: Interesting. So, yeah, I mean, you hear, like, “Oh yeah, they’re lactose intolerant.” And you think like that’s a -- “Oh, that percentage of the population.” It’s the majority of us all.

KELLY: It actually is, yes. And it’s actually more of the, like, northern European population that has the ability to digest lactose. So, it’s more of like the Hispanic, African, American Indian, those types of populations that have more lactose intolerance.

ZACH: Gotcha. Now, I love chocolate milk. When it comes to chocolate and strawberry milk, is there a “Best” or “Healthiest,” and I say those with quotation marks, of these? I mean, is it better to add the flavor yourself, like a chocolate syrup or is it better to, kind of, you know, buy it in the carton that’s like, “Here’s your strawberry milk,” or something like that. Or does it just completely cancel out the health benefits of milk entirely? Where is a good middle ground here with these flavored milks?

KELLY: Yeah, so I wouldn’t say that it cancels out the health benefits entirely. I mean, you’re still getting the calcium, the Vitamin D, some of these great, you know, nutrients that have been added to the milk  and in the milk, and  I would say drinking a chocolate milk as your dessert is probably better than a lot of alternatives, maybe like, a donut or something that has even less nutritional value, right?

ZACH: Got you.

KELLY: In addition to the donuts, maybe not, you know, the best addition. But yeah. So, it’s interesting when you look to see because -- So, your standard milks that you might buy like a chocolate milk carton from the grocery store do have a decent amount of added sugars in them. So, it’s about 15 grams of added sugars in a cup of chocolate milk. So, to give you an idea of what that looks like for us, the American Heart Association recommends that women not consume more than 24 grams of added sugars a day, men not more than 36 grams of added sugars a day. So, for kids, it’s gonna be like the 24 or even a little bit less. So, if you’re looking at 15 grams, like, more than half of that coming from one cup of chocolate milk, that’s, kind of, a lot towards your daily total.

ZACH: Yeah.

KELLY: But it could fit, right? If you were using that as, kind of, your sweet treat or your dessert or whatever that was for the day. When I was looking to compare it, the little cartons that they sell, which in my mind, are marketed towards kids, right? As in, like, “Yeah, this little carton that they can take to school with them,” or whatever. Those had a little bit less. So, they add about 10 grams of added sugar in the little one cup carton. Some of the ultrafiltered milks, if you’ve seen, like, -- Maybe we’ll talk about ultrafiltered milks in a minute. But the ultrafiltered milks like the Mootopia brand by H-E-B or the Fairlife brand, they only have five grams of added sugars in them, and if you’ve tasted their chocolate milk, it tastes very chocolatey, and very sweet, and very decadent but they’re using some artificial sweeteners in there too.

ZACH: Okay.

KELLY: So, then it’s, kind of, a personal preference of, okay well, you know, what’s more important to me? Limiting my added sugar or limiting my artificial sweeteners? So, there are a few different options out there. And then you menti -- You were asking about, like, adding your own syrup.

ZACH: Mhm. That’s the way I’ve always done it traditionally, but.

KELLY: Yeah. Well, it does give you more control, right.

ZACH: But it could be a good or bad thing.

KELLY: Correct. So, when I was comparing one tablespoon of Hershey’s syrup, has 10 grams of added sugar, which was in the same as in the little cartons that they sell. Nesquik, for two tablespoons of powder, ten grams of added sugar, and that’s, kind of, the serving size on both of them, so it ends up being the same, and it might just be a taste preference, ‘cause I do feel like it tastes a little bit different, whether, you know, it has the syrup added to it or it’s the pre-chocolated milk.

ZACH: Yeah, just have a little self-control if you’re putting that chocolate syrup in there, you know?

KELLY: Yeah, if you’re not limiting to a tablespoon then I would say, you know, buy what’s on the shelves.

ZACH: Yeah. But a nice -- like, a nice milky cocoa color as opposed to just pure brown in your chocolate milk is probably the way to go. So, let’s talk about full cream milk used for coffee, cooking. I mean, how much is too much if you’re putting milk in your coffee for example or your tea?

KELLY: The full cream, right? So, there are variants in that. So, a lot of people use half and half in their coffee, right? Which is gonna be actually half whole milk, half cream. And then you have just whipping cream, and then you have heavy cream or heavy whipping cream. And again, that’s all fat content, right? So, just the regular, like, whipping cream one is 30-36% milk fat.

ZACH: Okay.

KELLY:  Heavy whipping cream or heavy cream is more than 36% fat. So, we’re comparing that to like whole milk that was only 4%, it’s a really big difference. It’s also not -- it’s the quote, unquote “Bad fats.” Right? It’s the ones that they are recommending that we reduce from a heart health standpoint, so it’s not a good kind of fat that you’re -- You know, it’s not like almonds or avocado or something that you’re adding, it's the less healthy kind. So, when you start looking at amounts, two tablespoons of the heavy whipping cream has about seven grams of saturated fat in there, and really for the day, we should only be having about ten to thirteen grams, so it’s a pretty big chunk of your daily total if you are using that. And that’s a great question because that’s actually what some diets like Keto promote, and Keto has been so popular in the years that people switch to using, you know, heavy cream and that kind of stuff in there, but it adds a lot of saturated fat. And I’ve seen several people who have seen their cholesterol numbers go up in response to that switch.

ZACH: It’s a real, kinda, easy thing to lose track of. You’re like oh, you pour a little of this in here and then a month later you’ve consumed way more percentage of milk fat than you thought you ever had.

KELLY: Definitely. ‘Cause you were mentioning color with the chocolate milk, right? And that’s what people do with their cream too. It’s like, oh, needs to be creamy enough.

ZACH: So, let’s talk about buttermilk. Got its name from being the leftovers from churning butter, but it’s not that anymore. What is buttermilk these days?

KELLY: Yeah, so like you said, it was the leftovers from butter, so it was actually like a fermented liquid. So, now what they do is they actually add a bacteria to it that does the fermentation process on its own, right? So, it produces some lactic acid in there which gives it, like, a tangier flavor, and it’s the same way that they would make, like, yogurt or sour cream, or something like that, right? So, it becomes a fermented dairy product, it’s just still a liquid.

ZACH: Now do people drink buttermilk? And no shame if you do, listeners.


I’ve only seen it used in the cooking applications, you know, pancakes, biscuits.

KELLY: When I’ve come across people that drink it, it’s usually, like, the older generation.

ZACH: Okay.

KELLY: And I think that that must have just been, again, kind of like a, “Oh, well we grew up and we had this sometimes and we drank it.” And so, they actually enjoy, I think, that slightly tangier taste…

ZACH: Okay.

KELLY: But I have not met a lot of, like, the younger generation now that actually drinks buttermilk. But you’re right, it’s used in cooking a lot because of the acidic properties and then it interacts with baking soda and helps your baked goods rise and all of that.

ZACH: Got ya. Now, real quick, I wanna run down the other kinds of animal milk that we consume. Are there any interesting things to note about goat milk, buffalo milk, sheep milk, camel milk?

KELLY: I mean, in general, they’re all nutritionally pretty similar to cow’s milk. They potentially have a little bit less lactose in them so if you were having a little bit of lactose intolerance, then maybe you would tolerate them a little bit better…

ZACH: Okay.

KELLY: But they’re not extremely easy to find in the grocery stores. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen camel’s milk in the grocery store.

ZACH: No, I have not. I was not even aware that that was a thing that we did, is humans drink camel’s milk, but.

KELLY: Yeah, but you can find, I would say goat milk of all of them is probably the one that you could actually find.

ZACH: ‘Cause goat cheese, I mean, use that a lot. It, kinda, goes in the same, you know, territory.

KELLY: Yes, and sheep’s milk. But so, again, more often, sheep’s milk is actually used to make cheese versus just being consumed as milk. When I was looking it up, there is a little bit that says that goat’s milk might have some anti-inflammatory benefits and things like that, might be a little bit better tolerated in people that have cow’s milk allergies, but if you look at the cost, it is so expensive. It was $10 for a half gallon.

ZACH: Wow. So now I’m afraid to try it ‘cause now I might like it and…

KELLY: Yeah, and then who can afford to keep that up?

ZACH: My milk budget is only so much, right? Okay, interesting. Now, you mentioned ultrafiltered milk a few times, let’s talk about that. How did you come to choose that as your preferred milk?

KELLY: So, ultrafiltered milk, really, I feel like, kind of, became big in the market, I don’t know, maybe five or so years ago. And, I mean, of course, you know, me seeing, like, all the new nutrition products and things, right? I came across it, and it was one of those things that almost seemed, like, too good to be true. It’s this milk that was higher in protein than your standard milk and lower in carbohydrates, but other than that, it looked like it was just your standard milk. So, I even reached out to a friend of mine that was working in the dairy industry at the time and asked her, like, “Is this for real? Is this really milk? What have they done to this?” And she said, “No, it’s just” -- So, it’s part of that filtration process, right? We talked about even with that, like, fat removal of all the milks that are out there. We know that our milk is all going through this kind of processing to make it what it is, so it’s just a different way of filtering it and so, like I said, it ends up having one and a half times the amount of protein. So, it can be really nice if you have a certain way of wanting to eat where you’re trying to include a certain amount of protein throughout your day or at your meals, it can make it a little bit easier to meet that, or if you we’re somebody that was worried about your glucose levels and how many carbohydrates you were having in a meal since it has half the amount of carbohydrates, it makes that a little bit more manageable too.

ZACH: Okay. Now, of all these milks we talked about so far, if you’re someone who doesn’t have any health ailments, you don’t have any concerns or anything like that, is there a go to, like, milk you should choose if you’re standing there at the grocery store looking in the freezer?

KELLY: Yeah, so if you’re gonna consume a dairy milk, a standard dairy milk, then I would go for a skim milk. Whether you did ultrafiltered or not, skim milk, there’s no downside, right? You’re removing all of the saturated fats, all of the bad fats that are in the milk that are gonna do negative things to your cholesterol levels, but you’re leaving all of the good components, right? You’re getting the protein from it, you’re getting the nutrients, the calcium, the Vitamin D that’s been added, all of those great things.

ZACH: Okay. Plant-based milks. These have been very trendy, I, myself, have leaned toward almond milk in recent years, just -- I think because, you know, I heard that factoid and I was like, “Wow. Gotta rethink everything I ever thought about milk and I’m gonna drink almond milk now.” And I do enjoy almond milk, but I still drink -- My wife drinks, you know, whole milk or 2% milk, so it’s not like we don’t have some “No milks allowed” signs on our refrigerator, we accept all milks in our kitchen. But people choose to drink plant-based milk for a lot of reasons and there’s a lot more than I thought looking it up. I thought, “Oh, yeah, almond milk, which I drink sometimes, of course soy milk, and then maybe something else.” But there are more than I thought. So, let’s go down this list the same way we did plant-based milk. Almond milk, is it fair to say that’s the most, you know, popular plant-based milk?

KELLY: I would say yes. Most people that I talk to that are going the plant-based milk route are usually drinking almond milk.

ZACH: And what are, like, the benefits of almond milk? If there are any.

KELLY: Yeah, so it’s a good option, like we were mentioning the lactose intolerance earlier, right? So, it’s a good option for people that have lactose intolerance or even a dairy allergy and can’t consume milk at all. Benefits to it, it just, kind of, gives you something to drink that has a different flavor than water, right?

ZACH: Yeah. No, definitely having drunk a lot of almond milk and drunk a lot of dairy milk, it taste different…


ZACH: Than dairy milk.

KELLY: Yeah, so it gives you a different option, and if you were somebody, maybe, that was having cereal, and nobody, I don’t think, wants to put water in their cereal, right? So, it gives you an option for that too.

ZACH: And this will apply to all of them, I guess we can just cover this now, you know, I think when you say milk, dairy milk, cow milk, you understand hey, you go milk a cow and there’s some milk now in this pail, or this tube or wherever, right? Plant-based milk, like, what is the process for getting milk out of these almonds, or cashews, or whatever it may be?

KELLY: So, it’s funny that you -- That you ask that because that was -- There was even a little bit of drama with them being called milk in the first place because it was a little misleading to consumers, and there was kind of a push that really it should be called, like, almond juice, and that kind of thing because what they’re doing really more is like juicing the nut, right? So, with the majority of these plant-based things, whatever the plant is, if it’s a nut, they soak it in water, they grind it with the water, and then they strain out the pulp. So, you are just -- Yeah, sort of ended up with these, like, soaked and strained nuts. [Laughing]

ZACH: Yeah, it doesn’t really sound like milk, it’s like -- It doesn’t really sound like milk to me when you put it that way. [Laughing]

KELLY: It doesn’t, it doesn’t.

ZACH: But soy milk, right? It’s considered a protein milk, why is this?

KELLY: So, soy naturally has protein in it and if you think of people that are doing vegetarian or vegan diets, soy is usually one of the go-to plant-based foods that they use to get their protein in. It actually has a complete protein in there, which we don’t need to get into right now, right? But meaning it has all the amino acids that, like, animal-based proteins do. Soy milk actually has protein comparable to dairy milk, it has the same amount, eight grams of protein, versus a lot of these milks like the almond milk that you mentioned have no protein, maybe one gram of protein in the milk. And the problem with people switching to plant-based milks is that a lot of times, they don’t realize that. It’s still called milk, so in their minds, it’s a complete nutritional equivalent, and that’s not the case.

ZACH: Got ya. Yeah, in my time drinking almond milk on and off, like I’ve seen like oh well, they have the, you know, with ten grams of protein, like, they add that protein later obviously, well if they have to add it, there must be deficiency there, so that makes a lot of sense.


ZACH: Now, rice milk, the most recommended hypoallergenic milk, is that correct?

KELLY: Probably. You’ve kind of said they are now coming out with so many different kinds of milk that I feel like that might be, you know, up for debate or changing with time. But yes, it is a hypoallergenic, right? Because you can have people that have soy allergies, people that have nut allergies, rice is something that, I guess, people don’t have allergies against for whatever reason. Downsides of rice milk though, so it does have a little bit more carbohydrates, so it has the same number of carbohydrates that regular dairy milk has but still without that protein.

ZACH: Okay.

KELLY: And from a digestion standpoint, really not ideal, especially with the number of people in our society that have problems with blood sugar management. Protein or fat would help slow down the digestion of that. So, if you end up with this rice milk that has the same number of carbohydrates but none of these other good nutrients that slow down the digestion then not as good for blood sugar.

ZACH: Interesting. Yeah, no I mean, obviously there’s gonna be pros and cons to all these, and here we are, so. Oat milk, very similar to rice milk, right?

KELLY: Yes, yes. So, it’s made from the oats. It’s interesting when you look at the labels, it actually shows the carbohydrates on it as being added sugars, but they aren’t actually adding in any sugar after the process of making the oat milk. It’s just the process of breaking down the oats to make the milk that it turns into these simple sugars that, from the food industry standpoint, are considered added sugars.

ZACH: Okay. Now, hemp milk, this is a vegan milk, and despite the name, does not contain THC, correct?

KELLY: So, technically there would be trace amounts of THC, but nothing close to amounts that you would have any kind of, like, psychoactive effects from.

ZACH: Okay. I didn’t know this was a thing, I’m too square I guess.

KELLY: And so, the benefits of hemp milk, the reason that people would choose that is because of -- It does have some heart healthy fats, right? ‘Cause it’s a seed, right? So, it has, like, some omega 3’s and things like that in there. Not huge amounts but a little bit.

ZACH: Now, coconut milk. You know, we’ve all seen the movies where someone’s stranded on desert island and they’re…


Drinking coconut milk, right? Now, there’s thick and thin coconut milk, what are the differences between those two?

KELLY: Yes, so that again is gonna be fat content, right?

ZACH: Okay.

KELLY: So, typically the high fat coconut milk that you’re gonna find is gonna be the canned kind, right? And so, usually that’s more often used in, like, cooking versus the thin kind like you’re referring to, you’d actually find in the milk aisles. So, it’s all about percent fat. So, the canned kind is gonna have -- could have anywhere from 20-50% fat content.

ZACH: Oh wow, okay.

KELLY: Yeah, so, you know, like, heavy whipping cream or something like that. And unfortunately, it’s all saturated fats so it’s all of those less healthy fats that we were talking about that we don’t wanna be consuming a lot of. But even the thin coconut milk has a lot of saturated fat in there. So, it still has four grams of saturated fat per cup.


KELLY: And it has no protein.

ZACH: And it doesn’t really taste well in my experience either, so I -- I’ve tried it and I think I’ve been spoiled, you know, as we all have, in our culture by, you know, added sugar in coconut, like, “Oh, I love a good coconut candy bar,” but I’m not gonna like coconut milk because it tastes more natural, right? So, without that sugar that like you -- When you’re expecting one thing and you get something else, it’s like, “Woah.” So, like, I was -- I was turned off to coconut. When I tried it, I was intrigued, but I was like, “Nah, not for me.”

KELLY: Well, and I would say, of all the different plant-based milks, that’s the one that I would probably recommend the least…

ZACH: Okay.

KELLY: Just because of the amount of saturated fats in there. So, yeah, you’re good.

ZACH: [Laughing] Now, cashew milk. It’s like almond milk, it’s low in calories and carbs, but, like, is there any tangible difference between that and, like, almond milk, or is it all basically the same at that point?

KELLY: It’s very similar. Taste difference, text -- Slight texture difference, some people it has -- Well, I guess the only thing from a production standpoint is that because it naturally has a slightly creamier texture, then they use a few less thickening agents in it. So, something we haven’t really talked about with all of these plant-based milks is that they do add a number of stabilizers and preservatives and thickeners and things like that to help with texture and mouth feel and, you know, make it taste good and taste a little bit more comparable to regular milk. So, there is a little bit more, like, preservatives that you’re looking at -- when you look at additives, I suppose I should say, when you’re looking at plant-based milks versus just your standard dairy milk.

ZACH: Now, another milk I never knew existed until doing some research on this, pea milk. Now, it’s for you if you’re allergic to nuts or soy but want plant-based, that’s basically the function of why you would drink pea milk as I understand it.

KELLY: Yeah, so pea milk has protein, right? Just like the soy milk did, but then you’re not worries about the soy allergies, and some people avoid soy, you know, because they’re worried about, like, har -- The hormones and that sort of research that’s been done, but -- So, you don’t have any of those concerns with the pea milk but you get the protein from it still.

ZACH: Well, you know, you were talking about the process of, like, them getting milk from these plants and nuts, you know? You know, we’ve all had canned peas before, you know, there’s juice in there, that -- Like, does it taste like that? Or -- How does --

KELLY: It doesn’t, and it’s not even made from green peas, it’s actually made from a yellow split pea. So, it does not have a pea flavor. But -- I mean, as I’m sure you know from having tried some of these other milks, almond milks and things like that, they do have, you know, I mean almond milk has maybe a slightly nutty flavor to it. So it might have a slightly earthier flavor to it than, like, a dairy milk would, but it does not taste like peas. But another interesting thing about pea milk that we didn’t really go into, so, one of the reasons that people might choose plant-based milks is from the environmental standpoint, right? Environmental concerns and things like that. And so, pea milk has a very small environmental footprint compared to some of the other milks.

ZACH: Okay.

KELLY: So, it doesn’t take a lot of water or greenhouse gases or things like that to produce the pea milk. So, it’s one of the more environmentally friendly options from the plant-based milks.

ZACH: Interesting. So, in summation of these milks, I know we talked, you know, something about, like, protein, things like that, but, like, the overall benefits of plant-based milk and then, you know, it sounds like protein might be the main thing you might be missing if you’re exclusively drinking this.

KELLY: It is, right? And, you know, it’s beneficial for us to have at least some protein, kind of, at each of our meals, and so, my thought always goes to, like, a lot of people are using milk in their cereal, right? And cereals tend to be high in sugar and not a good source of protein and that sort of thing. So, it does come down to a little bit, like, what are you using your milk for and when are you having it. But because of that I do tend to lean towards recommending plant-based milks that have some kind of protein in them. So, for that reason, I actually really like the pea milks because they’re a good source of protein. And actually, with the pea milk, they extract the pea protein concentrate, so they’re zero carb as well, so you don’t have to worry about a lot of carbohydrates or anything in the pea milks either and you’re still getting this great protein. And one thing that we haven’t mentioned with all of this is that the standard nut milks, pea milks, all of that on the shelves tend to be sweetened. So, if you just get original almond milk, it has added sugars in it, about the same amount as the chocolate milk did.

ZACH: Oh, okay. Yeah, you gotta look for that “Unsweetened” label on it, right?

KELLY: Correct, yes. But a lot of times, you have to specifically hunt for that unsweetened kind. And if they say vanilla, that usually means sugar as well, right? So, like, a vanilla almond milk, they didn’t just put, like, vanilla extract in there. [Laughing] They put vanilla and sugar in there, right? So, just something to keep in mind with looking for those milks that, if you’re buying a sweetened one, then that is definitely not gonna be the healthiest way to go, but if you are getting an unsweetened kind, then -- Then that’s, you know, has some health benefits to it potentially.

ZACH: Those are some great tips, looking for those specific things, if you’re, you know, if you’re sitting there and you wanna go plant milk and you’re in front of the freezer, you’re looking for, you know, well, whatever the best fit for you may be, those are some great things to look out for.

KELLY: Absolutely. And one other thing to mention too is that if we’re buying it from the stores, most of the commercial brands are gonna have calcium and Vitamin D added to them to give them those nutrients comparable to what we would be getting in dairy milk, right? So, if we’re trying to replace our dairy milk with the almond milk like you did, you’re still getting your calcium and vitamin D. But now, if you start looking, there are a lot of recipes out there for making homemade almond milk, homemade cashew milk, a lot of these things at your house so that you can avoid some of those preservatives and stabilizers and all of that like I mentioned earlier. But you’re not adding calcium and vitamin D to it at home, right? So, then all of a sudden, you’re losing out on these really great nutrients, because again, people just aren’t made aware, I suppose, of the differences.

ZACH: No, it’s a great point, I mean, they’re -- We have very carefully constructed food pyramids and diet recommendations but those only work when you’re following those and then you start switching out ingredients of this or that and the whole thing just, kinda, falls apart that way, so that’s good to be mindful of. Well, Kelly, this has been extremely informative. Thank you for going down the list of milk here. I’m glad all these options exist because it’s good to have options, for whatever reasons that you need to explore other options of milk and ultimately, no matter what kind of milk you’re drinking, I think it’s important that you’re drinking a glass of milk every now and then, right?

KELLY: Yeah, absolutely, right? You do get good nutrient value from the milk. So, it’s definitely not something that we need to be fearful of or not have or, you know, anything like that. And if we wanna have a chocolate or sweetened version for fun sometimes, that can be a fun way to still get some of those nutrients too.

ZACH: Excellent. Well, thanks so much for your time today, Kelly.

KELLY: Thanks for having me.

[Sound effect signaling end of interview]

ZACH: So, Katie, there are a lot of milks out there, aren’t there?

KATIE: There are a lot of milks. Like, so many that I was -- As we were going down the list, I was just like, “Wow, another one.” And I kept saying, probably, like, five -- Five more times after I thought I would finish.


The one I had heard the least about were the pea milks.

ZACH: Yes, which is one that she recommended.

KATIE: I know, so I will say that wasn’t really a popular one when I was drinking more plant-based milks, so I think I might actually go back and, like, try that and see if I like it.

ZACH: And when I have changed my milk habits, it’s not because like, I felt like, “Oh, my stomach hurts, I’m lactose intolerant.” It was like, “Oh, let me just try this -- This new trend of plant-based milk and see what it’s all about,” right? And it was really surprising to me that lactose intolerance is actually the majority of the population.

KATIE: Yeah, I was, I mean, I guess, kinda, surprised to hear that but maybe not. I mean, I don’t know if that I’ve ever, like, looked up, you know, the statistics on that. I know that I slowly have gotten worse and worse over time, and it’s not something that’s, like, easy to ignore, obviously, so, like, you know if milk bothers you, I would say, or as it starts to bother you. Yeah, but I was gonna ask why you -- I forgot to ask, I guess, like, why you settled on trying plant milks. I mean, did you think they were healthier or you just wanted to try something different?

ZACH: Yeah, it was in my, “I’m gonna be really healthy” phase, and I was, like, borderline pescatarian, I was drinking water most of the time, you know? So, like, I was like, “Hey, let’s try some different stuff,” right? So, this was a few years ago and I’ve become much less healthy since, and as you’ve heard, if you listen this podcast. So, that was just part of that. I was like, “I’ll try this out.”

KATIE: Well, you know, this is the one episode where, like, you have a c -- You know, you often say you’re gonna take something away and do something about it but it sounds like you, kinda, mentioned off the top that you’re gonna go back to dairy milk.

ZACH: Kind of, ahead of the curve on this one, I guess.

KATIE: Yeah, yeah. So, this is the one that really caught your attention, the case was made.

ZACH: Yeah, yeah, no, I mean, milk, this is a topic I’ve wanted to talk about for a while to get to the bottom of it. Because I -- I too, like, I think a lot of listeners probably feel intimidated when you go to the grocery store and you see aisle after aisle or shelf after shelf of like, “What is this now? How are -- How could there possibly be so many kinds of milks and what does that even mean?

KATIE: Yeah. I loved when you asked her about the benefits of almond milk and her answer was pretty much, “If you want a different taste to water.” [Laughing] It’s just like, okay, so there’s, like, no benefits.

ZACH: That was crushing to me, ‘cause that was my go-to milk. I was like, “I have to make a change now.”

KATIE: Essentially, this was just, kinda, like water. Now, you get the protein fortified so that brings it closer back to dairy milk again, but I think a non-protein fortified and then it needs to be unsweetened as well, which a lot of people are probably accidentally drinking sweetened almond milk. I mean, she basically just called, like, an alternative to water, which, I, kind of, found funny because nobody thinks they get any, like, nutritional value out of water. Obviously, water does important things but not --

ZACH: That’s one of the great things when you’re counting you’re calories, you just drink water like, “Well, don’t have to count these.”

KATIE: There you go.

ZACH: But there’s definitely a different taste between, you know, plant-based milk and dairy milk. I mean, that’s how it is. But, you know, as she pointed out as well, there’s different, you know, taste between like skim milk and like whole milk, right? There’s different levels to this and it’s really just a personal preference, unless you, of course, have some health reason…

KATIE: Yeah.

ZACH: Right? To make a change.

KATIE: Yeah. I’m glad y’all talked about the difference between, like, whole and skim and things like that. That’s something that I, like, generally have been confused about, and then also, like, is skim milk really the healthiest choice? And it, kinda, sounded like it was just ‘cause there’s none of that fat, so, you know, none of the saturated fat, so that’s something that I drink just begrudgingly almost for my health, and that sounded like a, “Hey, it’s worth it” moment for me when it’s like, “Yeah, I keep getting skim, 1%, you know, if that’s all they have.” Like, one of the coffee shops I go to, all they have is, like, 1%. But that was interesting. And she -- she really likes the ultrafiltered milk.

ZACH: Yeah, she’s a big fan of that too, yeah.

KATIE: I like it. It gets a little pricy so I don’t do it all the time, but I like it too because it’s lactose free, it has, like, more protein, less carbs, it, kinda, like, fits the bucket of, like, you know, you’re still getting nutrition out of it, but then it’s cutting back on the stuff that, like, you don’t need a ton of anyways kind of thing. I know she brought up the ultrafiltered chocolate milk, Zach, you should try it.

ZACH: I think I might.

KATIE: I do a splash of that in my coffee sometimes, just to make it, like, a little bit like a mocha latte kind of vibe, and also to sweeten it a little, just a tad. Like, I’ll do a splash and that’s like, I won’t put anything else in it. And they’re ultrafilt -- The ultrafiltered chocolate milk is really good.

ZACH: Okay, noted. I’ll be trying that.

KATIE: I didn’t know that it had artificial sweeteners in it though, so that was something that, like, no wonder it’s so tasty. I was like, “How are they doing this?”

ZACH: There’s a give and take somewhere with all those things.

KATIE: Yeah, of course, always.

ZACH: So, you’re gonna stick with the ultrafiltered.

KATIE: Yeah, yeah. I would say ultrafiltered or I just do the lactose free skim milk. Those are -- I think I’m, like, honestly, like, what I was already doing seemed to get, like, a pretty solid, you know, upvote, so.

ZACH: Yeah, ‘cause I had -- I had been on the fence about, like, should I? ‘Cause my wife drinks just dairy milk and we’re like -- She’s like, “Why do we need two different milks in the refrigerator?” I’m like, “Well, I drink plant-based milk.” You know?

KATIE: Yeah. I’m healthier than you.

ZACH: I have this merit badge on for drinking plant-based milk, right? But now I’m like, well, no, let’s just get the bigger carton of dairy milk now.

KATIE: Yeah.

ZACH: And we’ll see. I mean, like, again, that’s the thing. I’m glad there’s options for people out there because some people do need the different kinds of milks, but it was very enlightening to have her react to a lot of these different kinds of milks, so Kelly did a great job going through…

KATIE: It’s a fascinating conversation.

ZACH: Every ounce of milk.

KATIE: Yeah. Something as simple as milk, which you just don’t even think about ended up being, like, a pretty fascinating conversation I’d say.

ZACH: Yeah, those are the topics I really enjoy covering, at least when I’m, you know, doing interviews on this podcast. Just, like, your everyday stuff that’s in your house that you don’t even think about, and that you’re just doing, you know, without much thought every day. And, like, let’s explore that, why are you doing those things you do? And I don’t need to drink almond milk anymore I’ve learned, so there you have it.

KATIE: It’s just an alternative to water.

ZACH: Which is 90% of our bodies, Katie.

KATIE: Oh boy, here we go.

ZACH: Anyway, that’s gonna do it for this episode of On Health with Houston Methodist. Please share, like, and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We drop episodes Tuesday mornings. So, until then, stay tuned and stay healthy.

[Music ends signaling end of episode]

Categories: Tips to Live By