Food Drinks

A simple guide to the different types of milk

Skim, full-fat, organic, soy... we scan the dairy aisle and beyond to help you find the right milk for you.

Remember when there was only one kind of milk – full-fat cow’s milk with a creamy top? Yum.

But today the choice is mind-boggling. Accredited practising dietitian Melanie McGrice says that while the variety can be confusing, the important thing to remember is that milk is a daily diet essential.

Milk becomes more important for women after menopause, as your body doesn’t absorb calcium as well. Your dairy requirement increases from 1000mg up to between 1200-1500mg a day.”

As long as there’s enough calcium, McGrice says the milk type is your choice: “I tell my clients that it’s up to what taste they like.”

Full fat, whole and full cream milk

What is it: Full-fat milk must contain at least 3.2 per cent fat, as specified by the Food Standards Australia and New Zealand code. “That’s not exceptionally high and is counterbalanced by the milk’s nutritional benefits, which include essential nutrients such as magnesium, zinc, protein and vitamins A and B12,” McGrice explains.

Best for: Those without any weight issues. Any concerns that drinking milk produces excess mucus or triggers asthma have been debunked.

Nutritional benefits: “It’s the gold standard when it comes to milk and an excellent source of calcium: full-fat milk contains about 115mg of calcium per 100ml – and biologically complete protein. As women age, we start to lose muscle mass, so protein is vital too.”

Low fat milk

What is it: Also, known as “light” milk, this variety contains between 1.3 and 1.4 per cent fat.

Best for: “If you’re watching your weight or you already drink a lot of milk, choose a light milk,” McGrice says.

Nutritional benefits: “The lower fat means there’s slightly more calcium – we’re talking a few milligrams – so if you want to up your calcium intake even slightly, chose a lower-fat version,” McGrice suggests.

Skim milk

What is it: Fat (which contains vitamins A and D) is separated and skimmed off so the remaining milk contains 0.15 per cent fat. It may have milk powder and additional vitamins added to replace those lost and give it a creamy flavour.

Best for: “With its lower fat content, skim’s a good choice if you’re watching your daily fat intake but still want the nutritional benefits of dairy in your diet,” McGrice says.

Nutritional benefits: Similar to full fat and light milk, skim milk is also a good source of riboflavin, phosphates, vitamin C and magnesium. Because it has less fat, it contains slightly more protein and calcium.

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Enhanced calcium milk

What is it: Milk with added calcium is especially beneficial after menopause. “It’ll say on the label it’s calcium-enhanced or check the panel; you’re looking for more than 110mg calcium per 110ml,” she says.

Best for: “If you’re not meeting your daily dairy requirements – which, after menopause go up to four servings a day, totalling 1500mg – then choose calcium-enhanced milk,” McGrice says.

Nutritional benefits: Older women need calcium to prevent deficiencies, as hormonal changes can lead to this mineral leaching from bones, increasing the risk of breaks or osteoporosis.

Organic milk

What is it: This is milk produced without pesticides but with high standards of animal care.

Best for: Anyone following an organic diet who’s willing to pay a little extra.

Nutritional benefits: “The benefits are the same as other full-fat/light/skim milks, except organic milk has been produced without any exposure to pesticides, so it may be preferable on ethical grounds – or it could come down to the taste,” McGrice says.

Almond milk

What is it: Water is added to ground almonds to achieve a milky consistency and appearance. Just make sure to read the label. “Some brands of almond milks have added sugar or sweeteners, so look out for those,” McGrice says. “Almond milk tends to be quite low in calcium, too, so choose one that’s fortified with calcium and vitamins if possible.”

Best for: Anyone who is following a vegan diet or is lactose-intolerant. Avoid almond milk if you suffer from a nut allergy.

Nutritional benefits: Low in saturated fats and calories.

Soy milk

What is it: Soy milk is made from soybeans that have been ground and combined with water.

Best for: Soy is ideal for menopausal and post-menopausal women, and anyone who can’t tolerate cows’ milk.

Nutritional benefits: One of its big pluses is that it’s so high in protein – soy milk usually contains a similar proportion of protein to cow’s milk – about 3.5 per cent. Soy milk also contains phytooestrogens. “Studies have found that menopause symptoms can be alleviated by a soy-rich diet,” McGrice says.