It used to be that dieters avoided milk in their quest to lose weight. Milk was associated with fat and sugar, not with how much calcium and other nutrients it contains.

Now we know that milk has a place in almost any diet.

“Cow’s milk is naturally a rich source of calcium and riboflavin, and fortified with vitamin A and D. Fat-free milk, with only 10 calories per ounce and the same nutrient profile as the full-fat version, makes a great recovery drink,” says Sheah Rarback, MS, RD, and assistant professor at University of Miami. “Milk is also loaded with potassium (a glass of milk is equivalent to a banana), a mineral essential for maintaining the body’s fluid balance, and casein and whey protein, which are staples for muscle recovery. Research shows that whey protein may also aid in weight loss.”

White mustaches for everyone

If you’re wondering if organic milk is worth the extra money or if the plant-based milk is better than the cow’s milk, here’s all you need to know to find the best milk for your needs, as Rarback explains:

Lactaid, with the same nutrients as milk, is a good choice for the lactose intolerant, while goat’s milk is gaining popularity.

Organic milk is also higher in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which boosts metabolic rate and might also increase immunity to some diseases.

Plant-based milks are taking over the dairy case. Most are available in a version that does not have to be refrigerated until opened, which makes them great for travel. The most common are soy, rice and almond, with hemp and oat milk gaining popularity.  Label reading is critical when choosing non-dairy milk. Several have excessive amounts of added sugar, others are not fortified with calcium or vitamin D, and most do not have significant protein.

   * Soy Milk-On average, soymilk has 6 grams of protein and a good amount of isoflavones that might have a role in reducing risk of heart disease. But the added calcium in soymilk might not be as well absorbed as the naturally occurring calcium in dairy milk.
   * Almond Milk-With a slightly nutty flavor and on average only 50 calories a glass, almond milk might be what your cereal is looking for. Only 1 gram of protein per cup means it needs to be paired with a protein rich food, like in a smoothie with whey protein. Buy almond milk from the store or make your own: Combine a ¼ cup of ground almonds with a cup of water and strain to make almond milk that is brimming with vitamin E, magnesium, manganese and copper.
   * Hemp Milk- It won’t get you high but it will get you healthy. Hemp milk has 5 grams of protein per glass and is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Most are fortified with calcium, vitamins and a hint of sugar.
   * Coconut Milk- It’s rich in flavor, relatively low in calories (80 calories/cup) and provides good amount calcium. However, it comes up short in protein content (1 gram) and is high in saturated fat (25%). Some studies show that the fat in coconut is what’s called medium-chain-triglycerides, which the liver metabolizes differently. This means that they are directed to be used as energy and not to be stored as fats.
   * Rice Milk- Rice milk is primarily carbohydrates, and thinner tasting than other plant milks. Some companies add thickeners and sugar and fortify it with calcium and vitamin D. Rice milk is hypoallergenic and lactose free, but contains only 1 gram of protein per glass.

Want to burn fat? In a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, when men in different groups were given the same calorie equivalents in skim milk, soy milk and a carbohydrate beverage after 12 weeks of resistance training, the milk group lost more fat and increased over 40% their muscle mass compared to the other two groups – one solid reason to have a cup of milk after working out.

Marta Montenegro inspires people to live healthy lives by giving them the tools and strength to find one’s inner athlete through her personal website MartaMontenegro.com. She created SOBeFiT, a national fitness magazine for men and women, and the Montenegro Method DVD workout series – a program she designed for getting results in just 21 days by exercising 21 minutes a day . Marta is a strength and conditioning coach and serves as an adjunct professor of exercise physiology at Florida International University.

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Marta Montenegro is an exercise physiologist, certified strength and conditioning coach and master trainer, who teaches as an adjunct professor at Florida International University. Marta has developed her own system of exercises used by professional athletes. Her personal website, martamontenegro.com, combines fitness, nutrition and health tips, exercise routines, recipes and the latest news to help you change your life but not your lifestyle. She was the founder of nationally awarded SOBeFiT magazine and the fitness DVD series Montenegro Method.

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