Food & Drinks

The different types of milk and their benefits, decoded

Skim, full-fat, organic, soy... we scan the dairy aisle and beyond to help you find your top drop.

By Melissa Field
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, Melanie says the milk type is your choice: "I tell my clients that it's up to what taste they like."
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What is 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," Melanie 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."

What is 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," Melanie 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," Melanie suggests.

What is 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," Melanie 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.

What is 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," Melanie 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.

What is cold-pressed raw milk?

What is it: Milk from carefully raised cows is bottled immediately and treated to extreme cold-water pressure to eliminate bacteria.
The NSW Food Authority's approved this high-pressure processing (HPP) method, which ensures its shelf life for up to 21 days. (Note: This is not raw milk, which is untreated and not legal for sale here.)
Best for: "It's not widely available but could be a good option for those wanting milk that's almost as straight-from-the-farm as it's possible to get," Melanie explains.
Nutritional benefits: This cold-pressed method is gentler on the milk, which helps to retain its vitamins including B1, B2, B12 and A.
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What is 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," Melanie says.

What is 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," Melanie 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.

What is 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," Melanie says.
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