Milking It

by ionarosemccabe


‘Skimmed, semi-skimmed or soy?’ is a question you are likely to hear on a daily basis if you, like me, spend half of your life queuing in your local Starbucks. It’s a question that sends my dad into a dither every time he orders my coffee whilst trying to remember my straw, stevia and takeaway cup (even if we’re staying in). It’s also a question that influenced me to try soy milk in coffee and it quickly became my preference until a barista eagerly informed me that Starbucks had introduced coconut milk to their menu.

My first thought? This girl has way too much energy for a Monday morning. Second thought? Great. Yet another milk that’s being marketed as the holy grail. Third thought? …buuut coconuts are kind of amazing, this could really change my cappuccinos forever… I really need to research the nutritious value of this stuff when I get homeEw, why am I so basic? …WHY ARE YOU CONFUSING ME WITH ALL THESE VARIETIES? AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, WHY ARE YOU STILL REFUSING TO SERVE ALMOND MILK?! #milkmeltdown.

I will confess to being a bit of a nutrition nerd and I do find food fascinating, so yes, I did spend half an hour reading articles about milk. I wanted to know how healthy this new coconut milk craze actually is. Not as healthy as one might think apparently.

Coconut Milk

Coconut milk contains high levels of saturated fat and has approximately 63 calories per cup. The medium chain fatty acids  (MCFAs) which make up the saturated fats are easily absorbed as energy which means not much is left in the body as fat, but when you compare the fat percentage to almond milk or soya, it’s clear to see the latter are probably better for keeping the extra pounds off and keeping a lower cholesterol level. This is not to say that coconut products are not beneficial at all  – they are great for a number of things such as healthy hair, skin and even memory, but they should be taken in moderation.

I did try coconut milk in a cappuccino last week and I have to say, even though the taste was not super strong, I definitely prefer the taste of soy milk. However, I have heard from friends that it is really nice in coffee frappes and has a pleasant coconut taste.

Another thing to take into consideration, is that Starbucks use a coconut milk that has been modified to have a lower fat content and a sweeter taste. There is not much pure coconut milk in the Sumatra product they use which is similar to brands sold in the supermarkets that appear to sell low calorie coconut milk. But surely coconut milk isn’t supposed to be low in calories if it is pure? After studying the ingredients of these supermarket milks, it is possible to see they have a few more ingredients than just water and coconut cream, often including a high water to milk ratio with additives. Usually these products will only contain 8% coconut cream, hence the low calories.

Semi-Skimmed and Skimmed Milk

When it comes to skimmed and semi-skimmed milk, it is important to take into account that 1% or 2% fat does not mean that there is only a tiny percentage of fat in the beverage. The percentage relates to the weight of the milk fat. This means that if a cup of 2% milk weighs 224 grams and of that, 5 grams are fat, you would need to divide five by 224 to get an answer of 2.23%. Skim milk contains roughly 0.4 grams with a percentage of 0.

I did go through a period of drinking skimmed milk in my coffee and I can’t tell the difference to soy milk, although a lot of people are not too keen on the taste. Personally, I do like the flavour but it does leave me feeling bloated when I drink it, which is why I try to avoid it where I can.

Almond Milk

If you really want to cut down on calories, almond milk is your new best friend. One glass of this stuff only contains 60 calories compared with skim milk which has 80. There are no saturated fats but it is high in omega fatty acids which are the good fats found in fish. It also contains a lot of Vitamin E which acts as an antioxidant that is really good for protecting the skin and enhancing its appearance. Like coconut milk, the stuff sold in the supermarkets has been modified and does not contain a whole load of almonds so it is better to buy a product with the least amount of ingredients or you can even make your own, (but ain’t nobody got time for that, lets be real.)

It does contain less protein than other milk variations and calcium/vitamins are added during processing, but other than that, there are not many other dietary downsides.

Almond milk seems to be lowest in sugar, saturated fat and calories compared with any other milk, making it seem like the best option available on the market. I love making lattes, milkshakes or hot chocolates at home with it, but I have to say that it is not the nicest when added to an Americano blend – it tastes really nutty and not in a good way! It does really annoy me that a lot of coffee shops don’t offer almond milk as it is becoming a lot more popular now, but I am hoping this will change in the near future.

Soy Milk

Last but not least, soy milk, as I mentioned, is definitely my milk of choice when almond milk is unavailable. It does not have a strong taste and I like that I don’t feel bloated or full after I’ve finished a coffee. It has the same amount of calories as skim milk (80) with less sugar, saturated fat and high protein levels. There have been a few studies to show that soy products such as milk can affect hormones like oestrogen in the body and it’s been linked to breast cancer, but like every other milk mentioned, there are advantages and disadvantages and of course, it would not be sold if it was causing serious harm.

Although coconut milk is being promoted as the new health product we should all be drinking, it doesn’t mean it is automatically less calorific than other milk types. Yes, it does have its nutritional benefits, but there is currently more evidence in support of unsweetened almond milk being the better choice for controlling weight with only 14 calories per 100ml compared with 25 in coconut milk. When all is taken into consideration, numbers don’t lie.

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