Milk Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

Milk

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman 

Not everyone can drink milk; some have a milk protein allergy or are sensitive to lactose, a natural sugar found in milk. But cow's milk offers many nutritional benefits for those who can consume it.

Milk's reduced and nonfat versions provide lean protein, and all cow's milk is an excellent source of the essential mineral calcium. Learn more about milk nutrition facts and how it can be part of a nutritious diet.

Milk Nutrition Facts

The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for 1 cup (8 ounces) of reduced fat (2%) milk.

  • Calories: 122
  • Fat: 4.6g
  • Sodium: 95mg
  • Carbohydrates: 12g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Sugars: 12g
  • Protein: 8g
  • Calcium: 307mg

Carbs

Lactose provides all of the carbohydrates in plain milk. Some milk products also include added sugars. If you're trying to cut back on added sugars, you may want to limit your intake of these sweetened dairy products. Chocolate, strawberry-flavored, and ice milk have between 10 and 18 grams of added sugar per serving.

Despite its carb content, milk's glycemic index and glycemic load are low: 1 cup of 2% milk has a GI of 27 and a GL of 4.

Fats

Milk is marketed by its fat content, making it easier to choose between different percentages: Whole milk is 4% fat, nonfat milk is 0%, and both 1% or 2% reduced-fat milk is available. Over half of the fat in milk is saturated fat. One-quarter of the fat is monounsaturated fat, and a minor amount is polyunsaturated fat.

Milk can be a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. However, breast milk and infant formula contain more of the fatty acids babies need, so children under 1 year old should not drink cow's milk.

Protein

Milk is a good source of protein, with 8 grams per cup. Milk proteins contain all nine essential amino acids that humans need.

Milk has 82% casein protein and 18% whey protein. These separate when milk coagulates, as is done to make cheese. These protein isolates are used in many other food products; look for "casein" and "whey" on food labels if you need to avoid dairy.

Vitamins and Minerals

Milk is a very good source of calcium, phosphorus, vitamin D, riboflavin, and vitamin B12. Additionally, milk in the U.S. is fortified with vitamin D. It is also a good source of selenium, potassium, pantothenic acid, thiamin, and zinc.

Calories

Whole milk has the most calories (149 per cup) and nonfat milk the least (90 per cup), making it a good protein source for people on a reduced-calorie diet. Note that flavored or sweetened milk is likely to have more calories than unflavored milk.

Health Benefits

The USDA recommends including dairy foods in your diet. Milk and other dairy products help provide calcium, protein, and vitamin D for strong bones and muscles. The USDA also recommends choosing dairy products without added sugars or sweeteners and those lower in fat.

Improves Bone Density

The calcium and vitamin D found in milk and other dairy products are essential for bone health and strength and may help prevent osteoporosis (a weakening of the bones that can cause fractures). Dairy product consumption in childhood and adolescence is linked to a lower risk of osteoporosis later in life.

Lowers Hypertension Risk

A 2013 study of over 3,000 women found an association between low dairy intake, osteoporosis, and hypertension, or high blood pressure. A review study also found that supplementing with calcium slightly reduces blood pressure in people without hypertension, indicating that it may play a protective role.

May Protect Against Cancer

Research about the role of calcium in reducing the risk of some cancers (including colorectal, ovarian, and breast) has been mixed. But overall, it seems likely that calcium from supplements and dairy sources may offer some protection against these cancers.

Improves Muscle Mass and Performance

A 2013 study of older women (ages 70 to 85) found that those who consumed 2.2 or more daily servings of milk, yogurt, and cheese had improved body composition and physical performance compared to those who ate 1.5 or fewer servings a day.

In younger women, using milk as a recovery drink after resistance exercise led to greater muscle mass, strength gains, and fat loss.

Helps Control Weight

A study of more than 18,000 women over 45 years old concluded that consuming dairy products may help prevent weight gain in women in this age group who start out at a normal weight.

Allergies

While studies vary significantly, it appears that milk allergy affects up to 3% of all children. Many, but not all, outgrow the allergy by adulthood.

A milk allergy can cause many symptoms, including skin reactions, gastrointestinal discomfort, airway problems, and even severe reactions such as anaphylaxis. Children and adults with milk allergies are also likely to have other food allergies and asthma.

Adverse Effects

People with lactose intolerance lack an enzyme that breaks down the lactose sugar in milk, which can cause gas, bloating, intestinal cramps, and diarrhea when they consume milk. If you are lactose intolerant, talk to your doctor or a dietitian about managing this sensitivity.

Your doctor or pharmacist may recommend avoiding taking certain drugs with milk or consuming too much calcium (in supplement form) if you take some medicines. Calcium may interfere with the absorption of salicylates, bisphosphonates, tetracyclines, thyroid hormones, fluoroquinolones (ciprofloxacin), and sotalol.

On the other hand, particular drugs may interfere with calcium absorption. These include anticonvulsants, cholestyramine, corticosteroids, ciprofloxacin, tetracyclines, mineral oils, and stimulant laxatives. If you take these drugs, talk to your doctor to ensure you are getting enough calcium.

Varieties

Reduced-fat milk (2%) is one of the most popular varieties of cow's milk. It provides less fat than whole milk but has a creamier taste and texture than skim milk. Here is how the different varieties stack up, nutritionally, per 1-cup serving (all data from the USDA). All types are comparable in carb and sugar quantity (about 12g each) and protein (about 8g each).

  Calories Calcium Total fats Saturated fats Unsaturated fats Cholesterol
Whole milk 149 276mg 8g 4.5g 2.5g 24.4mg
2% (reduced-fat) milk 122 307mg 5g 3g 1.1g 19.5mg
1% (reduced-fat) milk 102 305mg 2.4g 1.5g 0.8g 12.2mg
Nonfat (skim) milk 90 316mg 0.6g 0.4g 0.2g 4.9mg

Storage and Food Safety

Milk is a perishable food. You should buy only as much milk as you use within a short period. Before purchasing milk, check the "sell by" date on the container to ensure it has not already passed. Keep it refrigerated at 38 to 40 degrees F. As long as it smells good, it is usually still safe to consume.

How to Prepare

Milk can be enjoyed as a beverage on its own or added to hot and cold drinks such as coffee, tea, cocoa, and smoothies. Milk is often used as a base for gravy or sauces. You can also make your own yogurt from milk.

When using milk in cooking, take steps to keep it from curdling. You should warm milk before adding it to a hot liquid. The sauce should be simmered and not allowed to come to a boil. You can stabilize the milk emulsion with starch such as flour or cornstarch.

You should also avoid adding strong acids to a milk emulsion, such as wine, tomatoes, or lemon juice. In many recipes, you can use reduced- or non-fat milk instead of higher-fat milk if you want to reduce fat intake.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is it OK to drink milk everyday?

    Cow's milk is OK to drink every day if you do not have an allergy or intolerance. In fact, dairy products like milk are a major source of the vitamins and minerals necessary for bone health and other health outcomes.

    Consuming milk is associated with lower risks of cardiovascular disease, stroke, hypertension, colorectal cancer, metabolic syndrome, obesity, and osteoporosis.

  • How healthy is milk for you?

    Milk is very healthy for most people. It contains many vital nutrients, including protein and bone-supporting calcium, and is often fortified with vitamin D. Research supports the many health benefits of milk, including being anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, preventing weight gain, encouraging proper growth in children, and protecting bones.

  • Which milk is the healthiest?

    Cow's milk is a very healthy choice if you consume animal products and do not have an intolerance or allergy. It contains many vitamins and minerals, protein, and some fat, depending on the fat-percentage of the milk you choose.

    Milk is also often fortified with vitamin D, which is hard to get during winter months and is not present in high quantities in many foods. Milk alternatives such as almond and coconut offer benefits as well, but may not have the same range of natural vitamins, minerals, or protein as dairy milk.

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