Carbs in Milk and Nutrition Facts
Do you drink a glass of milk every day without thinking about what you’re putting in your body? Many choose to buy low-fat milk or what they find tasty at the grocery store without any deeper thought.
Being more informed about milk can make a daily carb count and diet plan more manageable. Our guide covers the nutrients and carbs in the average glass of milk, along with milk alternatives.
The Key Nutrients in Milk
The average cup of milk has 12 grams of carbohydrates, which holds regardless of fat content. A glass of whole milk and a glass of nonfat milk both contain 12 grams of carbs. A cup of whole milk also has 8 grams of fat and 8 grams of protein.
A glass of milk also contains around 310 to 320 milligrams of calcium and 100 to 110 units of Vitamin D. Some milk producers may also fortify it with other vitamins and minerals, such as Vitamin A, zinc, iron, and folic acid.
You need calcium for more than just healthy bones and teeth. Your body also requires calcium to move your muscles, carry messages from your brain throughout your body, and release hormones and enzymes. Most adults need around 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams of calcium a day.
Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption and bone growth and aids the body in other vital tasks. Most adults need 600 units of Vitamin D for a healthy body.
The recommended three cups of milk daily aren’t sufficient to meet your Vitamin D requirements, so make sure you’re ingesting enough from other foods. Read a product’s nutrition fact labels for its Daily Value percentages.
Other Dairy Products
You don’t have to drink milk to experience its benefits. Milk products such as yogurt, cheese, and cottage cheese are good sources of calcium, protein, and other nutrients. While Americans are currently drinking less milk, they’re also consuming more cheese and yogurt.
Next time you’re in the grocery store browsing yogurts, check your usual choice’s sugar content. We recommend plain varieties with little to no added sugar. If plain yogurt is unappealing, pick up some fresh fruit to mix in for a healthy snack at work or home.
Ice cream is okay as an occasional treat, but don’t make it part of your daily diet. Ice creams contain a mix of milk fat, milk proteins, sugars, and added goodies like fruit chunks, nuts, syrups, cookie pieces, and candies. Low-fat ice creams may include more sugar to compensate for taste.
Dairy-free frozen treats aren’t necessarily healthier. Many contain high amounts of sugar, fat, and sodium.
When you choose to indulge, make sure you check the serving size first. A bowl of ice cream can contain two or three servings if you’re not careful. Avoid overloading your sundae with sugary sprinkles and syrups.
Milk and the Keto Diet
What is a keto diet? A ketogenic diet is a low-carb diet designed for short-term weight loss. Participants make up for the reduced carbohydrate intake by ingesting more protein and fats.
When your body lacks the carbohydrates needed for energy, it breaks down proteins and fats for energy instead. This process is known as ketosis.
Can you drink milk on a keto diet? It’s usually not recommended since milk contains more carbohydrates than fats or proteins. However, you can try other dairy foods such as cheese and unsweetened yogurt. Consider carefully incorporating foods like butter and heavy cream into your diet since they are made of mostly fats with vitamin A and calcium.
Harvard suggests dieting is more about the quality of carbs you ingest than the quantity. The American Heart Association agrees, noting “not all carbs are created equal.” Sugars, starches, and fibers all qualify as carbohydrates.
Not all sugars are the same, either. Too many “simple sugars” are associated with coronary heart disease, diabetes, and fatty liver. While you should avoid too much refined, white sugar, the natural sugars found in milk and fruit contain other nutrients that your body needs.
The American Heart Association recommends you consume carbohydrates and other nutrients in as natural a form as possible. For example, eat a piece of fruit instead of a fruit-flavored soda. Have whole-grain toast instead of processed white bread.
A quick reminder: always speak with your healthcare practitioner before you make any dietary changes.
People with lactose intolerance or a milk allergy can consume products such as soy or almond milk to fulfill their nutritional needs. Others choose to drink plant-based milks to be “greener” consumers. It takes less land and water to produce plant-based milk than cow’s milk, and the process emits fewer greenhouse gases.
Milk substitutes can be an excellent way to cut back on carbs. Here’s the carb, fat, and protein makeup of popular alternatives:
- A cup of unsweetened soy milk has 4 g carbs, 4 g fat, and 7 g protein.
- A cup of unsweetened almond’s milk has 3 g carbs and 3 g fat. However, it also contains only 1 g of protein.
- A cup of unsweetened coconut milk has 1 g carb, 5 g fat, and no protein.
- A cup of unsweetened oat milk contains 16 g carbs, 3 g protein, and 5 g fat.
- Rice milk contains a high amount of carbs. A cup has 22 g carbs, with 2 g fat and under 1 g protein. However, rice milk is a good choice for people with soy, nut, and milk allergies.
We do not recommend regularly consuming coconut milk. It’s a high-fat drink relatively low in calcium and lacks protein.
Oat milk may not be a good option for anyone on a low-carb diet. However, many love oat milk for its slightly sweet taste that mimics regular milk.
Still, if you can safely drink cow’s milk, you may not want to quit doing so. “Cow’s milk has higher protein content and quality compared with most of these products,” a 2017 study on dairy and nondairy beverages noted.
You also want to avoid drinking sweetened plant milk if you can. Vanilla and chocolate milk contain a high percentage of added sugars, and even plain, “unflavored” varieties may contain extra sugar for a better taste.
You might not love a cup of unsweetened almond milk at first, but the taste may eventually grow on you. You also don’t have to mix in a sugary syrup to improve the milk’s flavor. Instead, add fruit and whey protein powder to make a shake. Some people find a protein shake before bed helps them reach peak performance.
Milk and Sleep
Many people drink a cup of warm milk before bed to help themselves fall asleep. Milk does contain nutrients associated with sleep, but scientists say it’s insufficient to make you nod off. The more likely explanation is that some people associate warm milk with falling asleep.
We develop sleep schedules partly through bedtime routines. Some people take warm baths to relax, while others might unwind with a chapter or two in a book. If your nightly routine includes drinking a glass of warm milk, your mind may see it as a bedtime cue.
If you find plain milk unappealing as a bedtime drink, try sweetening it with a little honey, as per a 2018 study that observed hospitalized coronary care patients. One group of patients received milk with honey twice a day for three days, while a control group did not. The milk-and-honey group reported higher sleep scores than the control group.
Researchers have linked low levels of calcium to a greater difficulty falling asleep and reduced restorative sleep. While you don’t need to drink milk before bed to sleep well, it’s important to make sure you are meeting your daily calcium requirements.
If you experience frequent bouts of insomnia, speak with your doctor about possible treatment plans.
Choosing Healthy Milk Options
Milk can be a nutritious addition to any diet. With so many different types of milk on the market, there is something for everyone.
“If you’re choosing to drink cow milk, make sure you’re picking organic and/or local. Cow milk (and beef) has a ton of additives, hormones, and antibiotics in it that can have serious effects on your digestive and hormonal health,” says Brittany Ford, RHN. “It can cause a lot of inflammation to a lot of people. Choosing organic ensures there are fewer additives, hormones, and antibiotics used.”
However, even choosing organic cow milk does not change what is fed to the cows. Cows often eat plenty of GMO grains and processed proteins, like soy. This means if you are sensitive to grains and/or gluten, your cow milk could be a source of these inflammatory compounds without you realizing it. As the saying goes, “You are what you eat, eats”.
To avoid this, pick grass-fed organic cow milk. This can be harder to find or more expensive but allows the cow to graze on a variety of grasses, without grains, which they’re naturally meant to do.
If choosing plant-based milk, ensure to pick organic as well. Almonds are heavily sprayed with pesticides and herbicides and are mass-produced for milk now. Choosing different nut milk like cashew or walnut can be a healthier option.
Brittany Ford also adds, “Regardless of what plant-based milk you choose, making milk at home is 100% the healthiest option. This is a lot easier nowadays than previously, with small appliances you can buy that do it for you rather than having to strain the milk through a cloth. Homemade milk tastes a lot better too, and is much more nutrient-dense!”
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, it’s healthy to drink milk at all ages. Milk consumption is linked to healthier bones, particularly in growing children. Adults who drink milk regularly may experience lower blood pressure and lowered risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
However, it’s debatable how much we benefit from drinking milk. One Stanford researcher argues it’s better to strengthen your bones with physical activity than through milk consumption.
Most milks are a mix of proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and fats.
Technically, dairy milk contains more carbohydrates than proteins or fats. Dairy milk is around 4.9 percent carbohydrates, 3.4 percent fat, and 3.3 percent protein. Milk is also about 87 percent water, making it a good way to stay hydrated.
If your goal is shedding abdominal fat, cut back on foods with added sugars. Sugary drinks are a particularly bad source because they don’t satiate you like food does, leading to overconsumption.
Flavored milks have added sugars, so avoid those and try a glass of skim milk instead. Be careful if you drink alternatives such as soy or almond milk. Many plant-based milks contain added sweeteners, even if they’re unflavored.
According to USDA guidelines, the average person should consume three cups of dairy every day. Of course, you don’t have to drink three glasses of milk to meet your daily requirements. You can also have a cup of yogurt, 1.5 ounces of natural cheese, or 2 ounces of processed cheese.
While it’s a long-standing belief whole milk causes weight gain and skim milk helps you lose weight, a decades-long study throws that into question. “Most of the foods that were positively associated with weight gain were starches or refined carbohydrates; no significant differences were seen for low-fat and skim milk versus whole-fat milk,” the study noted.
A 2017 study compared milk alternatives to cow milk and concluded soy milk is the most nutritious alternative. Almond milk is healthy, but it can’t match the nutrient density of soy or cow milk.
Finally, we recommend against over-indulging in flavored milks, which contain added sugars.
Yes, it’s possible to overindulge in protein, just as you can consume too much fat or carbohydrates. Signs that you have eaten an excessive amount of protein include:
- Indigestion and an uncomfortable full feeling.
- Constipation, from a lack of dietary fiber.
- Weight gain. Your body stores any excess protein as fat.
Did We Help?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends three cups of milk each day for everyone over the age of 9, and you can meet that requirement in various ways. Many people drink a glass of milk with lunch and dinner, while others might snack on yogurt and cheese. Understanding the nutrients present in milk, milk products, and dairy alternatives make constructing a healthy diet plan easier.
This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.