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The dairy debate: What really does a body good?

Whole, 2 percent, 1 percent, fat-free, soy, rice, almond, coconut, hemp, and let's not forget goat's!

Whole, 2 percent, 1 percent, fat-free, soy, rice, almond, coconut, hemp, and let's not forget goat's! Store shelves are lined with more milks of varying sources than ever before. So, which is the healthiest? Keri Gans R.D., the author of "The Small Change Diet," stands behind standard reduced-fat cow's milk.

"Milk is still an important component of a healthy diet," she says. "Cow's milk has protein, calcium and vitamin D. It's important."

But if cow's milk isn't your thing, there are a slew of options now available.

New York-based Rachel Begun, M.S., R.D., registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, breaks down the pros and cons in the milk maze.

Whole or 2 percent milk

Advantages: Tasty and creamy.

Disadvantages: High milk fat content adds calories and saturated fat.

1 percent or fat-free milk

Advantages: Even less fat than 2 percent, but with all the same nutrients.

Disadvantages: Those converting from whole or 2 percent milk may have a hard time adjusting to the texture and taste, as it's less creamy and sweet than whole or 2 percent.

Almond milk

Advantages: It tends to be lower in calories and a great source of monounsaturated fats.

Disadvantages: It's low in protein and sugar is often added. Almonds are also one of the top allergens.

Rice milk

Advantages: Great option for people with multiple food allergies.

Disadvantages: Higher on added sugar and calories, and its low protein content means you don't get the satiety.

Soy milk

Advantages: One of the biggest pros is that the protein content is similar to cow's milk.

Disadvantages: Soy is a big allergen, too, and added sugar is an issue.

Coconut milk

Advantages: The unsweetened varieties are low in calories.

Disadvantages: Coconut milk is high in saturated fat, which is linked to a greater risk of heart disease.

Hemp milk

Advantages: It has a high ome-ga-3 content, so it's heart heal-thy. The creamy texture mimics the consistency of milk.

Disadvantages: It is low in protein.

Goat's milk

Advantages: Like regular cow's milk, it is a high-quality protein food with calcium and vitamin D. It is better tolerated for those who are lactose-intolerant.

Disadvantages: Like whole milk, it's high in saturated fat.

 
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