Of these four varieties of milk, find which kind will do your body good. By Amanda Pressner
The lowdown: After it's taken from the cow, the milk is pasteurized (heated, then quickly cooled) to kill bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella, and listeria. It's an excellent source of protein, calcium, and vitamins D and K. Skim is the healthiest option, says Tanya Zuckerbrot, a registered dietitian in New York City and the author of The F-Factor Diet ($15, amazon.com). "It's nutritionally similar to whole but doesn't contain saturated fat and actually has more calcium." If skim is too watery for you, try enhanced skim milk, which has a richer texture.
Good to know: Getting more (skim) milk may help you avoid weight gain. Recent research has found that a lack of calcium may trigger the release of certain hormones, leading to increased fat storage.
The lowdown: Cows that produce organic milk are given organic feed or roam freely and graze on pesticide-free grass. They're not treated with synthetic growth hormones to increase milk production or injected with antibiotics to prevent illness. (But like traditional milk, organic is pasteurized.) Although experts maintain that there's no nutritional difference between organic and traditional milk, two studies from Newcastle University, in England, found that the organic variety contains higher concentrations of some beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. It also can cost twice as much as regular milk.
Good to know: Organic milk contains the most health benefits in summer; the levels of inflammation-reducing fatty acids are at their peak then, because cows have access to more fresh grass and clover.
The lowdown: Soy milk's base is an extraction from mature soy beans; it's typically mixed with water and some type of natural sweetener. Soy milk is naturally low in saturated fat and cholesterol-free. Slightly thicker than cow's milk, it's safe for people who have dairy allergies or who are lactose-intolerant.
Good to know: Because soy milk is plant-based, it doesn't have as much protein as cow's milk. Flavored soy milk contains less protein than unflavored, since the flavoring reduces the protein content per ounce.
The lowdown: Rice milk is created from a mixture of partially milled rice and water and is available in a variety of flavors, including chocolate, vanilla, and carob. The least likely of all the milk products to trigger allergies, it's a good option for those who can't drink soy, nut, or cow's milk. It has no saturated fat or cholesterol, but almost no protein.
Good to know: Rice milk often comes packaged in an aseptic container and doesn't have to be refrigerated until it's opened.