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HomeLifestyleMore people prefer cow’s milk over plant-based milks, new Yahoo/YouGov poll finds....

More people prefer cow’s milk over plant-based milks, new Yahoo/YouGov poll finds. Here’s what nutritionists think about that.

With the never-ending debate over whether adults should be consuming milk at all, the question remains: How many grownups are still drinking it? And with the explosion of popular plant-based milks in recent years, are adults shifting their drinking habits or sticking with traditional milk? According to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll of 1,746 U.S. adults conducted between April 11 and 15, 52% of respondents say they still drink some type of milk at least occasionally. Yet, 31% rarely or never drink any type of milk. Interestingly, whole milk and 2% cow’s milk emerged as the top choices of milk, preferred by 32% and 22% of respondents, respectively. On the other end of the spectrum, only 9% of respondents opt for plant-based milk, with 54% favoring almond milk, followed by 24% choosing oat milk.

Yahoo Life asked dietitians what they think about these results. Here’s what they had to say.

While dietitians say it’s not unexpected that more than half of adults still drink some type of milk, they were surprised that cow’s milk is much more popular than plant-based milk. As for whole milk and 2% milk being the most common milks consumed, Patricia Kolesa, dietitian and owner of Dietitian Dish LLC, tells Yahoo Life, “It is somewhat surprising with the rising popularity in plant-based milks that adults still drink [cow’s] milk.” However, she notes that this trend is understandable given regular milk remains the more affordable, accessible and convenient option in comparison.

What stands out to dietitian Megan Byrd is that 13% of people say they never drink milk. “Drinking milk to me would entail adding it to coffee and smoothies, so if asked that question, I would likely say I drink milk, but I never actually drink plain glasses of milk,” Byrd tells Yahoo Life. She notes this number might be higher if drinking milk meant consuming it by itself.

Kolesa describes milk as a “nutritional powerhouse,” which may be why more than 65% of respondents indicate they primarily drink a version of cow’s milk. Just one 8 ounce serving contains 13 essential nutrients, including 8 grams of protein, and calcium and vitamin D, which are key nutrients often low in the average American diet.

Moderate amounts of dairy overall have been shown to support bone health, reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, and contribute to improved sleep and hydration needs. And despite a common misconception that dairy causes inflammation, it actually contains many ingredients known to have anti-inflammatory properties, such as whey protein, antioxidants, probiotics and omega-3 fatty acids.

As far as cow’s milk, the only difference is “the fat content, and therefore the calories,” dietitian Heidi McIndoo tells Yahoo Life. A cup of whole milk contains 150 calories and 4.5 grams of saturated fat, while skim or nonfat milk contains only 84 calories and 0 grams of saturated fat. Opting for a lower fat option may be preferable for those trying to cut down on saturated fat or overall calories.

Dietitian Nicole Ibarra tells Yahoo Life she’s pleasantly surprised to see that 32% of respondents favor whole milk. Despite the American Heart Association recommending keeping overall intake of saturated fat to no more than 5 to 6% of daily calories, some research suggests benefits from consuming full fat dairy. One study shows that compared to low fat dairy, consuming whole fat dairy is associated with a lower incidence of high blood pressure and diabetes, as well as a reduced risk of metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions that increases your risk for heart disease and diabetes.

“Like skim milk, almond and oat milk are low in calories and saturated fats and can be great alternatives for those looking to follow a more plant-based diet,” says Kolesa. “Nutritionally, almond milk and oat milk can provide just as much calcium and vitamin D in comparison to regular milk, when fortified,” she adds.

While plant-based milks can be a great alternative for someone who cannot tolerate or dislikes dairy, they cannot be considered equal substitutes due to differences in protein content. “For those plant-milk drinkers, I’d recommend soy milk over the others,” says McIndoo. “Its nutrient profile most closely matches dairy milk, especially when compared to oat and almond milk, which are very low in protein,” she notes. However, only 12% of respondents to the poll said they prefer soy.

Although milk offers nutritional and health benefits, there are a variety of reasons why some adults don’t drink any type of milk. Of the 13% of respondents who do not drink milk, 30% express they don’t like the taste of milk, and 19% have allergy or digestive issues, such as lactose intolerance, when consuming milk. Given that as most people age they have a harder time digesting dairy products, this number appears lower than expected. In fact, about 36% of Americans and 68% of people in the world experience lactose intolerance.

As for the taste of regular milk, McIndoo tells Yahoo Life, “even though the flavor is very mild, some people might find it unappealing.” She suspects this dislike is related to the consistency, which is generally creamier than other beverages like water, tea or coffee. Additionally, the smell of milk or the fact that it’s an animal product may be a turnoff for some. Just like regular milk, flavor and consistency may also play a part in the dislike of plant-based milks, too.

If adults aren’t getting any other sources of calcium (found in foods such as yogurt and kefir) and vitamin D (found in trout, salmon and fortified orange juice), “it’s definitely a positive thing” if they’re drinking milk, Byrd says. However, she points out that if individuals are consuming other sources of vitamin D and calcium, drinking milk isn’t necessary for good health.

So while milk isn’t considered essential for a well-balanced diet, Ibarra notes that all milk variations offer valuable nutrients and can be helpful for different purposes. For example, “someone who is struggling with weight gain or is an older adult who is not very hungry may benefit by adding whole milk because it is higher in calories and can help them meet their nutritional needs,” she points out. McIndoo adds: “In addition to the refreshment and enjoyment you can get from a cold glass of milk, it is an excellent source of a variety of essential nutrients.”

Maxine Yeung is a dietitian and board-certified health and wellness coach.

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