Carbs in Milk: Is Milk Low-Carb Friendly?
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Carbs in Milk: Is Milk Low-Carb Friendly?

Learn about the nutritional value and carbs in milk, plus find out when you might want to choose a dairy substitute when following the keto diet.

Carbs in Milk - Get the Facts

Chances are you grew up drinking milk. In fact, most newborn mammals depend on their mother’s milk for survival and adequate nutrients. 

While mammals have always been biologically capable of producing milk, it wasn’t until around 10,000 B.C. that the domestication of certain animals started to occur — leading to an increase of milk consumption by humans. 

What Is Milk?

In ancient Egypt, milk was reserved for only the wealthiest people. Cows and sheep were sacred, making them prized possessions due to their milk-producing capabilities. However, it wasn’t until the early 1600’s that European cows were brought over to be distributed in America[*].

The first pasteurization tests in 1862 were conducted by Louis Pasteur, a microbiologist who created a process to ensure the safety of milk and made it possible to distribute and store milk once it left the farm[*]. 

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Milk is the core substance of all dairy products, from butter to cheese, heavy cream to buttermilk. This white liquid from a cow’s udder is incredibly versatile and has also been one of the most processed and in-demand food items for years. 

In order to meet this high demand worldwide, it’s quite common to find antibiotics and hormones in certain types of milk, which are used to help fend off disease and also increase milk production[*][*].

Therefore, it’s important to choose your milk and dairy carefully to ensure you’re getting the best quality.

Grass-fed dairy cows are the cows you want to get your milk from. They’re able to graze on their natural diets and be in a comfortable setting.

Milk Processing

Once the milk is taken from the cow, it’s transported directly to a refrigerated vat or silo and kept there for no more than 48 hours. Milk producers keep it under 39°F to ensure there’s no separation of milk fat from the milk. From there, the milk is transported to factory sites before processing. 

Prior to collection, samples of the dairy milk are taken and tested to ensure the levels of milk fat, protein bulk, milk cell, and bacteria are all of superior quality. 

The processing of the milk begins with pasteurization, during which the milk is heated up to a certain temperature for a particular amount of time and then gets cooled again. 

Once pasteurized, the milk goes through a process called homogenization. This process involves sifting the raw milk through an atomizer so that the fat is dispersed evenly throughout the milk. Otherwise, the fat would float and sit on the surface. This is similar to how ghee would be developed — except with butter. 

The separation process then follows, in which the content of cream and milk is adjusted to create different kinds of milk. To produce whole milk, the cream is reintroduced to the milk until the fat content reaches about 3-4%. For low-fat milk, it’s reintroduced until 1%. When it comes to skim milk or nonfat milk, the cream is reintroduced until it’s only at about 0.5%.

When it comes to nutritional value, whole milk — the one with the highest content of fat — there are some amazing health benefits. However, this type of milk sits around 12 grams of net carbs, 8 grams of total fat, and 8 grams of protein per single serving size (or about one cup)[*].

Nutrients and Carbs in Milk

Dairy is acceptable on the ketogenic diet, but you should be mindful when consuming it. 

While one cup of whole milk won’t harm you (or kick you out of ketosis), it’s a bit higher in carbohydrate content than preferred for those on a low-carb or keto diet. Use the keto calculator to find your individual keto macronutrients.

However, one cup of milk can pack some significant health benefits and nutritional value. Whole milk is rich in vitamins, amino acids, and minerals, including[*]:

Calcium

Calcium is most often associated with bone health. However, it plays many other important roles as well. Recent research studies have shown it may even be capable of improving conditions such as osteoporosis and post-menopause, as well as help lower the risks of developing certain types of cancer[*][*].

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is produced by your body in response to sun exposure, but it can also be taken as a supplement or consumed in certain foods such as milk. Vitamin D has been shown to improve bone health, support the immune system, regulate insulin levels, and enhance cardiovascular health[*].

Phosphorous

Phosphorus is the second richest element in your body, making up a whole percent of your system. It’s an essential mineral that is responsible for hundreds of different cellular activities, such as DNA synthesis and shuttling nutrients in and out of cells[*].

Potassium

Behind phosphorus, potassium is the third most abundant mineral in the body. It teams up primarily with sodium, both working together in the sodium-potassium pump to support and increase optimal cell function[*].

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is a key antioxidant offering a number of benefits to different systems throughout the body. Its number one role is helping fight inflammation — which has been shown to be the root cause for many chronic diseases today[*].

Vitamin B12

Some of the top benefits of vitamin B12 are connected with improved brain and heart health. It doesn’t just increase cognitive function — it also helps to form the protective covering of the myelin, an insulating layer found around your nerves. Therefore, a deficiency in vitamin B12 might prevent your cognitive abilities from performing at their best[*][*].

When Should Milk Be Avoided on a Keto Diet?

Dairy milk can be a part of certain types of keto diets, but you must be cautious of your carb intake when you have it. Besides being on a low-carb diet, another reason you may want to avoid cow’s milk is if you’re lactose intolerant.

While symptoms vary from person to person, lactose intolerance is a condition in which people have digestive issues including bloating, cramping, nausea, gas, etc. in response to ingesting dairy products[*]. 

If you have no problems digesting dairy, but want to start a low-carb or ketogenic diet, there could be a few options for you. 

Some types of keto diets (including the targeted keto diet and the cyclical keto diet) have optional times of allowed increased carbohydrate intake in order to fuel and recover from harder exercise. 

The targeted keto diet (TKD) is meant for more active people who need carbs, either an hour before or an hour after a workout. 

The cyclical keto diet (CKD), on the other hand, allows for up to two full days of carb loading to completely refuel your glycogen stores. The CKD allows for two high-carb days with the other five days following a standard ketogenic diet. 

However, the CKD is only recommended for athletes or bodybuilders who perform extremely intense workouts. If you do not engage in this level of physical activity, your glycogen levels won’t end up being depleted and you won’t be able to maintain ketosis.

The Bottom Line About Carbs in Milk

Milk should not be the first thing you reach for if you’re looking for a low-carb drink. If you’re really craving a cold glass of milk, there are some great low-carb milk substitutes that can satisfy your craving without pushing you over your allowed daily values. 

These options include:

  • Unsweetened almond milk 
  • Cashew milk
  • Coconut milk
  • Hemp milk
  • Macadamia milk

These are some of the best low-carb “milk” options that are lactose-free, high-fat, deliver a good amount of dietary fiber, and contain fewer grams of carbohydrates than regular full-fat animal milk[*][*]. 

If you can, try making these dairy-free milks at home since store-bought options usually contain additives and harmful sugars. You can add stevia instead, which is a natural and keto-friendly sweetener.

If you want to drink whole cow’s milk, it’s best to have it only if you are following the TKD or CKD, or if you know your carb count for the day will be around 25-50 grams of carbs. 

That said, if weight loss is your goal when you’re following a keto diet, whole milk is not low-carb or keto-friendly.

Now that you know all about dairy-free milk substitutes, have a look at these delicious keto recipes:

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