Milk Before Bed

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Ask Transylvania NC Extension: Milk Before Bed

Question: I have always loved a glass of milk before bed but I cannot drink the skim milk because it tastes like water. I have adjusted to drinking 2%. Are there more carbs in 2% versus skim milk?

Answer: This is a great question that I have received many times. Simply put, there are no more carbohydrates in the whole milk versus the 2%. Plain cow’s milk will have the same amount of carbohydrates despite percentage differences. The percent refers to the fat content, not carbohydrates. Cow’s milk has about 12 grams of carbohydrates per cup, whether you are drinking 1%, 2% or whole milk. If you are worried about carbohydrates, changing the percentage will not make a difference. However, as the percentage of fat increases so do the calories. For example, skim milk has about 100 calories per cup versus whole milk, which has 160 calories per cup. If your goal is heart health and weight management, good work, as the 2% is the middle of the road.

There is also something to be said about having milk before bed. We have discussed how it contains carbohydrates. But we still need to discuss protein content. Cow’s milk has about 8 grams of protein per cup. In terms of macronutrients which are carbs, protein, and fat, cow’s milk is a very balanced snack. Studies have shown that consuming a balanced bedtime snack improves morning blood glucose. Please note that for this snack, the term balanced not only refers to which nutrients it contains, but also the amount of those nutrients. For cow’s milk, a serving is considered 1 8-ounce cup, as opposed to 1 glass. The amount is important, because having double the amount of calories or carbohydrates could spike your sugar too high or put your energy budget over that which your body needs.

More and more individuals are switching to plant-based milks and there are many choices on the market. Plant-based milks vary in sugar, carbohydrate, fat, and calorie content depending on what they are made from. Let’s compare plain almond, plain oat and plain soy milk. Typically, the nut based milks are lower in carbohydrates and calories, so a serving size would be 2 cups versus only 1 cup. The barrier that many face with switching to almond milk from cow’s milk is the texture difference. The expectation is for almond to replicate the thickness of cow’s milk and it does not. Almond milk is very thin. In my personal opinion, the closest plant-based alternative to cow’s milk texture is oat milk. Oat milk is higher in carbohydrates than others with about 19 grams, but lower in calories than cow’s milk. Lastly, I want to mention soy milk. Despite the surrounding controversy, soy milk is the only plant-based milk with any substantial protein content. Other than soy, the other plant-based milks do not contain much protein. If you choose almond, cashew, or oat milk as a bedtime snack, I would recommend eating a source of protein to help the carbohydrates digest slowly as you slumber.