In the milk versus soda battle, soda might win on taste, but milk wins the nutrition competition. Surprisingly similar in calories, a 12-ounce serving of either beverage delivers roughly 130 to 180 calories. But when you take a deeper dive into the beverages' benefits, you’ll find that similarities end there. While milk offers protein, vitamins and minerals, soda basically only delivers carbs.
The average adult female needs 46 grams of protein per day, while an adult male needs slightly more at 56 grams per day. When compared to soda, milk is a significantly better source of this important nutrient. A 12-ounce serving of milk contains around 12 grams of protein -- almost one-third of the daily recommended intake for women. Soda, on the other hand, has a miniscule amount of protein. A 12-ounce serving of cola and lemon-lime soda provide around 0.3 grams of protein, while root beer has no protein whatsoever. Without protein, the body would be unable to repair damaged tissues and facilitate new cell growth.
Although carbs are often touted as the bad guys in a healthy diet, they actually provide an important function for the body -- they provide the fuel for the body’s energy tank. The Food and Nutrition Board recommends that all adults get a minimum of 130 grams of carbohydrates per day. Soda actually has more carbs than milk -- approximately 35 to 40 grams per 12-ounce serving of soda and 17 to 20 grams per 12-ounce serving of milk. However, soda's carbs come from added sugars, while milk's carbs come from naturally occurring sugars called lactose.
Fat really is dangerous when high quantities are consumed. It not only contributes to dreaded weight gain, but also places the body at risk for cardiovascular disease. Still, a small amount of fat is needed to provide energy when carbohydrate reserves are low. About 20 to 35 percent of your daily calories can safely come from fat. Since each gram of fat contains 9 calories, that equates to roughly 35 to 62 grams per day on a 1,600-calorie diet. Most soda contains no fat. A 12-ounce serving of reduced-fat milk contains just over 7 grams of fat, while skim milk has about 3.5 grams of fat -- a relatively low amount of fat either way.
Vitamins and Minerals
The vitamin-and-mineral arena is where milk really shines -- and where soda is severely lacking. Milk’s main claim to fame is its calcium content, with more than 430 milligrams per 12-ounce serving. Calcium helps keep bones and teeth strong. A 12-ounce serving of soda provides less than 20 milligrams of calcium. Milk is also an excellent source of vitamins A and D, with around 700 International Units of vitamin A and around 180 International Units of vitamin D in just 12 ounces. Soda contains neither vitamin. Milk is also high in phosphorus, magnesium and potassium -- while soda contains insignificant amounts of these nutrients.
- Food and Nutrition Information Center: Dietary Reference Intakes: Recommended Intakes for Individuals
- Nutrient Data Laboratory: Foods List
- National Dairy Council: Milk's Unique Nutrient Package
- Diabetes Forecast: How the Body Uses Carbohydrates, Proteins, and Fats
- Dairy Council of California: Nutrients in Milk
Krista Sheehan is a registered nurse and professional writer. She works in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and her previous nursing experience includes geriatrics, pulmonary disorders and home health care. Her professional writing works focus mainly on the subjects of physical health, fitness, nutrition and positive lifestyle changes.