What's the first thing you think about when you wake up? If you're like many kids, breakfast is probably not far from your mind once you open your eyes and greet the new day. Whether it's in a glass or in a bowl with cereal, there's one thing that makes breakfast great. What are we talking about? Milk, of course!

"Drink your milk!" is a refrain often heard by children everywhere around the world. And we have to report that your parents are right! Milk provides important nutrients that growing children need, including plenty of calcium to help build strong bones.

Most of the milk children in the United States drink comes from one animal: the humble dairy cow. If you've been to a grocery store recently, however, you probably already know that there are a wide variety of different types of milk available today, and not all of it comes from cows.

The majority of the milk section in your local supermarket probably contains different varieties of milk from cows. You may see types such as whole milk, two-percent milk, one-percent milk, and skim milk. These different varieties all come from cows, but they've been processed in different ways to alter their nutritional value, usually by adjusting the amount of fat in the milk.

Cows aren't the only animals that can produce milk that can be used to drink or create other foods, such as cheeses. Other milk-producing animals include goats, sheep, buffalo, camels, donkeys, horses, reindeer, and yaks.

In particular, milk from goats has become more popular in recent years, especially when it's used to make specialty cheeses. Don't look for goats to surpass cows anytime soon in terms of the milk you drink, however.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations, in addition to economic factors, have made dairy cows the go-to animal when it comes to milk products in the U.S. Since dairy cows are so docile and easy to raise, they make the perfect animal to efficiently and profitably produce milk on the scale required by the American public.

Not all people can safely drink milk from cows, though. Dietary and allergy issues have led to the development of an assortment of other types of milks made from plant sources. Especially for people who are allergic to or intolerant of lactose, a natural sugar present in the milk of cows, alternative milk products include soy milk, rice milk, coconut milk, almond milk, and cashew milk.

These alternative milks are made by crushing beans, nuts, or other flavorful plant parts and combining them with water to make a milk-like liquid. Plant-based milks tend to have fewer calories and less fat and cholesterol than milk from cows. Unfortunately, they often also lack the vitamins and other nutrients found in dairy milk.

So which milk is the best for you? That depends upon your particular nutritional requirements and allergies. If you're interested in trying other types of milks, be sure to check their labels carefully, and feel free to consult with health professionals about what nutrients you need from the milk you choose.

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