With so many plant-based and nut milks joining dairy varieties on supermarket shelves, deciding which type of milk to choose for your morning coffee or cereal can seem incredibly confusing. Each milk option provides its own unique set of nutrients, health benefits, and potential drawbacks. By closely examining the pros and cons of the most popular milks, you can determine which choices may best meet your specific nutritional needs and health goals.
Traditional cow’s milk has long been touted for its robust nutritional profile. Just one 8-ounce glass provides a significant dose of calcium, potassium, vitamin D and high-quality protein. Emerging research continues to highlight the many potential health perks linked to moderate cow’s milk consumption, including strengthened bones and teeth, improved muscle mass, better blood pressure regulation and decreased risk of cardiovascular disease.
However, cow’s milk is not appropriate for those with lactose intolerance or milk protein allergies. Some health professionals also argue the saturated fat and hormones found in conventionally raised cow’s milk outweigh any potential benefits.
Goat’s milk offers a tasty, creamy alternative for those individuals who cannot comfortably tolerate conventional cow’s milk. The fat molecules in goat’s milk have a different composition and are smaller in size than those found in cow’s milk. This unique structure allows many people with sensitivities to potentially drink goat’s milk when cow’s milk causes digestive issues like bloating, cramping and diarrhoea.
In terms of nutrition, goat’s milk provides a comparable nutrient profile to cow’s milk, supplying calcium, phosphorus, potassium, selenium and B vitamins. It is also higher in medium chain fatty acids like caproic, caprylic and capric acids that each demonstrate antimicrobial properties.
For those seeking a non-dairy, plant-based milk option, almond milk has become an extremely popular choice. Almond milk provides only about 60 calories per cup, since it is low in natural sugars and contains no saturated fat or lactose. It also supplies a decent dose of vitamin E, an essential antioxidant that benefits skin health, eye health, cholesterol levels, and immunity.
However, almond milk is markedly lower in protein (only 1 gram per cup) compared to cow’s or goat’s milk. To get the most nutritional bang for your buck, opt for unsweetened varieties of almond milk fortified with additional nutrients like calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12 whenever possible.
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Coconut milk derived from the fleshy part of mature coconuts offers another satisfying lactose-free, vegan option for adding creaminess to beverages, oatmeal, sauces and desserts. The predominant medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) naturally found in coconut milk provide an excellent source of rapidly absorbed fatty acids that can serve as fuel for brain function and metabolism.
The lauric acid in coconut milk also imparts natural antimicrobial actions to support immune function. Just keep in mind that full-fat canned coconut milk is exceptionally high in saturated fat at about 12 grams per 1 cup serving—so consume in moderation to avoid potential cardiac consequences.
Oat milk has enjoyed a rapid rise in popularity over the past few years thanks to its mild, pleasantly sweet oat-y flavor and smooth, creamy texture. It also appeals to eco-conscious consumers due to its relatively low environmental impact compared to almond or coconut milk production. In addition to being naturally lactose-free and vegan, oat milk contains soluble fiber to support digestive and heart health, as well as trace amounts of iron, vitamin B12 and protein.
It also provides avenanthramide antioxidants and beta-glucan fibres that exhibit antimicrobial and immune boosting effects in clinical research. When blended with water, unsweetened oat milk keeps calories and carbohydrates relatively low.
Soy milk has been a traditional staple in Asian diets for centuries. Today in the West, soy remains a popular plant-based milk alternative due to its impressive nutritional attributes. Soy milk delivers a substantial amount of high-quality complete vegetarian protein, containing about 8 grams per 1 cup serving. This gives it more protein punch than most other non-dairy milks.
Soy milk also provides potassium, B vitamins and isoflavone antioxidants that may help reduce certain cancer risks. However, soy contains phytoestrogens that may potentially cause adverse reactions in those with estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer or other hormone-sensitive conditions. Choose unsweetened, unflavoured varieties of soy milk to limit sugar intake.
For a vegan milk option that offers highly nutritious fat content, consider hemp milk made by blending water with shelled hemp seeds. Thanks to its well-balanced ratio of plant-based omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, hemp milk supports cardiovascular and brain health while also keeping inflammation in check. Each serving also contains magnesium, iron, zinc and vitamin E.
The natural nutty flavor may take some getting used to, but hemp milk packs a substantial nutritional boost in just one glass. Shake bottles before pouring, as separation occurs.
By taking a closer look at your personal nutritional needs, food sensitivities, sustainability priorities, and individual taste preferences, you can determine which milks may prove optimal to keep stocked in your refrigerator. And while the varieties above each carry their own potential upsides, actually the very healthiest milk “substitute” of all is simply drinking plenty of cool, refreshing water or eating whole green leafy vegetables whenever possible!