Not too long ago, the only thing you could expect to drown your cereal in was whole cow’s milk. Now, cow’s milk comes in all sorts of varieties: whole milk, 2 percent, 1 percent, skim (fat-free), and even lactose-free milk. For people with dietary or allergy concerns, there are also alternatives to cow’s milk. Almond, soy, rice, and coconut “milk” are popular plant-based milk alternatives.
They’re becoming even more available in stores across the United States. Goat’s milk is less common in stores in the United States, but is another good choice for some people.
Each type of milk has its advantages and disadvantages, depending on a person’s diet, health, nutritional needs, or personal taste preferences.
For example, people in key development years — children older than two years, teens, and pregnant women — need proteins, vitamin D, and calcium. These are abundant in cow’s milk. On the other hand, people who need to watch their calories or saturated fat intake, such as for weight reasons or heart health problems, should look to other options.
Whole cow’s milk contains more calories and saturated fat than any other milk, aside from goat’s milk.
Look at the differences in these popular types of milks to determine which best suits your needs. With all varieties, choose the unsweetened versions. Milk and milk alternatives can double their amount of sugar if they are sweetened with added sugars.
Milk and milk alternatives: Nutrition comparison per 8 fluid ouncesCalories Carbohydrates (total) Sugars Fat (total) ProteinCow’s milk (whole) 150 12 g 12 g 8 g 8 gCow’s milk (1%) 110 12 g 12 g 2 g 8 gCow’s milk (skim) 80 12 g 12 g 0 g 8 gAlmond milk (unsweetened) 40 1 g 0 g 3 g 2 gSoy milk (unsweetened) 80 4 g 1 g 4 g 7 gRice milk (unsweetened) 120 22 g 10 g 2 g 0 gCoconut milk beverage (unsweetened) 50 2 g 0 g 5 g 0 gPart 2 of 6Cow’s milkcow milkWhole milk is cow’s milk with none of the fat removed. One cup contains about:
150 calories12 grams of carbohydrates in the form of lactose (milk sugar)8 grams of fat8 grams of proteinNone of the milk’s natural components are removed. That means whole milk is high in natural proteins, fat, and calcium. Milk sold in the United States is usually fortified with vitamin A and vitamin D, as well.
The problem with saturated fatSaturated fat may be unhealthy for people with heart problems or high cholesterol or people who are trying to lose weight. Saturated fats are linked with increased risk of heart problems.Other cow’s milk has the same amount of carbohydrates and protein, with some or all of the fat removed. While whole milk has 150 calories in one cup, 1 percent milk has 110 calories, and skim milk has just 80 calories. Fat-free milk has all of the nutritional benefits of whole milk — protein, calcium, vitamins, and minerals — without the saturated fat and calories. However, absorption of some vitamins may be reduced due to the lack of fat.
Lactose-free milk is processed to break down lactose, a natural sugar found in milk products. Lactose-free milk is also a good . of protein, calcium, vitamins, and minerals. The total and saturated fat contents of lactose-free milk vary, as it comes in 2 percent, 1 percent, and fat-free varieties.
thumbs up Pros of cow’s milkWhole milk can provide essential proteins, extra calories from fats, as well as vitamins and minerals for infants and older adults.Lactose-free versions are available for people who have a lactose intolerance.Cow’s milk, including grass-fed and low-heat pasteurized options, is widely available in grocery stores and convenience stores.thumbs down Cons of cow’s milkThe versions that aren’t fat-free are higher in saturated fats and calories.The protein in cow’s milk is a common allergen for babies, children, and adults.Some people have ethical concerns about modern dairy farming practices.
Almond milkalmond milkAlmond milk is made from ground almonds and filtered water. It may also contain starches and thickeners to improve its consistency and shelf life. People who are allergic to almonds or nuts should avoid almond milk.
Almond milk is lower in calories than other milks, as long as it is unsweetened. It’s also free of saturated fat, and it’s naturally lactose-free.
Per cup, unsweetened almond milk has:about 30 to 60 calories1 gram of carbohydrates (sweetened varieties have more)3 grams of fat1 gram of proteinEven though almonds are a good . of protein, almond milk is not. Almond milk is also not a good . of calcium. However, many brands of almond milk are supplemented with calcium and vitamin D.
thumbs up Pros of almond milkIt’s low in calories and contains no saturated fat.It’s a good . of vitamin A and can be fortified to be a good . of calcium and vitamin D.It’s vegan and naturally lactose-free.thumbs down Cons of almond milkIt’s not a good . of protein.It may contain carrageenan, which may cause digestive issues in some people.There are some environmental concerns about the amount of water used to cultivate almonds.Part 4 of 6Soy milksoy milkSoy milk is made from soybeans and filtered water. Like other plant-based milk alternatives, it may contain thickeners to improve consistency and shelf life.
One cup of unsweetened soy milk has:
about 80 to 100 calories4 grams of carbohydrate (sweetened varieties have more)4 grams of fat7 grams of proteinBecause it comes from plants, soy milk is naturally free of cholesterol and low in saturated fat. It also contains no lactose.
Soybeans and soy milk are a good . of protein, calcium (when fortified), and potassium. Probiotic or fermented soy milk is also available. It’s an even better choice, especially for people with high blood pressure.
However, too much soy may be a problem for people with thyroid disease or other conditions. And a 2008 Harvard study showed that higher intakes of soy-based foods caused fertility problems and lower sperm counts. Soy is also a common allergen. People who are allergic to soy should not drink soy milk.
thumbs up Pros of soy milkIt’s a good . of protein, vitamin A, vitamin B-12, potassium, and isoflavones, plus it can be fortified with calcium and vitamin D.It contains as much protein as cow’s milk, yet is lower in calories than whole milk and about equal to the calories in 1 percent or 2 percent milk.It contains very little saturated fat.thumbs down Cons of soy milkSoy is a common allergen for both adults and children.Too much soy may be a problem for people with thyroid conditions.Most of the soy produced in the United States comes from genetically modified plants, which is a concern to some..: Is soy good for you? »
Rice milkrice milkRice milk is made from milled rice and water. As with other alternative milks, it frequently contains additives to improve consistency and shelf stability.
It’s the least likely of all of milk products to cause allergies. That makes it a good choice for people with lactose intolerance or allergies to milk, soy, or nuts.
Rice milk contains the most carbohydrate per cup, providing about:
120 calories22 grams of carbohydrate2 grams of fatlittle protein (less than 1 gram)While rice milk can be fortified with calcium and vitamin D, it’s not a natural . of either, just like soy and almond milks. Rice has also been shown to have higher levels of inorganic arsenic. The Food and Drug Administration recommends not relying solely on rice and rice products, especially for infants, children, and pregnant women. The American Academy of Pediatrics takes a similar stance, suggesting to be sure to focus on variety of foods and to avoid depending on just rice or rice products.
thumbs up Pros of rice milkIt’s the least allergenic of milk alternatives.It can be fortified to be a good . of calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin D.Rice milk is naturally sweeter than other milk alternatives.thumbs down Cons of rice milkIt’s high in carbohydrates, so it’s the least desirable choice for people with diabetes.It’s not a good . of protein.Eating too much of a rice product may pose a health risk for infants and children due to inorganic arsenic levels.Part 6 of 6Coconut milkcoconut milkCoconut milk is made from filtered water and coconut cream, which is made from grated mature coconut flesh. In spite of its name, coconut is not actually a nut, so people with nut allergies should be able to eat it safely.
Coconut milk is more accurately referred to as “coconut milk beverage” because it’s a more diluted product than the type of coconut milk used in cooking, which usually is sold in cans. As with other plant-based milk alternatives, coconut milk often contains added thickeners and other ingredients.
Coconut milk contains more fat than the other milk alternatives, and nearly all of it is saturated. Each cup of unsweetened coconut milk beverage contains:
about 50 calories2 grams of carbohydrates5 grams of fat0 grams of proteinCoconut milk beverage does not naturally contain calcium, vitamin A, or vitamin D. However, it can be fortified with these nutrients.
Coconut products have become more popular in recent years, partly because they contain medium-chain triglycerides, a type of fat. Some research suggests this type of saturated fat may actually help with weight loss. However, saturated fats in general are associated with increased risk of heart problems, so further research is needed.