Updated: Apr 14, 2019
We've all been to the grocery store and seen the vast selection of different types of milks from dairy milk to rice milk. Changing to a non-dairy milk may seem like the healthier option, but make sure you are informed before you change your milk type because milk and milk alternatives have many differences in terms of nutrition. There are certain situations where changing from a dairy milk to a non-dairy milk is needed, such as someone who is lactose intolerant or following a vegan lifestyle. You may even simply prefer the flavor of one of the non-dairy milks over the dairy milk and that's okay too. So here we go...the pros and cons of milk and milk alternatives.
Pros: Just about every grade school campus cafeteria I ate in growing up had a large "Got Milk?" ad hanging on the wall. Cow's milk is heavily marketed for its calcium content and the ability to build strong bones. Cow's milk is in fact an excellent source of calcium, along with protein. One cup of cow's milk contains about 8 grams of protein and cow's milk also contains all 9 essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. Cow's milk also has no added sugar, instead it contains a natural sugar known as lactose. For those that are lactose intolerant, a milk alternative free of lactose is available. This lactose free milk is cow's milk that has had the lactose removed so the milk still contains the same amount of calcium and protein without the lactose.
Cons: Cow's milk can be high in fat and calories. Whole milk contains 150 calories, 8 grams of fat, and 5 grams of saturated fat. This is not the best option for those who have high cholesterol or are trying to lose weight. Skim milk, 1%, and 2% are also available for individuals with high cholesterol or who are wanting to lose weight.
Pros: Almond milk is naturally lactose free, making it a great option for individuals who are lactose intolerant. It is low in fat and calories and is high in vitamins A and D. Because it is low in fat and calories, almond milk is a good choice for those with high cholesterol and for those trying to lose weight.
Cons: Almond milk does not contain any natural sweeteners making it very bland and slightly bitter in its natural form. To help make almond milk more palatable, sugar must be added. This milk is not a good source of calcium or other nutrients so it must be fortified with select vitamins and minerals. Almond milk is very low in protein, containing about 1 gram per cup. It is also not recommended for those with nut allergies.
Pros: If you're looking for a milk alternative that is higher in protein, then soy milk is a great option for you. One cup of soy milk contains about 7 grams or protein and it is also a complete protein. Soy milk is also low in fat and high in vitamin A, D, and K. Because this milk is low in fat and calories, it is a great option for those with high cholesterol or for those trying to lose weight.
Cons: Like almond milk, soy milk is low in calcium so it must be fortified with calcium and other vitamins and minerals. It also is typically sweetened with cane sugar. Soy milk may not be a great option for those with thyroid problems.
Pros: Rice milk is the least allergenic milk option. It is also low in phosphorus which means it is a good alternative for individuals with renal disease. This milk is also a good option for those following a vegan lifestyle.
Cons: Like the other milk alternatives, this milk is low in calcium and so it must be fortified. It also typically contains added sugar and is low in protein. Unlike the other milks, this milk is higher in carbohydrates, so individuals with diabetes may want to chose a different type of milk. Rice milk contains about 23 grams of carbohydrates, whereas cow's milk contains about 12 grams.
Pros: This milk is a more versatile milk because it is available in thick and thin consistencies. The thicker consistencies are typically used in desserts and thick sauces and the thinner consistencies are used in soups and thin sauces. Check out this coming Monday's blog post for a cool treat using coconut milk!
Cons: Coconut milk is high in saturated fat so it may not be a great choice for those with high cholesterol. There is still a lot of controversy on the health benefits of coconut milk and cholesterol. This milk contains 1 gram of protein per cup and is low in calcium so it must be fortified with additional vitamins and minerals.
Here is a table comparing the nutrition facts for 1 cup of each milk type:
Whole Milk: 150 calories, 8 g fat, 8 g protein, 12 g carbohydrates, 12 g sugar
2% Milk: 130 calories, 5 g fat, 8 g protein, 12 g carbohydrates, 12 g sugar
1% Milk: 110 calories, 2.5 g fat, 8 g protein, 12 g carbohydrates, 12 g sugar
Skim Milk: 80 calories, 0 g fat, 8 g protein, 12 g carbohydrates, 12 g sugar
Almond Milk: 90 calories, 2.5 g fat, 1 g protein, 16 g carbohydrates, 15 g sugar
Soy Milk: 110 calories, 4.5 g fat, 7 g protein, 9 g carbohydrates, 6 g sugar
Rice Milk: 125 calories, 3 g fat, 1 g protein, 23 g carbohydrates, 15 g sugar
Coconut Milk: 80 calories, 5 g fat, 1 g protein, 7 g carbohydrates, 7 g sugar
*NOTE: Only the calories and fat content differ between whole, 2%, 1%, and skim cow's milk.