These days, we have so many different milks to choose from! It is easy to feel overwhelmed when deciding which one to buy. There is no right or wrong option when choosing a milk product, but the nutritional benefits differ between milk types. 

Dairy milk (cow, goat, sheep, etc.) is a good source of protein and an excellent source of calcium.

Non-dairy, plant-based milks can serve as an option for people who are vegetarian/vegan, don’t like the taste of dairy milk, have lactose intolerance, or have an allergy to dairy milk.  

The following dairy and non-dairy milks are popular with the public and commonly found in grocery stores:

  • Cow’s Milk (whole, 2%, 1%, skim/fat-free, lactose-free)
  • Almond Milk (original, flavored, unsweetened)
  • Coconut Milk (original, flavored, unsweetened)
  • Rice Milk (original, flavored, unsweetened)
  • Soy Milk (original, flavored, unsweetened)

Cow’s Milk

Cow’s milk is an excellent source of calcium. It is also a good source of protein, vitamin B12, and potassium. Most milk companies fortify the reduced fat and fat free milk with vitamin D.

Because it is an animal-based food, milk in its whole and natural form is high in saturated fat. However, reduced fat options are available, such as skim, 1%, and 2% milk. These options are either fat-free or low in fat content, but still provide calcium, protein, vitamin B12, and potassium.

Cow’s milk contains the sugar lactose. Some people are lactose intolerant, which means that they have difficulty digesting the lactose in milk. This happens because they lack lactase, the enzyme which breaks down lactose during digestion. Fortunately, there are lactose-free cow’s milk options available in which the lactose has been removed. 

Plant-Based Milks

Almond Milk
Almond milk is naturally rich in vitamin E. It does not contain cholesterol and is very low in fat. Most of the almond milk sold in grocery stores has been fortified with calcium and vitamin D. Compared to other plant-based milks, almond milk is lower in calories – unsweetened almond milk can have as little as 30 calories per cup. Almond milk is also low in protein, but there are fortified options available.

Coconut Milk
Coconut milk (the one sold with non-dairy milks, not the culinary, canned variety used in curries and soups) is low in sugar. It has some saturated fat but no cholesterol. Most coconut milk sold at grocery stores is fortified with calcium and vitamins A, B12, and D.

Rice Milk
Rice milk is a great alternative for people who are lactose intolerant and/or have nut allergies and cannot consume milks such as cow’s milk and almond milk. Rice milk is cholesterol-free and low in fat. Rice milk sold in grocery stores is often enriched with calcium and vitamins A, B12, and D.

Soy Milk
Compared to other plant-based milks, soy milk has a higher protein content. It is a good source of potassium, folate, and magnesium and does not contain cholesterol. Soy milk is often fortified with calcium, vitamins A, B12, and D, and riboflavin. Soy milk has about the same amount of calories and fat as 1% cow’s milk, but there are alternative soy milks that have lower fat and calorie content.

No matter what milk option you choose, you will nourish your body with beneficial nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D. Compare the nutrient content of milk products, and choose one or more that you enjoy as part of your healthy diet!

Reading Nutrient Claims

• A food that states it is “High,” “Rich in,” or “An excellent source of” a particular nutrient contains 20% or more of the Daily Value per serving for that nutrient.
• A food that is “a good source” of a certain nutrient contains between 10-19% of the Daily Value per serving. 
• Food processing often removes nutrients from food. When these nutrients are added back after processing, the food is considered to be “enriched”.
• Foods that have added vitamins and minerals that were not originally in the food, or more are added than were naturally present in the food, are considered to be “fortified” products.

Quick Health Tip:

If you are trying to buy plant-based milks for health reasons such as a lower calorie, fat, or sugar content, choose milks with no added sugars or sweeteners.