The Differences Between Milks
With so many milks on the market these days, it may feel overwhelming to know which one is best for you. The truth is, there is no “healthiest” milk! It all just depends on preference and nutritional needs. Let’s go over the differences between different milks and what to look for in each.
Cow’s milk is of course the most popular milk option out there. Dairy tends to get a bad rep in the health industry, but there is nothing wrong with dairy as long as you’re not lactose intolerant. We recommended choosing a 1 or 2% dairy milk when possible over a full fat milk. This way you still get some fats in without too much saturated fat, and a good amount of protein is offered as well. Dairy, and therefore cow’s milk, should be consumed in moderation and not the main component of your intake each day. We recommend a couple servings of dairy each day if you are going to consume it.
Soy milk is exactly what it sounds like: milk made from soybeans. Soy milk is a popular dairy alternative to milk. Soy milk is the plant based milk option with the most amount of protein compared to almond or oat milk, and most manufactures will add calcium and vitamin D to soy milk to make the nutritional profile comparable to that of cows milk. When buying soy milk, be mindful of added sugars. Oftentimes companies will add sugars to try to better the flavor of the milk. Look for soy milk with low, or no added sugars. It was once thought that soy increases risk of cancer, however, that is not the case anymore as research has proven against that finding.
Almond milk is another very popular plant based milk option on the market. Almond milk has been found to have more unsaturated fats (aka healthy fats) than cow’s milk does. It is also a very low calorie option when compared to other milks. A downside is almond milk doesn’t contain protein, or if it does it is in a very small amount. This may make it a less filling option than a cow’s milk or soy milk. Just like with soy milk, watch out for added sugars! Almond milk is more of a blank slate, or more neutral, when it comes to milk alternatives, so we usually do not recommend it to our clients.
Oat milk has become newly popular in the world of plant based milks. Oat milk has a distinct flavor and is often a creamier milk option that many enjoy adding to their morning coffee! Since oat milk is made from oats, the carbohydrate content is higher than that of almond milk, and the calories are higher as well. Oat milk also has a little bit more protein and fiber than almond milk, and will do a better job of keeping you full. Most oat milks as well as almond milks have added vitamins and minerals in them which is great! No surprise here, we still recommend looking for an unsweetened version of oat milk because of those added sugars!
No milk is necessarily healthier than the rest, as all of them provide different benefits for different nutritional needs. If you’re looking for a higher protein option than cow’s milk is the way to go! If you prefer to avoid dairy but still want that protein, opt for soy. If a low calorie milk is more suitable for you than almond milk is a great choice, and if you want a filling plant based milk that’s creamy like cows milk, try oat. There is no one size fits all approach when it comes to nutrition, so choose what’s best for you!
This article was written by Lindsey Moser, nutrition intern. Fact checked by Allison Tallman RD.