When choosing milk, take into consideration the pros, cons, and the nutritional information (represented at the bottom). Ideally, milk selections should accommodate dietary needs and also importantly, be enjoyed safely.
1. Dairy Milk
Most commonly consumed, cow or dairy milk has been encouraged since childhood to build strong bones. When choosing dairy milk, multi-colored caps reflect various skim, low-fat, and full-fat types. And though choosing a nonfat or low-fat milk would seem to be a healthful choice, newly surfaced research questions if switching from whole milk is valuable – find out more here.
Pros: Provides up to 8 grams of protein per cup and contains a natural sugar known as lactose. The variety of milk types allow individuals to further choose based on fat and calorie content.
Cons: Unsuitable for individuals with dairy allergies or lactose intolerance. If watching calorie and saturated fat intake, whole milk may not be the best option.
2. Almond Milk
Produced from ground almonds and water, almond milk has certainly grown in popularity over the past few years. With a desirable taste and texture, almond milk has been selected as a dairy milk substitution.
Pros: Both dairy-free and lactose intolerant friendly. Low in calories, contains no saturated fat or cholesterol, and an excellent source of vitamins A, E, and D, and magnesium.
Cons: Unless fortified, almond milk is not a great source of calcium. It is also low in protein and should be avoided if allergic to almonds and other nuts (related to cross-contamination).
3. Soy Milk
Produced from soybeans, soy milk is a valuable plant-based milk. And since soy offers protein, the content is similar to protein-rich cow’s milk. Soy has shown to be heart-protective and offers healthful unsaturated fats, while containing minimal saturated fat.
Pros: Suitable for individuals with a dairy or nut allergy. Contains high amounts of protein with lesser amounts of carbohydrate compared to dairy milk. It may have positive effects on both heart and bone health.
Cons: The intake of soy has been discouraged related to health claims, including increased breast cancer risk and male infertility. Though the research is inconsistent, soy has shown to be safely consumed in moderated amounts.
4. Cashew Milk
Being rich and creamy, cashew milk mostly resembles the common dairy milk but generally with lesser calories and without the worry of lactose.
Pros: Offers a desirable creaminess with 25% less calories than skim milk. When fortified, it is an excellent source of calcium and vitamins A, D, and B-12.
Cons: Not a good protein source. Contains 1 gram compared to cow’s milk with 7 grams.
5. Coconut Milk
Created from the tropical coconut, coconut milk is produced from its white, meaty flesh. Coconut milk is found in various forms – generally thick in cans and thin in milk cartons. However, the coconut milk found in cartons is a common dairy-free milk alternative.
Pros: Suitable for individuals with the common allergens or intolerances – dairy, soy, nuts, and lactose. Commercial products typically fortify with calcium and vitamin D, making coconut milk support bone health. Learn more about the health benefits of coconut milk here.
Cons: May contain high amounts of fat, especially in its canned form. Especially rich in saturated fat compared to other milk options.
6. Rice Milk
Out of all the milks, rice milk mostly provides the greatest amount of calories than the other milks. Though naturally-occurring, rice milk provides a high sugar amount.
Pros: Less allergenic out of all of the milks, without the worries regarding lactose intolerance and nut and soy allergies. If fortified with calcium, rice milk could offer bone support.
Cons: High in carbohydrate and low in protein, making it less desirable in individuals with diabetes and individuals desiring high protein.
The graph below depicts the nutritional profile of the six milks indicated above. The values are based on plain, original types. However, most commercial brands offer flavor variations with additional ingredients. Mostly added sugars, the carbohydrate and sugar content will amplify and should be warned with caution.