Milk and dairy products have long been promoted in this country as the best way for us to get our calcium. Recently however, there has been a lot of scrutiny about dairy, and well like most other trendy nutrition topics, it has become really confusing! In addition to the question about whether or not we should consume cow’s milk, an abundance of dairy substitutes has flooded the market, all claiming to be better than cow’s milk. Should we avoid cow’s milk? If so, which substitute should you buy? Honestly, the answer isn’t so clear cut. Let’s take a look at this chart I created below, pulling nutrition information from USDA’s nutrient database and a popular milk substitute brand’s website. Nutrition information is based on 1 cup of milk.

Nutrients Whole Milk Skim Milk Almond Milk Coconut Milk Soy Milk Goat’s Milk
Calories 149 83 30 45 80 168
Calcium 28% 30% 45% 45% 30% 33%
Protein 8 g 8 g 1 g 0 g 7 g 9 g
Potassium 322 mg 382 mg 35 mg 40 mg 350 mg 498 mg
Phosphorus 21% 25% 10% 27%
Vitamin A 11% 10% 10% 10% 10% 10%
Vitamin D 31% 29% 25% 25% 30% 31%
Vitamin B12 18% 20% 50% 50% 3%
Riboflavin 24% 26% 4% 30% 20%
Niacin 1% 1% 5%
Vitamin E 20%
Magnesium 6% 7% 4% 10% 9%
Iron 1% 1% 2% 2% 6%
Folate 3% 3% 15% 1%
Sat.Fat 5 g 0 g 0 g 3.5 g .5 g 6.5 g
Sugar 12 g 12 g 0 g <1 g 1 g 11 g
*all nutrients listed are for unsweetened varieties

A few key facts jump out at me:

  1. Cow, soy, and goat’s milk seem to be the nutrient powerhouses, providing us with the most vitamins and minerals. Look at the protein difference!
  2. If trying to match cow or goat’s milk nutrients with a plant based milk, soy comes closest.
  3. Almond milk and coconut milk have the least calories.
  4. Animal milks are higher in natural sugars.
  5. All provide us with beneficial nutrients!

One thing you can’t tell looking at this chart, is that a lot of the nutrients, like calcium have been added to the plant based milk sources. If getting more calcium is your goal, and you don’t consume dairy, calcium fortified orange juice would be another good option.

Ok, so here is my advice: if you have no problem with dairy (no allergies, not lactose intolerant, not vegan), continue drinking/cooking with it. I recommend purchasing organic versions and local when possible. Remember with all animal foods, you are eating what the animal was eating, so not all milk is created equal. If you are lactose intolerant, you might try goat’s milk; it contains less lactose, and many can tolerate it. I find the two fairly comparable, but understand that goat’s milk is less mass produced, making me believe the goats are eating healthier than the cows on the mass produced dairy farms.  If you want an alternative plant based milk, you have a lot of options. Soy milk will be the closest to cow and goat’s milk, but non fermented soy is controversial as well, so if you have hesitations, try almond or coconut. You are getting less vitamins and minerals, BUT you are taking in a lot less calories. You get more nutrition eating a handful of almonds rather than drinking a glass of almond milk, but I understand wanting a milk substitute. Also, coconut milk is higher in saturated fat. Be aware of added sugars to both of these drinks and added unwanted ingredients.

Now there are other sources of calcium out there that don’t involve any kind of milk! Don’t forget that dark leafy greens, broccoli, beans, tofu, and nuts all provide you with calcium. I tend to agree with the Harvard School of Public Health that you really don’t need more than 2 servings of dairy, and if you are vegan or choose to avoid dairy, you can get by with no dairy as long as you are eating a variety of foods, incorporating those calcium rich ones previously mentioned.

Hope I helped clarify some questions!

To YOUR Taste!

Chef V