Nowadays, there are so many different types of milk. The dairy section at the grocery store is packed with all types of milk, from cow's to soy to coconut. So which one should we be drinking? Keep reading to learn more!
Fortunately (or unfortunately if you're looking for a definitive answer!), one milk isn't far superior over others. There are many factors to consider when choosing a milk:
- Allergies - are you allergic to nuts or soy? Are you gluten-free? Are you lactose intolerant?
- Macronutrient content - some milks are higher in carbs or lower in protein than others. Some milks can also be higher or lower in fat as well. Want to learn more about macros? Check out my posts on carbohydrates, protein, and fat!
- Body composition goals - this factor falls in line with macronutrient content. For example, if you're trying to preserve or gain lean mass, cow's or soy milk may be better due to the higher protein content.
- Taste - this factor is important too! You may love the taste of a certain type of milk and not care for others. This will play into which milk is best for you!
Different Types of Milk
There are a plethora of milks out there but I wanted to highlight the major ones I see and get asked about.
- Benefits: It's a source of calcium, vitamin D, and magnesium, which are all important bone-building nutrients. Cow's milk is a good source of protein, unlike some of the plant-based milks. My favorite cow's milk is ultra-filtered (and lactose-free), which increases the protein content even more than regular cow's milk!
- Potential downsides: Typically, cow's milk contains lactose, which some people may have GI reactions to like gas and bloating. However, there are lactose-free brands that eliminate this issue. Cow's milk can have varying levels of fat, from skim or fat-free to whole or full-fat. Since the fat in cow's milk is saturated, I tend to recommend low-fat or skim.
- Benefits: This milk is great for those following vegetarian or vegan diets, as well as gluten-free! It can be a good source of calcium and vitamin E, as almonds are a good source of those nutrients. Depending on your body weight/composition goals, the low-calorie content of almond milk may be a benefit. Due to the low protein content (mentioned below), almond milk is my favorite milk to add protein powder to as post-workout recovery.
- Potential downsides: Since almond milk is made from almonds, I advise against it for those with nut allergies (for obvious reasons). One thing to look out for is the sugar content. Some almond milks can be flavored, which increases the added sugar. It's very low in protein so if you're looking to include some protein in your diet, I would suggest cow's or soy milk, or almond milk with pea protein added!
- Benefits: Made from soy beans, soy milk is a great source of plant-based protein. Fortified soy milk has riboflavin, calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12. Unfortified versions will contain B vitamins like folate and B6, as well as magnesium and zinc. Also depending on your body weight/composition goals, the unsweetened versions can be low in calories but contain protein to help maintain or build lean muscle mass and promote satiety.
- Potential downsides: Soy milk can have sugar added to it, so opt for unflavored options (or ones with little to no added sugar). I don't recommend soy milk to those with soy allergies. It can be more expensive than other milks like cow's milk, so cost is a factor to consider.
- Benefits: Made from oats, oat milk can contain slightly more fiber than other milks, which can help GI tract health. It also contains B vitamins. It's a good option for those wanting to follow a more plant-based diet and is very low in saturated fat. Oat milk contains various vitamins and minerals like calcium, zinc, magnesium, B vitamins and can be fortified with vitamin D and B12. If you are following a gluten-free diet, be sure to read the label to ensure the oat milk is gluten-free (oats can be processed in facilities with gluten so cross-contamination is common).
- Potential downsides: While it does contain a little more protein than almond milk, it's still fairly low in this macronutrient. Oat milk can contain quite a bit of added sugar so be sure to look for brands/flavors with low to no added sugars.
High Protein Non Dairy Milk
Most non-dairy milks are lacking in protein compared to cow's and other animal-based milks. However, if you follow a plant-based diet and are curious about high protein non-dairy milks, my top suggestions are soy milk and plant-based milks (like almond milk) that have pea protein added.
Different Types of Milk: Summary
The chart above does a great job comparing various types of milk and their macronutrient content as well as calcium, vitamin D, and lactose.
Overall, the different types of milk offer different benefits. Each milk has benefits and potential downsides so you want to choose whichever milk is best for your goals, lifestyle, and taste preferences! Feel free to comment below with any questions or comments - I'd love to hear your thoughts on this review!
Tanya Bennett says
Great article! It’s complicated but this information makes the decision a bit easier.
I'm glad! It's an overwhelming topic because there are so many options but hopefully this information helps make your decision a little easier!
Karl Wittmann says
If you really dig deeper all of them have a problem.......
Strictly for health. Coconut milk!
Hi Karl, I agree you can find negatives to all of these! It's hard to give a general "this milk is best" recommendation because there are so many things to consider like allergies, biomarkers (someone may be trying to decrease saturated fat if they have high cholesterol), taste preferences, etc.!
So helpful. I never know which type of milk to buy so this clarified things!
Awesome! There are so many types to choose from, it can get confusing for sure!
Do you think it's okay to use multiple types of milk or should I just use one and stick with it?
Hi Kara! It's totally up to you. Depending on your goals and preferences, it's definitely okay to consume multiple types of milk. For example, I use primarily cow's milk in coffee/tea/baking but will use almond milk to mix with my post-workout protein powder because there's plenty of protein and almond milk is a great mixer. Plus it's a good source of calcium so I like to include it in my diet!