There are so many different kinds of milk! Cow’s milk, soy, rice, almond, coconut, hemp–the varieties seem endless. Many people are lactose-intolerant, meaning they have trouble digesting dairy products, so they look to milk substitutes to fortify their diets. But which one is best? The answer depends on your own diet needs and food allergies, if applicable. Here are the facts on six different kinds of milk.
1. Cow’s Milk
- Pros: Cow’s milk is known for its high calcium content. It also contains high-quality protein, which is of great importance to the body. Cow’s milk contains riboflavin (vitamin B2) and vitamin B12. Both vitamins play a major role in the production of energy for the body and are essential to cardiovascular protection. One cup of cow’s milk provides approximately 11% of the body’s need for potassium.
- Cons: Cow’s milk has been seen to cause allergic reactions in some people. It contains about 5% lactose, which many people can’t digest. Further, cows are often are treated with a compound called recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGh). Some studies have shown this hormone may leads to some major health risks.
2. Soy Milk
- Pros: Soy milk is the most popular and most widely available milk alternative. The quality of protein is considered to be equal to that present in cow’s milk. Soy milk is lactose-free, cholesterol-free, and contains little saturated fat. Fortified soy milk can provide as much calcium per serving as cow’s milk. Studies have shown that soy protein can help lower cholesterol levels, and it contains anti-cancer compounds called isoflavones that protect against breast and prostate cancers. Soy milk may also alleviate some symptoms of menopause due to the mild estrogenic activity of the phytoestrogens. It is available in low- and non-fat versions, comes invarious flavors, and can be used in cooking and baking.
- Cons: Like lactose, soy is known to be a common allergen. It should be restricted or avoided in women with a history of estrogen-sensitive breast tumors.
3. Rice Milk
Rice milk is typically made from brown rice and is thinner in consistency than soy or cow’s milk.
- Pros: It can be used as an alternative for individuals who cannot digest soy protein or who have nut allergies. It is lactose- and cholesterol-free and naturally sweeter in taste than soy or cow’s milk. Rice milk is available in various flavors and can be used in baking.
- Cons: Rice milk does not naturally contain significant amounts of protein and is not a good source of calcium unless it’s fortified. Rice milk is also higher in carbohydrates than cow’s milk.
4. Almond Milk
Almond milk is made from ground almonds and has a creamy consistency similar to cow’s milk.
- Pros: It can be used as an alternative for individuals who cannot digest soy protein and as a vegan alternative to cow’s milk. It is lactose-free and cholesterol-free and contains less saturated fat than cow’s milk. It’s available in various flavors and can be used in baking.
- Cons: Almond milk is not suitable for individuals with nut allergies. It is not as widely available as soy milk and may be harder to find in certain geographic areas.
5. Coconut Milk
- Pros: Coconut milk is a creamy, dairy-free alternative for those who are lactose-intolerant and allergic to nuts. It is soy-free, cholesterol-free, and nut-free. Coconut milk is rich in lauric acid, a substance also found in human milk, which researchers have shown to have anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties.
- Cons: The saturated fat content of coconut milk is significant at 5 g per serving, so drink it in moderation. Coconut milk can also solidify and separate when refrigerated; if you like a cold glass of milk, it’s an inconvenient choice, since you have to stir it and let it warm up to room temperature in order to drink it. It also has a strong flavor that can be a bit overpowering.
6. Hemp Milk
Hemp milk is made from soaking and grinding hemp seeds.
- Pros: It has a creamy and nutty flavor and can be used as an alternative for individuals with soy and nut allergies. It is cholesterol-free, lactose-free, and low in saturated fat. Hemp milk is rich in healthy omega fatty acids and is an excellent source of protein: it contains ten of the essential amino acids. It comes in calcium-fortified varieties, therefore providing a significant source of calcium. Hemp milk is available in various flavors and can be used in cooking and baking.
- Cons: Hemp milk is not as widely available as other milk alternatives and can be difficult to find in certain geographic areas. Hemp milk also tends to be a bit higher in price than other milk alternatives.
Nutritionist Natalie is a registered dietician and active member of the American Dietetic Association. She has worked for over ten years in the health club industry and now has her own nutritionist practice.