Though your parents may have told you to drink your glass of milk at the dinner table to ensure that you would grow to have healthy bones and teeth as an adult, new studies on milk are finding that for some, cow’s milk may not be the healthiest beverage option after all. While cow’s milk is full of important vitamins and minerals, dairy products are also linked to adult acne, an increased intake of saturated fat, and health problems like asthma, diabetes, and constipation.
The good news is this: If you’re sensitive to dairy, you no longer need to rely on taking lactase pills to get your milk fix, and if you’re vegan, you can rejoice in the joy of drinking milk once again. While cow’s milk is still the milk of choice for most, soy milk, almond milk, and coconut milk are also on the rise, and each of these options comes with its own benefits and drawbacks. Decide for yourself which one you want to put into your cereal by taking a look at the following milks and milk substitutes.
1. Soy milk
Though soy milk is known as one of the original milk alternatives for those who couldn’t digest regular cow’s milk, soy milk has come a long way in terms of taste and health benefits over the years. According to Soya, soy milk contains only vegetable proteins. A diet that is rich in animal fats and dairy is known to put the consumer at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis, and soy milk is a vegan alternative containing only proteins derived from plants that can actually help the kidneys retain calcium.
Nearly 75% of the world’s population cannot digest lactose (even if some do not realize it), and soy milk is a great alternative for those who want that signature milk taste without worrying about the upset stomach that ensues after consumption. There are also fewer allergies reported with soy milk than there are with regular milk, so if you’re particularly food-sensitive, you may favor soy milk over cow’s milk.
If you’re looking to watch your weight, then soy milk may also promote weight loss. FitDay explains how cow’s milk contains about 12 grams of sugar per cup, while soy milk contains only 7 grams of sugar coupled with no cholesterol and low sodium. You’ll also get an added fiber boost with soy milk that you won’t find in regular cow’s milk.
Soy milk isn’t for everyone, however; if you’re calcium deficient, soy milk is not going to be your best source according to Lifescript, so if you are looking to replace cow’s milk with soy, you’ll need to find a soy milk that is calcium fortified. Drinking soy can also take some getting used to in terms of both how your body will react to it and how your taste buds will take the change — while there are sweetened and flavored soy milks on the market, those contain added sugars that you’ll most likely want to avoid.
2. Almond milk
If you’re not much of a soy milk fan but you’re looking for an alternative to cow’s milk, then almond milk may be your best bet. Though it may sound fancy and potentially expensive, almond milk is really just made from blending almonds with water and then straining the mixture. This “milk” can be a great alternative for those who are both lactose intolerant and soy intolerant, as these two issues go hand-in-hand for many. While you can make your own almond milk fairly easily in your own home, it most likely will not come with all of the nutrients that are packed in packaged almond milk found in stores, as manufacturers fortify almond milk with vitamins A, D, and calcium, according to Live Science. Naturally, almond milk does not have the same nutritional impact as eating a handful of whole almonds does, nor is it as packed with nutrients as soy milk or cow’s milk.
If you’re looking for your milk to give you any sort of protein boost, you also may want to look elsewhere — a 1-cup serving of almond milk holds 1 gram of protein, whereas cow’s milk holds 8 grams. And cow’s milk has over double the amount of phosphorous and potassium, and this is even after the almond milk has been fortified with vitamins.
Though it seems as if soy milk and cow’s milk are the clear-cut winners if you’re allergy-free, Livestrong states that almond milk is lower in fat and calories than low-fat cow’s milk. While some flavored almond milks can reach up to 90 calories per 1-cup serving, unsweetened almond milks can have as few as 30 calories per serving, whereas reduced-fat cow’s milk still hovers around 120 calories per cup. And almond milk has no cholesterol or saturated fat, which makes it a good option for those who are looking to stay on a heart-healthy diet.
3. Coconut milk
Coconut milk seems like dairy milk’s luxurious cousin — it’s often richer and creamier than your typical 2% cow’s milk you’re likely to buy at the store, but is it really healthier to go the coconut route over dairy? This, again, depends on what you’re looking for out of milk — if you’re vegan and lactose intolerant, and you’re looking for a similar texture and viscosity found in full-fat dairy milk, then coconut milk may be the best option for you over soy or almond.
Though coconut milk is completely free of animal products, it’s still a more calorie-dense milk option, and it’s best avoided if you’re watching your calorie and fat intake. According to SFGate, coconut milk contains more saturated fat than cow’s milk, though not all saturated fats are created equal. The saturated fatty acids in coconut milk are medium-chain fatty acids, whereas dairy milk contains long-chain fatty acids. Medium-chain fatty acids are less likely to contribute to heart disease because they are metabolized more quickly by the liver and are more likely to be used as energy. Long-chain fatty acids, however, are more likely to be stored as fat in the body.
While coconut milk may not be your ideal low-calorie choice to put on top of your cereal in the morning, you may want to consider it a good alternative to cow’s milk for smoothies, milkshakes, and a dairy alternative in baked goods. Coconuts themselves are high in fiber, vitamins C and E as well as multiple B vitamins, and minerals like iron, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus.
4. Cow’s milk
If you have no milk preference and you’re still thinking that plain cow’s milk is your best alternative, you may want to go for skim milk to avoid the saturated fats found in fattier dairy milks. Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa explains that skim milk reigns supreme if you’re a dairy lover — you get the calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B-12, and protein that 1%, 2%, and whole milk have, but without consuming the saturated fat.
There’s also a lot of controversy surrounding whether dairy milk actually helps build strong bones and teeth. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine found that while most people think that milk consumption will build up their bones, bone strength is most directly related to physical activity and not milk consumption. There is particularly no difference in bone strength when adults drink milk.
In addition to the fat, calories, and high cholesterol content found in cow’s milk coupled with the lack of evidence supporting the claim that cow’s milk actually helps support bone health, there’s also solid evidence supporting the fact that regular consumption of cow’s milk increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
If you’re watching your fat and calorie intake, you may want to steer clear of cow’s milk and stray more toward soy milk or almond milk, though if it’s the naturally occurring vitamins and minerals you’re after, and you’re looking to get that solid animal protein in your system, then cow’s milk may be the milk for you.