Growing up on a dairy farm, my days began and ended with milking cows.

We used that milk at home and sold the rest to the local dairy plant where it was pasteurized, bottled, and sold at the local grocer. Back then, there weren’t very many brands of milk sold in grocery stores.  The variety was limited to maybe 1 or 2 brands who carried whole, 2% or skim milk.  At the time, Health concerns regarding milk intake   focused on fat content and making sure we were drinking enough milk for strong bone health.  A few years later, 1% milk was developed to entice consumers who could not quite tolerate skim milk/non-fat milk to drink lower fat milk.

Things are quite different today! We have a plethora of seemingly endless brands and types of milks to choose from. This begs the question, which type of milk is best for your health?

During a recent trip to my local grocery store, I spent some extra time in the dairy section to do a little research of my own. I wanted to learn just how many milk products were available as well as the nutritional breakdown per one-cup serving.  There were well over a dozen different brands and at least a half a dozen types, including plant-based milks.

From a nutritional perspective, non-fat cow’s milk has been the gold standard of a high-quality dairy food to support the needs of the human body. However, the use of growth hormones in livestock has concerned many consumers that these hormones may be in the milk.  Additionally, many consumers are shifting their dietary habits to a more plant-based foundation, which is highly recommend for those diagnosed with a cardiovascular condition.

So, what is the best choice? Let’s take a look at the nutrition information I gathered to determine what is the best substitute for cow’s milk.

Calories (per 1 cup) Carbohydrates (g) Protein (g) Fat (g)
Cow's Milk (non-fat) 90 9 8 0
Almond Milk 40 2 1 3
Coconut Milk (unsweetened) 45 0.6 0.5 4.8
Flax Milk 49 7 0 2.5
Goat Milk 169 11 8.7 10
Oat Milk 130 29 2 1
Soy Milk (unsweetened) 80 4 7 4

If calories are a primary concern for you, there definitely are options to consume less calories per 1 cup of milk. The key thing to understand is that it’s not just about calories, it is important to look at what makes up those calories from the amount of carbohydrates, protein, and fat.  

At first glance, the low calorie milks (almond and coconut) look like great options but when you look at what makes up those calories, it becomes clear that they really are not as healthy. Most of their calories are coming from fat. After low calorie almond and coconut milk, Flax milk looks like the next best thing but when you look at how many grams of protein it has, you see it has none! Oat milk also lacks in protein content. Goat milk comes closest to cow’s milk except it has too many fat calories. This leaves soy milk as the best substitute for cow’s milk.

I am proud to say I enjoy soy milk as much as I did whole cow’s milk as a child.  It has taken several years and determination to change this dietary habit to a healthier equivalent. I encourage you to be patient, but persistent on your journey to healthier eating habits!