Which is Better: Dairy Milk or Plant-Based Milk?

If you pay attention to the dairy coolers at the grocery store, I’m sure you’re overwhelmed with how many choices of milk they offer. Between almond, cashew, coconut, macadamia, multiple nut blends, soy, pea, hemp, oat, rice, different lactose-free options, and then plain ol’ dairy milk – you’re probably wondering “which one is the healthiest option?”

My answer may not be what you’re looking for but let me help by giving you the nutritional facts of popular options and see if you can decipher between the healthiest one because the fact is – not all milk is created equal!

Let’s start with good old fashioned…

Cow’s milk:

Whole cow’s milk has no fat removed and of course there are multiplefat percentages of milk – 2%, 1%, skim or fat-free, and even extra skim. Whole milk is high in natural protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Young children should stay on whole milk and whole fat dairy products from 1 year of age until they’re at least 2 years old for brain development. Carbohydrates in milk come from lactose, the natural sugar in milk. The main difference between whole, 2%, 1%, and fat-free milk is the fat content and as a result, the amount of calories. They’re all pretty comparable in terms of protein and carbohydrates.

Skim milk contains all of the nutritional benefits such as protein, calcium, vitamins, and minerals but without the added saturated fat and calories. But, this could result in poor absorption of fat soluble vitamins (Vitamins A, D, E, and K). Cow’s milk also naturally contains potassium and vitamin B12! Cow’s milk contain’s casein and lactose which helps increase the absorption of calcium and calcium helps increase the absorption of vitamin D. All of the nutrients work together!

If you’re a person who has trouble digesting lactose, dairy milk comes in lactose-free options soyou can still benefit from the natural vitamins and minerals of cow’s milk! Lactose-free milk contains the enzyme “lactase” which breaks down lactose in the small intestine into two simpler forms of sugar: glucose and galactose. Glucose and galactose are the sugars your body absorbs to use as energy. Typically, people who cannot tolerate lactose do not produce enough or any lactase, preventing their body from being able to digest it and resulting in GI issues.

Soy Milk:

The second best alternative is probably soy milk. Soy milk is made from the soybean plant and water. Soy milk contains protein in amounts similar to cows milk but is also naturally cholesterol free, and low in saturated fat, making a healthy choice for those at risk for heart disease or high blood pressure. Other vitamins soy milk offers are: vitamin A, vitamin B-12, and potassium. Soy milk can also be fortified with calcium and vitamin D.  Because soy is a common allergen, those who are allergic should avoid soy milk and soy products.

Nut Milks:

While whole nuts are a good source of protein, their milk is not because of the way it is made. The nutrients are lost in the process and they contain a lot of water. There is only 1 gram of protein per serving of almond milk, less than 1 gram per serving of cashew milk and no protein in coconut milk. Almond milk also lacks calcium but some brands fortify their nut milks with protein, calcium, and vitamins. Scientists are still debating whether or not the body can absorb and utilize these nutrients as efficiently as the body can when they’re naturally found in milk. The amount of vitamin D in plant-based milks also varies and studies have found that those who drank plant based milks had lower blood levels of vitamin D than those who drank cow’s milk.

Another aspect to worry about in nut milks is added sugars as well as additives that are used to increase the palatability of the milk for a better “mouth feel”. Sweetened and flavored nut milks have a higher carbohydrate content as well as extra calories that you may not want. Make sure to read nutrition labels to determine if it works for you!

Nut milks could be a good option for people following a vegan lifestyle, are lactose intolerant, or those who are calorie conscious but is not suitable for those who are allergic to nuts (except coconut milk, because that is not a nut, despite its name). Just remember the essential vitamins and nutrients you would be missing out on!

I’ve put together a helpful chart comparing a few main nutrients of commonly consumed milks. This gives a better visual of the nutrients in each type of milk so you can determine which one will best fit your needs and goals!



Protein (grams) Fat (grams) Saturated Fat (grams)

Carbohydrates (grams)

Whole Milk 148 8 8 4.6 12
2% Milk 124 8 4.9 3.1 12
1% Milk 103 8 2.4 1.5 12
Fat Free Milk 83 8 0.2 0.1 12
Unsweetened Almond Milk 40 1 3.5 1 1
Original Soy Milk 110 8 4.5 0.5 9
Coconut Milk 45 0 4 3.5 <1
Cashew Milk 25 <1 2 0 1


What is your favorite milk? 

Thanks for stopping by!

Questions or comments?

Email me at: intrepidnutrition@gmail.com

Until next time…

Taylor ❤

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