What’s the healthiest type of milk?

What’s the healthiest type of milk?

If you’ve ever considered switching to a different type of milk, you know it’s not a simple decision.

With a wide variety of options including fat-free, almond, soy, coconut and rice – just to name a few – it can turn into a daunting task.

To help narrow down options, researchers recently revealed what type of milk you should reach for the next time you’re in the dairy aisle. The study, published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology, compared the nutritional value of almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk and rice milk. They concluded that while cow’s milk is always the most nutritious, soy milk is your next best pick.

Carrie Ek, a nutritionist and registered dietitian at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill., shares her thoughts on the milk debate.

“None of the plant-based milk alternatives are equivalent in nutrients to cow’s milk because they don’t naturally contain calcium,” she says. “When fortified with calcium, soy milk is the closest and is the best choice for a dairy replacement.”

Ek points out that the other options hardly contain any protein, which is essential for a young child. “When dairy is removed from a child’s diet, it leaves a big hole nutritionally. Milk provides a large portion of protein and almost all the calcium and vitamin D in their diet.”

If your child doesn’t tolerate milk and he or she has no dairy allergy, parents should consider purchasing lactose-free milk. Lactose-free products are made with real dairy but are easier to digest.

The amount of calcium a child needs for strong bones varies according to age, with children between 9 and 18-years-old requiring the most calcium, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The AAP recommends that children in that age range consume 1,300 milligrams of calcium per day – equivalent to about four-and-a-half 8 oz. glasses of low-fat milk.

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  1. I am lactose intolerant and have been drinking calcium fortified soy milk for years. I have found, depending on what store you go to, lactose-free milk cost more than the soy milk. The soy milk is ultra pasteurized so unopened it stays fresh longer and I drink at least a gallon each week so I like to be able to stock up. The Silk Original is very good and the Vanilla is good too but adds a bit more sugar.

  2. Have you read the new research that shows soy milk is not recommended due to estrogen levels?
    Also, no human actually needs cows milk. Calcium can be obtained from other food sources such as vegetables and nuts. Ripple is a great milk alternative that actually has more calcium then milk, less saturated fat, and the same amount of protein.

    • I agree. I cannot drink soy milk because I had a lumpectomy that was hormone sensitive, and my doctors instructed me not to eat soy. I have to be careful what veggies I eat because I also have a salicylate allergy and salicylates are in EVERYTHING.

  3. This article addresses the need for children/teens but what about adults? I don’t like soy milk and I have thyroid issues so I prefer to avoid soy milk, what are my best choices?

  4. She completely ignored A2 milk which, among all dairy milk, is the healthiest.

  5. Cristian Hernandez March 9, 2018 at 1:26 pm · Reply

    Cow’s milk is not made or intent for human consumption, come on. I assume milk companies are “sponsoring” this “study”.

  6. Within regular dairy milk, what are the pros and cons of whole vs 2% vs 1% vs skim milk? I’ve heard various stories about some fat being necessary for proper digestion of all milk’s nutrients. But I don’t know the truth of this. I have personally opted for 1%.

  7. But there are also alternatives to cow’s milk when it comes to calcium. There is goat’s milk, for one. Or calcium fortified orange juice. Or a cup of cooked kale. Or a serving of sardines with edible bones. When it comes to protein, it is obvious that milk isn’t the only source for that.

  8. I read this because I wanted to know what was the best milk for me not a child, I’m 72. I don’t think cows milk is good for humans past puberty.

  9. Why are people talking about things other than milk in this comments section? This wasn’t the what is the best source of “X” nutrient article. It was about milk. Want to know why milk is great? Because it is a liquid, replenishable, calorie rich, nutrient rich, filling, and tasty. You know how many foods are like this? Not many, because mammalian milk evolved to be that awesome. Do adults need to drink it, not if they have sources to all these nutrients. But if they don’t then this is the hands down best way to get the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to calorie and nutrient density. When included in a balanced diet you can not go wrong with milk unless you have lactose intolerance.

    For people who are like, “that’s not made for humans”. Well guess what? Bananas, wheat, grapes, rice, corn, and ALL animals weren’t “made” for people to eat either. Humans are omnivorous and we can find and ingest many things. Its one of the perks of being human!

    And to answer Merri’s question. The % in milk really just boils down to caloric density. The fat is reduced with each product. If you wanted the nutrients, but not the calories or cholesterol then you pick the lower % milks. There is a taste difference because the fat is what give milk its “richness”.

  10. What about Almond Breeze Vanilla Regular is it good for you that all I drink now I use to drink soy but I found out that it is not good for women’s to drink something to do with not good for the breast.
    I am I wrong about that.

  11. Almond milk comes fortified with 10% or 45% calcium. Do your comparison again using the 45% kind, and I’ll bet almond milk passes soy. In any case, many people have to avoid soy (soy is not recommended for people with thyroid or gastrointestinal health issues).

  12. If someone can’t tolerate drinking milk and the need for calcium what about mixing it in a smoothie or eating yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese? Broccoli is also a source.of calcium, no?

  13. At age 80 I can testify that drinking whole milk for most of my life has done little damage if any at all. All the other variations mentioned either taste bad or defy common sense that it/they are “milk.” And BTW, can’t imagine sharing my Oreo’s with anything other than Elsie’s original 100%.

  14. Soy or almond. They are not milk so drink away. You might as well drink soda with calcium and vitamin added. Milk is milk. Everything else is not.

  15. There is a rice/pea protein based milk named Ripple. It’s sold in Target for about $4. It is great in protein, and vit D. For those who can’t tolerate cow’s milk or Soy, I suggest checking Ripple out. Its expensive, but its a good alternative.

  16. I agree with the comments that many are told not to use soy. Calcium can be found in other foods as well. Leafy greens and nuts. For me, I only like coconut milk as an alternative to dairy for recipes. Unfortunately it doesn’t work as well for coffee.

  17. I drank cow’s milk until a health condition caused me to become lactose intolerant. I tried soy, rice, lactose free, and nut milks, but had issues with all of them. On advice from a friend I tried goat milk. The taste is different than cow’s milk but I like it. It’s great for people with lactose intolerance and comes in regular and 2 percent. I can use it for my cereal, drink it in a cup (sometimes with Oreo’s) and use it to cook with and have no issues at all. The only downside is that it is more expensive than cow’s milk (think of the difference between the size of a cow and a goat and you can understand why). The other thing I use are chewable lactase enzyme tablets so I can eat things like ice cream and still be symptom free.

About the Author

Julie Nakis
Julie Nakis

Julie Nakis, health enews contributor, is manager of public affairs at Advocate Children's Hospital. She earned her BA in communications from the University of Iowa – Go Hawkeyes! In her free time, she enjoys spending time with friends and family, exploring the city and cheering on the Chicago Cubs and Blackhawks.