There are so many so called milks out there that I start to wonder why are they all called milks? What makes a milk a milk? Because it is white? I am confused. Milk, perhaps, is called milk because it is defined as whatever makes sense in a bowl of cereal…? I don’t know. But I am going to help you understand the differences in milks/cereal liquid.
Cow’s milk comes from a cow. Did you know that all cows are female? This blew me away when I was reading a book about how to make ice cream with 1st graders. I stopped reading a second and stared at the page in wonderment. And then I was like “lol, right — cows have utters, boy cows do not.” But still, totally secretly like, amazed (sometimes dietitians have our moments). Anywho.
Cow’s milk is comprised of casein protein, vitamins A, D and B-12, riboflavin, potassium, and calcium. It comes in a variety of forms: Whole, low-fat, skim, etc. All types of cows milk contain the 9 essential nutrients found in whole milk but less fat and calories. The United States government sets standards for fluid milk that is made for and purchased by consumers. Lactose is the natural sugar found in cows milk. Casein protein is a great protein source, especially for athletes. As a slow-acting protein, this is helpful when consumed at bedtime to help with lean muscle growth/gains while resting.
Going organic? Organic milk is produced using only organic fertilizers and organic pesticides, and not permitting use of rBST. The supplement rBST is given to cows to produce more milk; however, 90% of this is destroyed during pasteurization so it is not harmful to the human body when consumed.
When I shop for cow’s milk, I typically just go for what is most humane and ethical to the animals. Roaming pastures, well-fed, happy cows. The thought of thousands of cows chained to be milked in facilities without socialization, fresh air, and human touch bothers me. I look into the dairy production facilities and farmers. But also, you will find many local small dairy farmers treat their cows well.
Lactose-intolerant individuals will do best on a lactose-free milk or an alternative source.
Almond milk is a different beast, but an alternative for those that are vegan or looking for a liquid that “looks” like milk. I don’t know how else to describe it. Almond milk has a nutty flavor, but it lacks the protein and nutrients cow’s milk offers. Almond milk is NOT like eating a handful of almonds; in fact, some manufacturers almond content is just 2% of the actual product. So while you think all that vitamin E you find in raw almonds makes its way into your glass of almond milk, it does not. You might find almond milk with good sources of vitamin D and calcium; however, it is only because it has been fortified (nutrients added to provide vitamins and minerals we need).
Lactose-intolerant folks will do well on this type of milk; however, for my athletes, I do not typically suggest this unless it has been fortified WITH protein.
Rice milk is an option for those with a nut allergy. Rice milk is derived from rice and water. You might know someone following a diet for PKU or renal disease that drinks rice milk (always ask your physician and registered dietitian upon consuming foods for medical nutrition therapy!) because of its nutrient profile. Rice milk is naturally high in carbohydrate and low in protein so it is often avoided for diabetics. This milk is fortified often with calcium and vitamin D, as it is not naturally found in rice.
A popular alternative to cow’s milk, soy milk is often consumed by vegans, vegetarians, or those avoiding dairy or lactose. Soy milk contains soy protein, which is a complete protein source (all the amino acids). Some athletes using soy protein isolate instead of whey depending on their dietary preferences post-workout is common, bc it is a fast-acting protein which is used when the body needs it after hard efforts to rebuild and recover. Soy itself as a whole is a legume, and can be a substitute for a protein source in someone’s diet. It is a good source of fiber, iron, zinc, calcium, and B-vitamins. Individuals seeking to lower their cholesterol may also consume soy products (milks, edamame, tofu, etc.).
Many of us hear of the bad side to soy that it may affect hormones, thyroid functions, and increased risk of certain cancers (and some research showing it helps decrease risk), but there is no concrete evidence. And in some of my reading and research, it is possible to be contributed to inflammation in athletic performance if consumed in excess amounts. However, when I stopped consuming it, I realized I was still achy and it is just because I am a stubborn runner that hates taking rest days. In this case, it is best to talk to your doctor and dietitian based on your own personal health profile.
Anyways. Soy milk. It is a good source of healthy fats such as heart healthy omega-3 versus fat found in cows milk (saturated fat). It is usually fortified with vitamin A, D, B-12 and calcium. It is a healthy alternative to cows milk and I like it — except it doesn’t taste good with my coffee so I am not always a fan.
Hemp milk is an alternative for vegans and vegetarians or those avoiding cows milk, soy, or yeast. You will not get high off hemp milk, so either this pleases or disappoints you. Hemp milk is most similar to cow’s milk when baking. As for its nutrient highlights, hemp milk contains omega 3 and omega 6, both essential fats needed from the diet for growth and development. It is a decent source of protein, and in some products you can find it further supplemented with protein or flaxseed. It is also fortified and a good source of vitamin D, calcium, riboflavin, magnesium, and vitamin B-12.
I have tried hemp milk with added protein and like it very much. The taste is not as nutty as almond or other nut milks.
As for my athletes, I am still weary on letting them consume this for drug testing purposes.
A more similar alternative to cow’s milk, goats milk may be easier tolerated for those with lactose intolerance because of the lack of lactalbumin. Goat’s milk is a good source of protein, vitamin A & D, calcium, and potassium. Goat’s milk is also a good source of casein protein (approximately 80% casein and 20% whey), which is discussed above as a slow-acting protein for athletes to utilize at rest. For goat and cow’s milk, the difference is not very significant in regards to the two; however, the amino acid content is perhaps better in the goats milk and the digestibility/tolerance is better.
Maybe you can decide by choosing which animal is cuter: goats or cows?
Also, there are other milks such as cashew and coconut milk. Coconut milk’s fat source is saturated fat and is often fortified to fit a profile similar to cows milk, but lacks protein. Coconut milk tastes great however, when making rice.
So is there a legit winner? No. But I just want you to understand that almond milk is not the same as cows milk and I don’t think we should be calling it almond milk. It should be called “white colored almondy-ish water”.