Animal milk vs plant milk, which is a healthier choice?

Various types of lactose-free milks in glasses
Image source - SBS

Animal milk vs plant milk, which is a healthier choice?


Established by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, World Milk Day is celebrated on the 1st of June every year to recognise the importance of milk as a global food.

On the occasion of its upcoming 19th anniversary, let’s evaluate the importance of milk.


There’s no longer just one kind of milk but lots of them. Each one is suits different needs and has its own specific taste and texture.

Typically, milk is the primary source of nutrition for infants before they are able to digest other types of food. After giving birth- all mothers produce milk for the initial development of their offspring. Although after the breastfeeding period is over, the kids are the shifted to other types of milk.

Growing awareness regarding the ill-effects and inadequacies of milk, increased lactose intolerance and a general trend towards compassion (love for animals), has caused a new industry to emerge – that is of plant-based milks and it has seen a fair share of growth in market.

Plant milks are becoming so popular that you can now find them in almost any supermarket – even unusual varieties like hazelnut, coconut and peanut. But what are their health benefits of the same? And also, how do they differ from animal milk? Lets look at both in detail.


Animal based milk

Image source – Smithsonian Magazine

The legacy of the traditional dairy industry however, still lives on – with many believing that calcium, protein and vitamin D are only available in animal milk and its products. Let’s see how much of that is true.

  • Cow’s milk contains 8 g of protein— more than a hard-boiled egg. It also has 300 mg of bone-building calcium and 400 mg of potassium.
  • Cow’s milk is rich in certain nutrients such as calcium, phosphorus, riboflavin and vitamin B12.  (Plant-based alternatives are often fortified with nutrients they do not naturally contain.)
  • Cow’s milk is a source of potassium, which can enhance vasodilation and reduce blood pressure.
  • Grass-fed cows tend to have a high content of omega-3 fats in their milk.

Omega-3 fatty acids are the “good” form of cholesterol in the body, which can actually help improve heart health and prevent the onset of cardiovascular conditions such as heart attacks or strokes.

Just one cup (244 grams) of whole cow’s milk contains:

  • Calories:146
  • Protein:8 grams
  • Fat:8 grams
  • Calcium:28% of the RDA
  • Vitamin D:24% of the RDA
  • Riboflavin (B2):26% of the RDA
  • Vitamin B12:18% of the RDA
  • Potassium:10% of the RDA
  • Phosphorus:22% of the RDA
  • Selenium:13% of the RDA


There are two main types of protein found in milk — casein and whey protein. These both are considered high-quality proteins.

Casein makes up the majority of the protein found in cow’s milk, comprising 70–80% of the total protein content. (Whey accounts for around 20%)

Whey contains the branched-chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine, all of which are linked to health benefits.

Branched-chain amino acids are said to be particularly helpful in building muscle, preventing muscle loss and providing fuel during exercise


Plants based milk


Some people avoid cow’s milk because of expected lactose intolerance or protein allergies or just dislike of the taste.

Although, vitamin B12 might be absent from home-made plant milk and is a cause of concern for many who are considering a shift to plant-based alternatives, most packaged soy milk is fortified with vitamin B12.

Homemade plant milk is said to be nutritious, fresh and preservative free.

A plant-based diet is also credited with reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, PCOS, hypothyroid, osteoporosis, diabetes, high cholesterol and cancer.


Let’s have a look at the pros and cons of five most chosen plant-based milks.

Almond Milk: 

Image source – UCSF Sustainability

Almond milk is obtained from almond nuts. This plant-based milk has a creamy texture and nutty flavor. It also has zero lactose and cholesterol present in it. There are unsweetened almond milk varieties available in the market, which is a healthy option for those who prefer it sugar-free. Due to its nutritional content, it is the best alternative for those who have an intolerance to dairy or especially to soy products. Almond milk prepared from almonds is low in fat but high in energy, proteins, fiber and lipids.

Almonds contain minerals like iron, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium and zinc. The other nutrients present in this milk which are essential for a healthy body include vitamins – C, E, B6, Niacin, thiamine, riboflavin and folate.


Con: Almond milk contains very little protein, coming in at just 1 gram per serving.


Rice Milk: 

Image source – One Green Planet

Rice milk is a dairy-free type of milk that is prepared with boiled rice, and brown rice starch and syrup. This popular milk alternative has a wide range of impressive nutrients, including roughly 140 calories per cup, and only about 3 grams of fat which is much less than 10 grams of fat in a cup of whole cow’s milk. There is no cholesterol in this milk variant which makes it much better for heart health. Majority of rice milk brands are fortified with other minerals. Cow’s milk does provide a better range of minerals but rice milk often has added levels of Calcium, Iron, Vitamin A, B and D to make it roughly equivalent to cow’s milk. The top health benefits of rice milk include strengthening the bones, aiding skin health, increasing energy metabolism and optimizing digestion.


Con: Rice milk contains just 1 gram of protein per serving and contains more sugar than cow’s milk.


Soy Milk: 

Image source –

Soymilk is a fat-free milk substitute extracted from the soybean, which is a legume (also known as a member of the pea family). Soymilk can help improve cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of many postmenopausal problems. Also, the presence of high-quality protein and vitamins in soymilk makes it a beneficial part of a plant-based or a vegan diet. Unfortified soymilk, either original or vanilla, is a good source of energy, protein, dietary fiber, and fat. It contains minerals, including iron, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium and zinc. Various vitamins that are also found in soy milk are folate, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, B6, B12, D, E and K. All of these nutrients help in maintaining a good health.


Con: Soy milk has a “beany” flavor that may be a turn off to some people. Also, soy is one of the most common food allergens, especially in kids



Image source –

Coconut milk comes from the fruit’s white flesh. You may hear mixed messages about coconut milk because of its high saturated fat content. However, the type of saturated fat in coconut milk is probably more neutral than harmful. In case, you are avoiding other prime sources of saturated fat (such as whole milk, cream, cheeses, and fatty cuts of red meat), and are also eating lots of produce then adding coconut milk to coffee and other foods is probably fine. Coconut milk (per cup) contains 45 calories, 4.5g fat, og protein, 1g carbohydrate, <1g sugar and og fiber.


Con: Coconut milk contains high levels of calories and fats. Consuming too much of the milk and eating a carbohydrate-rich diet can result in weight gain.



Image source – Z Living

Oat milk is made by soaking and blending steel-cut or rolled oats with water and then straining them through cheesecloth to separate the milk from the oats. Oat milk is unique as it is free of many of the allergens found in other types of milk. It also contains beta-glucans which is a soluble fiber that may provide heart health benefits Just like rice milk, oat milk is generally well tolerated, making it more suitable for people with food allergies and intolerances. Unlike other non-dairy contenders, oat milk boasts about soluble fiber. It is the kind that helps lower cholesterol. (You still get more of these beta glucans in a cup of oats than you do in oat milk.) One cup of oat milk may contain 120 calories, 5g fat, 2g protien, 6g carbohydrate, 5g sugar and 2g fiber.


Con: Oat milk may not be your best option if the rest of your diet is already filling up your recommended intake of carbs. Also, Gluten-contaminated oat milk may cause digestive problems for people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.


Globally, plant milk sales grew steadily by 61% over the period 2012 to 2018.Among plant milks, almond (64% market share), soy (13% market share) and coconut (12% market share) were the leaders in the category.

The number one thing to check when purchasing plant milk is that it is unsweetened. Most of the vanilla or chocolate flavored varieties, and even some plain varieties, have added sugar. Be sure to read the labels, because consuming liquid calories that includes added sugar is only a little better than drinking soda.

And with all the plant-based milks on the market, how do you choose the best one?

They found that soy milk came out on top. That’s because soy milk packs in the most protein of the non-dairy bunch, coming in at 8 grams (roughly the same as cow’s milk) for only 95 calories on average. Also, soy milk contains isoflavones, a plant compound that may fight the growth of cancer cells. None of the plant-based options match cow’s milk entirely but it depends on your preference and what suits your and your kid’s body the most.

 Also read : Lactose intolerance in babies

Benefits of milk – Hot or cold

Comments are closed.