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Cow's milk versus non-dairy milk: Which option is healthiest?

Posted January 16, 2020 8:01 a.m. EST
Updated January 16, 2020 7:27 p.m. EST

According to a Consumer Reports survey, more than half of people who buy plant-based milks think these options are healthier than cow’s milk. The trend reaches beyond the lactose-intolerant and vegan crowd. In fact, surveys show the sales of non-dairy milk are up 61% in the past few years.

Non-dairy milk options like almond, soy, coconut and oat milk do offer certain benefits; however, according to Consumer Reports Nutritionist Ellen Klosz, “Cow’s milk is rich in protein, and supplies much of the calcium in most people’s diets. When you replace it with plant milk, you may actually be missing out.”

Weighing the benefits and disadvantages of each type of milk

According to the nutritional values on Healthline, cow's milk typically offers protein, calcium, vitamin B12, riboflavin, magnesium and phosphorus.

For people considering switching to plant-based milk, Klosz advised starting with soy milk, which she said is nutritionally closest to cow's milk.

"Soy milk has about the same amount of protein, or more. And if it is fortified it can have similar vitamin and mineral content. But watch out for added sugars," she said,

Almond milk is the most popular plant milk according to sureys. The top-rated brands had slight almond flavor and little to no chalkiness. However, CR said almond milk has lower quality and lower amounts of protein.

The top oat milk has a slightly sweet oat taste and slightly less protein than soy or cow’s milk. While it does have some fiber, it doesn't add much toward your daily requirement.

Coconut milk generally has mild coconut flavor, offering little to no protein and higher amounts of saturated fat.

Another consideration: Buying organic plant-based milk also helps reduce the environmental impact from pesticide use.

CR suggests taking a close look at the labels. A lot of plant milks contain added sugar and stabilizers, so opt for one with the best nutritional profile and the fewest additives.

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