Twenty years ago, you never would have guessed that milk would be a polarizing issue, but, here we are. The moo milk and the no moo fans are just as vehement that theirs is the right side of the issue and it can lead to some major confusion about which is actually healthier. If you’re in that boat, I’m here to break it down for you.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’m an almond milk drinker but not because I think it’s healthier than dairy milk or that dairy milk is bad for you. I just have never liked the taste of cow’s milk – in fact, getting me to drink my milk as a kid was a losing battle for my parents at 9/10 family dinners. Cheese, however, is a totally different story.
So let’s talk about the pros and cons of each type of milk.
If you are lactose intolerant or sensitive to lactose, then nut milks are a great substitute for the moo. However, they are not a bastion of health as some would lead you to believe. Most store-bought nut milks contain both natural and chemical emulsifiers and there are concerns that those emulsifiers may harm our gut health and contribute to obesity. In terms of nutrition, you’re really not getting much from nut milks. They are not a significant source of protein or fat; however, they do contain more calcium than cow’s milk. You may also find nut milks fortified with vitamins and minerals (such as Silk), but on their own, nut milks do not contain as much Vitamin A and Iron as dairy milks do. If you’re watching your calorie count, nut milks may be a good option for you since they are less calorie-dense than cow’s milk. Obviously, however, if you have a nut allergy you should avoid nut milks.
Unlike nut milks, soy milk is a significant source of protein with just about the same as dairy milk. However, unlike moo milk and nut milks, soy milk is a good source of folate. One of my primary concerns with soy milk is the fact that most of the soy in the US is genetically modified, so if you are buying soy milk or any soy products, make sure that they are non-GMO certified or organic.
The greatest pitfall that nut and soy milks have is that they come in a number of sweetened flavors and people often buy these thinking they are doing something healthy for themselves. Just one serving of a sweetened vanilla almond milk contains 16 grams of sugar! If you are going to buy non-dairy milks, it is important to make sure that you are buying the plain, unsweetened variety. If it doesn’t say “unsweetened” on the label, then it’s sweetened and, if you’re not sure, check the ingredients list. (Note: sugar will appear in the nutrition facts in dairy milk, but that is the naturally-occurring lactose, not added sugar. You can confirm this by reading the ingredients).
Unless you are lactose intolerant, cow’s milk is a solid option with some caveats. It is important to buy organic milk to avoid ingesting hormones or antibiotics passed on from treated cows. It is also important to select a low or reduced fat variety, particularly for adults, because it is high in saturated fats. Cow’s milk is a good source of calcium (though not the best) and it is high in protein. It also contains Iron and Vitamin A. So cow’s milk is not the unhealthy sludge it’s often made out to be (and to those who say it’s not natural to drink milk because no other animals drink another animal’s milk, I say imagine what society would be like if we based everything on what other animals do!)
So that’s the scoop on milk. As a heath coach, I can say there are pros and cons to each and it really depends on what works for you. Quite frankly, it’s time we stop policing what other people choose to consume so don’t be bullied into a milk you don’t want.