Cow, Soy or Almond: Which ‘Milk’ Is Best for You?

by | Feb 5, 2018 | Health

Almond milk, soy milk, rice milk and coconut milk may all offer lactose-free alternatives to cow’s milk, but new research suggests that the dairy version remains the most nutritious option.

The finding stems from a Canadian analysis that assessed the nutritional value of a single serving of the four most popular plant-based milks relative to cow’s milk.

“We thought that a review was much overdue in understanding the nutritional information of various plant-based milks,” explained study author Sai Kranthi Kumar Vanga.

And ultimately, “we were surprised that many of these milks do not have the nutritional density of cow’s milk, both in terms of micro and macro nutrients.

“Nutritionally speaking, cow’s milk is still the go-to beverage that has a balanced profile,” said Vanga, a Ph.D. candidate in the department of bioresource engineering with the faculty of agriculture and environmental sciences at McGill University in Quebec.

The new study was sponsored by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and received no dairy industry funding.

Cow’s milk is packed with protein and other key nutrients, including fat and carbohydrates. It also contains some antimicrobial properties, and has been shown to help infants fight off fever and respiratory infections, the researchers said.

But they acknowledge that cow’s milk does raise health concerns. It can carry harmful pathogens, including salmonella and E. coli, and many infants and children are allergic to it, though some outgrow their allergy.

And many adults are lactose-intolerant, meaning they lack enough of a digestive tract enzyme critical to processing lactose-laden foods such as cow’s milk. This is more common among blacks, Asians and Native Americans.

Add to the list a drive to lower cholesterol intake and a growing interest in vegan diets, and many consumers have turned to plant-based milks as an alternative.

To compare the nutritional pros and cons, the researchers reviewed several dozen studies, collected nutritional data from a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) database and analyzed the nutritional labeling of commercially available unsweetened plant-based “milk” products.