The Skinny on Cow's Milk & Alternatives - Dietetic Directions - Dietitian and Nutritionist in Kitchener/Waterloo
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The Skinny on Cow’s Milk & Alternatives

Cow's Milk Alternatives

The Skinny on Cow’s Milk & Alternatives

What is better: cow milk, soy milk, almond milk, rice milk or coconut milk?  Are they nutritionally equivalent – meaning they have the same amounts of calcium, fat and protein?   If you have asked yourself these questions you have come to the right spot!

Cows grazing

Which is nutritionally better: cow, soy, almond, rice or coconut milk? Click To Tweet

First, before doing a nutritional comparison, it is important to mention that people choose dairy alternatives for diverse reasons.   If you are a vegetarian or a vegan you might choose a milk alternative, like soy or almond milk, because they are plant-based.   Additionally, if you are lactose intolerant you might choose an alternative beverage (soy milk, almond milk) that does not contain lactose.

Note: If you are lactose intolerant a small amount of lactose in cow’s milk (1/2 cup to 1 cup serving) is generally tolerated without adverse symptoms.  Cow’s milk is also available in lactose-free varieties.

Here is the breakdown:


 Type of Milk or Milk Alternative (250mL) Calories (kcal)   Protein (grams)  Fat (grams)  Calcium (mg) Lactose? 
 Cow’s Milk (whole 3.3%) 155 8  8  290  Yes
 Cow’s Milk (2%)  129  9  5  302  Yes
 Cow’s Milk (1%) 108  9  3  307  Yes
 Cow’s Milk (0% or skim)  88  9  Trace  324  Yes
 Soy Milk 110  7  4  316  No
Almond Milk
40  1  3.5  300  No
 Rice Milk  127  Trace  2  219  No
 Coconut  522  5.5  57  50  No

soy milk

Bottom Line:

Soy beverage is the most common cow’s milk alternative and according to Canada’s Food Guide, it is ‘nutritionally comparable’ to cow’s milk.
o The fat and protein content is similar to cow’s milk
o Rice and almond beverages are lower in both protein and fat

• Only animal milks have naturally occurring calcium. Cow’s milk and goat’s milk are both naturally rich in calcium. Look for milk alternatives that are fortified with about 30% DV (daily value) calcium.

• Coconut milk is not fortified with calcium and is very high in fat

• Plant based milk alternatives do not contain the amount of vitamins and minerals that occur naturally in cow’s milk (magnesium, zinc, vitamin A, riboflavin, vitamin B6 and iodine)

• Soy, rice and other vegetarian beverages are not appropriate alternatives to breast milk, infant formula or whole milk during a baby’s first two years

• Children should be switched to a low-fat milk (1%) after 2 years of age

Plant-based milk does not contain same amount of nutrients that cow's milk does! Click To Tweet

Enjoy milk and milk alternatives as part of healthy diet!