Which Type of Milk is Best For You?

From dairy to plant-based options, we took all the guesswork out.

By: Bianca Peyvan, MS, RDN

If you search Google for “dairy alternatives, you will find more than 53 million articles and recommendations. That alone is enough to make your head spin. Instead of trying to dig into that mess, we simplified what you need to know to help you figure out the best milk for you.

With increased awareness of dietary sensitivities, regular cow’s milk has been targeted as a product to avoid. Although cow’s milk is one of the most nutritious foods, due to lactose intolerance or milk protein allergy, many people have a hard time digesting dairy or need to completely eliminate it from their diet. As a result, there has been an influx of “mylk” alternatives. Some have been around longer than others (soy, rice, hemp), while some new options have just hit the aisles (flax, black sesame, pistachio). While taste and nutritional value vary for each, here are various types of milk or mylk alternatives to choose from.      

The Most Popular Kinds of Milk 

Cow Milk

Cow’s milk is the most commonly consumed milk and a good source of high-quality protein. It’s naturally rich in calcium, B vitamins, and phosphorus. It’s also often fortified with vitamins A and D, making it a very nutritious food for both children and adults. Whole milk has the highest calories and fat compared to low-fat and nonfat options. Organic and rBST-free milk are the safest options as they are free from hormones that boost milk production. 

Almond Milk 

Almond milk is one of the most readily available and popular non-dairy milk options, if not the most popular. This is due to its refreshing and mild taste. But not all almond milks are created equal. Many are quite thin, making them a better option for cereals, oatmeal, or baking. Additionally, almond milk can come with a list of other ingredients such as inflammatory oils like rapeseed or canola. 

Homemade almond milk is simply the best. You can control the ingredients and make it as thick or as thin as you like. And making your own almond milk is rather easy. It involves soaking almonds in water, blending them with four parts water, and straining out the solids. Some like to add dates, vanilla extract, and cinnamon for added sweetness and flavor. Unsweetened almond milk, however, is very low in calories and carbohydrates as compared to cow’s milk. 

Soy Milk 

Soy milk has the highest protein content of any non-dairy beverages on the market. That’s because soybeans include nine of the essential amino acids needed to make it “complete.” Soymilk is also fortified to make it more nutritionally equivalent to cow milk. Keep in mind that a vast majority of soybeans are genetically modified. Another concern with drinking soy milk is its estrogen-mimicking effects and its risk for hormone-related conditions. However, many cultures who historically consume a lot of soy-based products have demonstrated its health benefits, so the debate still continues.

Whenever possible, opt for organic or look for non-genetically modified organism (non-GMO) soy milk.

Oat Milk 

The hottest plant-based milk right now is oat milk. Originally created and sold in Sweden, oat milk is unique in that it’s made from a grain. This means that it has a higher carbohydrate content than other alternatives as well as some fiber, which gives it a creamier texture. 

When it comes to oat milk, pay extra close attention to the ingredient list as nutrition values can vary. Look out for oils, thickeners, and gums that can be hard on the digestive tract for those who are sensitive. Oat milk is not as easy to replicate at home. However, the process is the same as blending one part oatmeal to four parts of water and straining the remains. Oat milk works best for baking and lattes as it froths so well.

RELATED: We Tried 5 Different Ways to Drink Oat Milk & One Was Our Favorite

Coconut Milk 

Coconut milk is creamy and delicious, especially in a matcha latte, but that can vary between canned vs. carton versions. Canned coconut milk is richer and has a higher fat content. Carton versions are diluted with more water and provide fewer calories. 

Some quick hacks to make your own coconut milk include adding water to a can of coconut milk or cream to reach the desired consistency. A lighter version would involve combining water and coconut flakes in a high-speed blender and straining out the remains. Either way, it’s very easy to make and works well in smoothies, cereal, and drinks.

Hemp Milk 

Hemp milk is an oldie but a goodie. Hemp seeds contain healthy fats and protein and virtually no carbohydrates unless sweetened with sugar. Hemp milk is the easiest to make at home. Simply soak and blend seeds in a high-speed blender with water. No need to strain out any remains as soaked hemp seeds blend very well. Hemp milk can be used in baking, cereals, and beverages.

Other Mylks

Just when you thought there couldn’t be another “mykl” on the market, voila! The more well-known new “mylks” on the street include cashew and macadamia, while lesser-known mylks are made from flaxseed, black sesame, and pistachio. 

Like other plant-based mylks declaring their presence in the grocery store, they can be a great alternative with varying benefits. Seed mylks like black sesame and flax have more fiber and healthy fats, without nut allergens. Seed mylks are not as easily replicated at home, but all nut-based mylks can be easily made by simply blending one tablespoon of nut butter to one cup of water. Besides this being a healthier option than store-bought mylks, this can also be a great way to reduce waste and plastics.

Which Type of Milk is Best?

When it comes to milk, there is no best choice. It is based on your dietary needs and personal taste and preference. Choose grass-fed milk that’s organic or rBST-free, especially if you drink it regularly. When choosing a plant-based alternative mylk, choose one with the least amount of ingredients, such as almonds, water, and sea salt, versus added sugars, gums, and preservatives. And don’t be afraid to invest in a nut milk bag and make your own versions at home. You will be impressed with the quality and taste as most store-bought mylks are watered down.