If you’re wondering what the healthiest or best types of milk to drink are, it’s probably because of the sheer volume available when it comes to the different types of milk out there. From dairy milk, soy milk and oat milk to various nut milks, plant-based milks and hemp milk, there is a lot to choose from when deciphering the best types of milk to drink.
In the past, before all of these various non-dairy milks became popular, when asked what type of milk they preferred, most people would respond with “skimmed milk”, “whole milk”, or “half and half”. Now, the types of milk available are enough to leave grocery store aisles overflowing, and coffee shops started offering almond milk, oat milk or soy milk in your morning latte instead of cow’s milk.
As the world evolves, and people learn more about concepts such as lactose intolerance and dairy allergies, we’re encountering a wider variety of milk alternatives to replace the standard cow’s milk. The question most people are left asking is: what are the best types of milk to drink, and what is the healthiest option for me?
In this article, we’ll go over the many different types of milk, and help you decide which are the best types of milk to drink that suit you best.
The Best Types of Milk to Drink Depends on Your Genetics, Diet Plan and Food Sensitivities
The best types of milk to drink depend on the diet you’re following, your genetics and your food sensitivities.
For example, if you’re on a low-carb diet such as the Keto diet, you’ll need to drink the types of milk that are low-carb such as macadamia nut milk and coconut milk.
If you have a genetic food intolerance such as a lactose intolerance, you’ll need a dairy-free nut milk or soy milk as part of your lactose intolerance diet. If it’s in your DNA to be sensitive to fats, you’ll need a low-fat milk.
If you’re looking for a change in your diet, it’s worth exploring what kind of benefits each milk type has to offer, and how different types of milk can impact your health.
Cow’s Milk: Healthy or Unhealthy?
Cow’s milk is probably the most common option as a milk choice in most parts of the world, even today. While many milk alternatives are advertised as a ‘healthier’ non-dairy option, cow’s milk has a lot of benefits to offer on its own.
Firstly, cow’s milk is a great source of protein and calcium.
Cow’s milk is also naturally rich in B vitamins and minerals. There are even variations of cow’s milk out there which come fortified with vitamins A and D. An 8-ounce serving of whole cow’s milk offers:
- Protein: 8g
- Carbs: 12g
- Fat: 8g
- Calories: 149
- Calcium: 28% of DV
Notably, some forms of cow’s milk are healthier than others. Organic cow’s milk has higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids and more antioxidants than non-organic variations. Unfortunately, the protein in cow’s milk is also a common allergen. It’s estimated that approximately 65% of the population struggles with digesting lactose to some degree.
Notably, there are specialist types of cow’s milk, such as A2 milk, which can help to address this problem. A2 milk contains only A2 beta-casein, which doesn’t form the BCM-7 peptide in regular cow’s milk linked to digestive discomfort. Nutritionally, it’s similar to regular cow’s milk, but it might be easier to digest than a traditional option.
Grassmilk Cow’s Milk (Cows are Fed 100% Organic Grass and Forage-Based Diet)
Brad Heins, an organic dairy scientist, explains the benefits of “Grassmilk” cow’s milk compared to other types of cow’s milk.
Heins says, “Grassmilk comes from cows fed a nearly 100 percent forage-based diet. During the grazing season dairy cows consume nearly all their dry matter from pasture. The cows may consume certain mineral and energy supplements, such as molasses, at low levels.
‘Grassmilk’ cows receive an essentially 100 percent organic grass and legume forage-based diet, via pasture and stored feeds like hay and silage.
‘Organic’ cows receive, on average, about 80 percent of their daily dry matter intake from forage-based feeds and 20 percent from grain and concentrates.
‘Conventional’ cows are fed rations in which forage-based feeds account for an estimated 53 percent of daily dry matter intake, with the other 47 percent coming from grains and concentrates. Conventional management accounts for over 90 percent of the milk cows on U.S. farms.”
Organic dairy scientist Brad Heins also explains that if you switch from regular cow’s milk to grass-fed cow’s milk (grassmilk) you are likely to notice, “Shifting from conventional to grassmilk dairy products may have a positive impact on total omega-3 and CLA intake. Most of the omega-6 in the American diet today comes from fried foods, vegetable oils and processed foods, with little coming from dairy. For people striving to lower their risk of cardiovascular and other metabolic diseases, for pregnant women, and for infants and children, the greater omega-3 intake from grassmilk may help improve human health.”
What Are the Best Types of Milk That Are Non-Dairy?
Considering the huge number of different non-dairy milk options on the market today, choosing the healthiest lactose-free milk product isn’t always easy.
When it comes to choosing the best types of milk that are lactose-free, it’s not just the fat, sugar or calorie content you need to consider, but also the carbs, minerals, and other ingredients which combine to create a nutritional milk alternative.
Below are some of the best types of milk to drink if you’re lactose intolerant:
Hemp Milk (Carb-Free and High Protein)
Though not the most popular alternative milk drink on the market, hemp milk is brimming with potential health benefits. This non-dairy milk is made from soaked hemp milk and doesn’t contain any of the psychoactive components of the cannabis plant. The seeds are rich in protein, as well as omega 3 and omega 6 unsaturated fats.
Hemp milk contains more protein than other types of milk, and no carbs.
Hemp milk is also an excellent source of iron, which can help with energy, and fiber, which is fantastic for boosting digestion. A single 8-ounce serving of hemp milk contains:
- Calories: 60
- Carbs: 0g
- Protein: 3g
- Fat: 5g
- Phosphorous: 25% of DV
- Calcium: 20% of DV
- Magnesium: 15% of DV
Hemp milk doesn’t typically have the B12 and Vitamin D benefits of fortified cow’s milk, and it doesn’t contain as much calcium. However, it can be an excellent milk alternative for those with a sensitivity to lactose, or those on a low-carb diet.
Be wary of brands who add extra sugar or sweeteners to their hemp milk, as this will increase the carb and calorie content. Always read the nutritional label.
Walnut Milk (High Fat but Rich in Omega 3 Fatty Acids)
Walnut milk is a more rare nut milk that is rich in omega-3s and has a nice walnut flavor. Walnuts are known as a superfood that is great for brain health, and walnut milk is high in essential fatty acids and antioxidants that improve brain health and could reduce your risk of heart disease.
A glass of Elmhurst Unsweetened Walnut Milk contains:
- Calories: 120
- Protein: 3g
- Carbs: 1g
- Fat: 11g
- 1400 mg ALA Omega 3 per serving
Almond Milk (Low Calorie and Tasty)
Almond milk has a delicious nutty flavor, and as long as you don’t buy a sweetened version of almond milk, it’s very low calorie and healthy. Almond milk is made by soaking almonds in water and blending them, before straining away the solids. It’s great if you can’t tolerate dairy milk, but not so great if you have a tree nut allergy.
Unsweetened almond milk is lower in carbs and calories than cow’s milk, but many brands of almond milk do add extra sugar, which is why you have to read the nutritional label. It’s best to stay away from flavored options such as vanilla or chocolate almond milk. Almond milk is also high in vitamin E, but it’s low in protein and other nutrients. One 8-ounce glass can contain, on average:
- Calories: 40
- Protein: 1g
- Carbs: 2g
- Fat: 3g
- Vitamin E: 50% DV
Many brands do fortify almond milk with extra nutrients including vitamin D and calcium to boost the nutritional benefits. However, some variations also include additives such as carrageenan, which has been linked to inflammation by some studies.
Macadamia Nut Milk (Low Carb and Good Source of Magnesium)
One of the most interesting “nut milks” on the market today, Macadamia nut milk is brimming with healthy fats and magnesium.
Macadamia nut milk is one of the best types of milk to drink if you’re on the Keto diet. Macadamia nut milk is higher in healthy fat and lower in carbs than almond milk, which could make it excellent if you’re following the keto diet.
Similar to almond milk, macadamia nut milk can be fortified with extra nutrients including calcium and vitamin D, making it closer in nutritional value to cow’s milk. However, it’s not the best source of protein if you’re looking to exchange cow’s milk entirely.
An 8 ounce glass of Macadamia nut milk varies on the brand, but contains approximately:
- Calories: 50
- Fat: 5g
- Sodium: 4g
- Carbs: 1g
- Protein: 1g
- Calcium: 35% of DV
Macadamia nut milk is ideal if you’re looking for an alternative to cow’s milk, as it offers a range of nutritional benefits, without the dairy. It’s also something you can easily make at home. Some studies also suggest the fat from tree nuts including macadamias can be effective at reducing total cholesterol and increasing levels of HDL (good) cholesterol.
Coconut Milk (Low Carb and Low Protein)
One of the most natural milk options on our list, coconut milk is made from the flesh of a coconut. It has a fantastic flavor, and it’s a great non-dairy alternative if you have a tree nut allergy. Many forms of coconut milk are blended with water to give it a consistency similar to cow’s milk.
Don’t buy the coconut cream milk meant for cooking, as that is high in calories. Look for drinkable coconut milk in the grocery store, such as the Silk brand of coconut milk.
One downside of coconut milk is it doesn’t have nearly as much protein as cow’s milk, but you can find certain brands of this product fortified with additional nutrients. Notably, canned coconut milk is intended for culinary purposes, and is higher in fat, with a much more distinctive flavor.
An 8-ounce glass of unsweetened coconut milk (for example, the Silk coconut milk) contains:
- Calories: 80
- Protein: 0g
- Fat: 5g
- Carbs: 7g
- Vitamin B12: 62% DV
Though higher in fat than other plant milks, coconut milk has some distinctive benefits you won’t get elsewhere. The substance comes with MCTS (Medium-chain triglycerides) often linked to heart benefits such as higher HDL cholesterol.
Oat Milk (High in Carbs, High Calories)
Oat milk is tasty, but you may not want to drink a milk type that’s so high in carbs. Oat milk is one of the more recent additions to the dairy aisle in many parts of the world, and it’s gaining a lot of popularity in coffee shops, too, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
Oat milk is naturally sweet because of the sugars found in oats, and it’s also high in carbs, so it might not be ideal if you’re trying to lose weight. Most people don’t consider oat milk to be one of the healthiest milk types.
One benefit of oat milk is it contains soluble fiber, which makes the milk creamer, and helps you to feel fuller for longer. What’s more, oat milk can help with stabilizing blood sugar levels, and reducing cholesterol. One study found oat milk reduced LDL cholesterol more than a control beverage.
Nutritional values vary depending on the brand you choose, but an 8-ounce glass can contain:
- Calories: 90
- Protein: 2g
- Fat: 2g
- Carbs: 19g
- Vitamin B12: 50% of DV
- Fiber: 2g
Oat milk is higher in carbs and calories than other non-dairy milks, but that doesn’t mean you have to avoid it entirely on a diet. The soluble fiber could help to stop you from snacking. Just make sure you avoid any sweetened or flavored variations of oat milk.
Soy Milk (High Protein, High Carb)
From a nutritional perspective, soy milk is probably the closest you can get to cow’s milk. Soybeans are an excellent source of protein, and many of these beverages are fortified with extra nutritional benefits. Soy is a great choice for people who want to avoid dairy but haven’t got used to branching away from cow’s milk yet.
Soy milk is high in nutrients such as calcium, potassium, and vitamin B12. In some cases, it can have lower carb levels than cow’s milk too. Just make sure you avoid sweetened and flavored versions, as they’re often much higher in sugar and carbs.
A single 8-ounce glass of unsweetened soy milk typically contains:
- Calories: 100
- Protein: 6g
- Carbs: 12g
- Fat: 4g
- Vitamin B112: 34% of DV
- Calcium: 30% DV
Aside from giving you an alternative to cow’s milk, soy milk may also have some unique benefits. Certain studies indicate soy can help improve brain and heart health. While there has been some controversy around the growth methods used for soybeans and their links to cancer, research is ongoing.
While some researchers say soy’s ability to mimic estrogen in the body increases breast cancer risk, others indicate that soy might reduce your cancer risk overall. Stick to organic non-GMO soy milk for the best results.
Cashew Milk (Low Carb, Low Calorie, and Heart-Healthy)
Creamy and rich, cashew milk is loaded with vitamins, healthy fats, and minerals, ideal for those in search of a dairy alternative. Available in sweetened and unsweetened varieties, cashew milk is a good choice for anyone turning to nuts to exchange their milk choices.
Cashew milk contains healthy fats, proteins, and comes with fatty acids which can be beneficial for improving heart and brain health. While the exact nutritional values of your cashew milk will depend on the brand you choose, one 8 ounce glass will typically contain:
- Calories: 25
- Carbs: 1g
- Protein: Under 1g
- Fat: 2g
- Calcium: 45% of DV
- Vitamin D: 25% DV
Cashews have been linked to lower risks of heart disease, thanks to their rich content of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. There are also researchers who believe the compounds lutein and zeaxanthin in cashews can help with improving eye health.
Cashew milk can assist with blood sugar control, and it’s relatively good for the skin too, thanks to its high copper content. However, similar to most milks, it’s best to choose the unsweetened version if you want to keep your calorie intake low. If you do, cashew milk is one of the best types of milk to drink, and one of the healthiest.
Which Are the Best Types of Milk to Drink For You?
The healthiest types of milks overall are unsweetened cashew milk, grass-fed cow’s milk (‘grassmilk), unsweetened almond milk, and macadamia nut milk. If you’re not too concerned with calorie counting or weight loss, walnut milk is high in calories but also high in brain-boosting fatty acids.
Cow’s milk still has a host of fantastic benefits to offer those who aren’t intolerant to lactose. There’s plenty of protein and calcium in a glass of cow’s milk, which can help to keep your bones and body healthy. Grassmilk is one of the healthiest types of cow’s milk.
After taking your CircleDNA test, if you discover you might have a lactose intolerance, you now know all about the non-dairy milk alternatives and their own unique health benefits. A good option could even be to mix up the different milks you try, so you can get the advantages of all of them.
Just remember to check the nutritional label of your non-dairy milk before you buy it. Some brands might add to the carb, sugar, or calorie content. It’s also worth thinking about your protein intake, as many cow’s milk alternatives don’t offer the same amount of protein, but soy milk and hemp milk are examples of higher protein non-dairy milks.
The best types of milk that suit your preferences best might change. At a certain time in your life, you might be following low-carb diets that have you more interested in low-carb milks such as hemp milk or macadamia nut milk. It’s okay to switch up the type of milk you drink based on your current health goals.