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You may want to switch up your morning coffee order.

| By Chloe Mcleod | Journal

What Are the Healthiest Milks to Drink? A Dietitian Weighs In

You may want to switch up your morning coffee order.

Once upon a time choosing milk was as simple as full cream or low fat. Now, we’re really spoilt for choice when it comes to milk options. This is great for those who require or prefer a milk alternative but can also be confusing as to which to buy.

From cow's milk to oat milk, below I break down the health benefits and less ideal aspects of different kinds of milk available in Australia so you can make a more informed choice when ordering your next coffee!

Cow’s milk

Cow’s milk is definitely the top pick nutritionally when it comes to milk in its natural form. It’s a good source of protein, calcium and vitamin B12. The only sugar in cow’s milk is naturally occurring from lactose. For those with high cholesterol or who are conscious of their calorie budget, either a low fat or skim milk is a great alternative. Contrary to myths around, they don’t contain more sugar – they’re virtually equivalent in their nutrient composition other than being lower in total fat and saturated fat.

Lactose-free milk

If lactose doesn’t agree with you, then lactose-free milk is the best alternative to opt for. It has the exact same nutrient profile as regular cow’s milk, they simply just add the lactase enzyme which helps break down the lactose (does the hard work for you!). It tastes a tad sweeter than cow’s milk as the lactose has been broken down, but it isn’t actually higher in sugar.

Soy milk

When it comes to plant-based milks, soy is the closest in nutrient profile to cow’s milk thanks to its high protein content. Choose a variety that is fortified with calcium (ideally 300mg per 250ml serve) and ideally vitamin B12. It’s also low in saturated fat and has a bit of fibre for your gut bugs. Most soy milks will contain a bit of added sugar, so opt for a lower-sugar variety. Be cautious of barista-style soy milks as these often aren’t fortified with calcium/B12 and often have a higher amount of added sugar.

Oat milk

Oat milk is delicious, there is no denying this. Nutritionally speaking it isn’t the strongest of plant milks. It’s much lower in protein than a soy or cows milk and higher in carbohydrates. Many varieties are high in added sugar (making them taste delicious), especially barista varieties. It is low in saturated fat and also contains a bit of fibre. There are some quite good unsweetened and fortified oats milks, however, which are better choices. Like all plant milks, aim for one with 300mg calcium per 250ml serve.

Almond milk

Similar to oat milk, almond milks vary in their nutrient profile. As a whole, they’re low in protein and don’t naturally contain calcium/B12 like all plant milks. Many varieties can be high in sugar, especially barista style. Opt for an unsweetened, fortified almond milk if this is your preferred milk of choice.

Rice milk

This one you won’t see at your local café, but you will find in the supermarket. Rice milk isn’t great nutritionally as it’s low in protein and typically much higher in sugar than other plant milks (even unsweetened varieties). This gives it a very sweet flavour, which not everyone likes. It’s also high in carbohydrates, so something to be mindful of if you need to be carbohydrate-conscious such as those with diabetes. It can be a needed choice for those with various allergies and intolerances, so if that’s you, choose one that is unsweetened and fortified! 

The takeaway

The choice of the best milk to drink depends on individual preferences, but from a nutritional standpoint, cow's milk is the best option if you can tolerate it. If you prefer a plant-based option, soy milk has plenty of protein and can be a source of calcium and B12.

Chloe is an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD), Advanced Sports Dietitian and founder of Verde Nutrition Co. You can follow her on Instagram here and at Verde Nutrition Co here.

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