A while back, milk used to just mean… milk. Nowadays, you can find numerous options at the grocery store. From cow’s milk to vegan non-dairy milks, it seems like new products are popping up every day. Some people may need to avoid certain types of milk due to allergies or intolerances, which is a positive of having so many options. However, for others, making a choice can feel a little overwhelming. Is one better than the other? Here we break down the nutrition of seven different popular kinds of milk so you can see which best meets your goals.

1. Cow’s Milk

Cow’s milk is the original milk if you will. Easily the most popular, cow’s milk boasts nutrition that’s tough to beat. Here is the nutrition for 1 cup of 2% reduced-fat cow’s milk:

  • Calories: 122
  • Carbohydrates: 12 g
  • Fiber: 0 g
  • Sugar: 12 g
  • Added Sugar: 0 g
  • Protein: 8 g
  • Total Fat: 4 g
  • Saturated Fat: 3 g
  • Sodium: 96 mg
  • Calcium: 309 mg (24% DV)
  • Potassium: 390 mg (8% DV)
  • Vitamin B12: 1.3 mcg (54% DV)
  • Vitamin D: 2.77 mcg (14% DV)

Cow’s milk has a lot going for it from a nutrition perspective. It’s packed with 8 grams of protein per cup, about the same amount as found in 1 ounce of cooked meat, poultry or seafood, and has ample carbs and fat, making it a well-rounded way to fuel your day or refuel after a workout. Plus, it’s a great natural source of nutrients like calcium, which helps keep your bones strong, and vitamin B12, which benefits your brain and helps keep your metabolism working at its best. It also provides potassium, which keeps your blood pressure in check and your heart healthy.

Most commercially sold milk is fortified with vitamin D, which not only helps with calcium absorption but also makes it possible for us to meet the recommended daily amount for vitamin D. Vitamin D is hard to come by, as it’s only naturally present in eggs and fatty fish like salmon, so fortified foods like milk, certain brands of yogurt, breakfast cereals and orange juice help us meet the mark.

While the sugar content might seem high, all of the sugar in milk is from naturally occurring lactose, and there are no added sugars in unflavored milk. It’s also one of the most affordable milk selections in the store, especially if you choose conventional instead of organic milk. Not to mention, milk is the base of some of EatingWell‘s other favorite dairy products, like cheese and yogurt, which have impressive nutrition benefits of their own.

2. Soy Milk

If you’re looking to go plant-based, soy milk is a popular milk alternative. Here is the nutrition for 1 cup of plain unsweetened soy milk:

  • Calories: 80
  • Carbohydrates: 4 g
  • Fiber: 1 g
  • Sugar: 1 g
  • Added Sugar: 0 g
  • Protein: 7 g
  • Total Fat: 4 g
  • Saturated Fat: 0 g
  • Sodium: 85 mg
  • Calcium: 299 mg (23% DV)
  • Potassium: 299 mg (6% DV)
  • Vitamin B12: 1.23 mcg (51% DV)
  • Vitamin D: 0 mcg

Soy milk has a similar nutrition profile to cow’s milk. It’s high in protein and nutrients like calcium and vitamin B12, but not all brands add vitamin D so check the label. Plain soy milk is lower in carbs than cow’s milk, but flavored and sweetened versions are higher in carbs and contain added sugar, which means more calories as well as added flavor. As a bonus, soy has been shown to help boost heart and brain health. While there has been some conversation about soy foods and cancer, studies of populations have found no link between soy consumption and increased risk for cancer, and no increased risk for breast cancer survivors who consume soy foods, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research.

3. Almond Milk

While you may enjoy almonds as a crunchy snack, they can also be processed into a nutty milk beverage. Here is the nutrition for 1 cup of unsweetened almond milk:

  • Calories: 39
  • Carbohydrates: 3 g
  • Fiber: 0 g
  • Sugar: 2 g
  • Added Sugar: 0 g
  • Protein: 1 g
  • Total Fat: 3 g
  • Saturated Fat: 0 g
  • Sodium: 189 mg
  • Calcium: 482 mg (37% DV)
  • Potassium: 176 mg (4% DV)
  • Vitamin B12: 0 mcg
  • Vitamin D: 1 mcg (5% DV)

Almond milk is typically fortified with nutrients like calcium and vitamin D to increase its nutritional value. These are nutrients that people following a vegetarian or vegan diet may have a hard time getting enough of. Otherwise, almond milk is low in calories, protein, carbs and fat. While it’s not as filling or nutritious as cow’s milk or soy milk, it’s a lighter option for a milk alternative.

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4. Coconut Milk

While often used in cooking, you can also find coconut milk beverages for drinking. Here is the nutrition for 1 cup of coconut milk beverage:

  • Calories: 76
  • Carbohydrates: 7 g
  • Fiber: 0 g
  • Sugar: 6 g
  • Added Sugar: 0 g
  • Protein: 1 g
  • Total Fat: 5 g
  • Saturated Fat: 2 g
  • Sodium: 46 mg
  • Calcium: 459 mg (35% DV)
  • Potassium: 46 mg (1% DV)
  • Vitamin B12: 1.5 mcg (63% DV)
  • Vitamin D: 2.4 mcg (12% DV)

Similar to almond milk, some varieties of coconut milk beverages are fortified with vitamin B12 and vitamin D to boost their nutrition. Coconut milk is slightly lower in calories than other milk alternatives and also contains nearly no protein. It does, however, have slightly more total fat than 2% reduced-fat cow’s milk and more saturated fat than other plant-based milk alternatives due to the high-fat content of coconuts. For this reason, coconut milk should be enjoyed as more of a flavor additive or in special circumstances rather than a primary milk choice. Nevertheless, it is a nut-free and dairy-free beverage that offers a desirable flavor that some prefer and is especially delicious in a Coconut Blueberry Smoothie.

5. Oat Milk

One of the newer products on the block, oat milk is quickly gaining popularity. Here is the nutrition for 1 cup of oat milk:

  • Calories: 120
  • Carbohydrates: 16 g
  • Fiber: 2 g
  • Sugar: 7 g
  • Added Sugar: 0 g
  • Protein: 3 g
  • Total Fat: 5 g
  • Saturated Fat: 1 g
  • Sodium: 101 mg
  • Calcium: 350 mg (27% DV)
  • Potassium: 389 mg (8% DV)
  • Vitamin B12: 1.2 mcg (50% DV)
  • Vitamin D: 0 mcg

Many brands of oat milk are fortified with nutrients, similar to other milk alternatives, so check the label. Oat milk is comparable in calories, fat and carbs to 2% reduced-fat cow’s milk and soy milk. However, at 3 g of protein per cup it’s much lower in protein but slightly higher than other milk alternative options. One notable thing about oat milk is that it contains 2 g of fiber per cup, which can be helpful for someone trying to boost their intake. As a bonus, you can easily make your own oat milk from scratch (just note that it won’t be fortified with the same nutrients as store-bought oat milk).

6. Hemp Milk

While hemp milk might not be as popular as some others, it is another milk alternative that is making its way into the spotlight. Here is the nutrition for 1 cup of unflavored hemp milk:

  • Calories: 46
  • Carbohydrates: 6 g
  • Fiber: 2 g
  • Sugar: 1 g
  • Added Sugar: 0 g
  • Protein: 2 g
  • Total Fat: 3 g
  • Saturated Fat: 0 g
  • Sodium: 79 mg
  • Calcium: 29 mg (3% DV)
  • Vitamin A: 499 IU (10% DV)
  • Iron: 0.36 mg (2% DV)

Unlike other non-dairy milk alternatives, hemp milk is not typically fortified with additional nutrients. For this reason, it has little to no calcium, vitamin B12 or vitamin D, which are often added to plant milks. Still, it’s a source of iron, which can help with energy, and contains some fiber which can help with digestion. And hemp milk provides 10% of your daily need for vitamin A. Hemp milk typically has a higher price point than cow’s milk or other more popular milk alternatives, but it could be a good option for someone looking for something free of nuts or dairy.

7. Rice Milk

Rice milk is a grain-based beverage blended and strained to serve a similar purpose to milk. Here is the nutrition for 1 cup of unsweetened rice milk:

  • Calories: 113
  • Carbohydrates: 22 g
  • Fiber: 1 g
  • Sugar: 13 g
  • Added Sugar: 0 g
  • Protein: 1 g
  • Total Fat: 2 g
  • Saturated Fat: 0 g
  • Sodium: 93 mg
  • Calcium: 283 mg (22% DV)
  • Vitamin B12: 1.5 mcg (63% DV)
  • Iron: 0.5 mg (3% DV)

Rice milk is often fortified with nutrients to mimic the nutrition of cow’s milk and includes hard-to-find nutrients in plant-based foods, like calcium, vitamin B12 and iron. While it’s significantly lower in protein than cow’s milk or other milk alternatives, this dairy- and nut-free beverage is higher in carbs, which can help give you an energy boost before activity.

The Bottom Line

There are several options for milk and milk alternatives out there, and the choice you make should reflect your own dietary preferences and any restrictions you may have. From a nutrition perspective, any type of cow’s milk is naturally high in protein and nutrients that support healthy bones and a healthy body. Depending on the brand, soy milk is comparable to cow’s milk in protein and nutrition. Other milk alternatives tend to be lower in calories and protein but are often fortified by producers to boost their nutrition.


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