What’s the Healthiest Milk – Whole Milk, Skim Milk, or Plant-Based and Nut Milks?
The milk choices we have today weren’t around forever. It wasn’t so long ago that eating a bowl of cereal meant mixing it with dairy milk. You could choose what kind of dairy milk to pour over your cereal, but you were getting milk that came from a cow. Choices included whole milk (the most popular by far), skim milk and 1% or 2% milk.
Those milks are still around and popular, but now they have competition. Because of health concerns over cow’s milk and other dairy products, nut-based and plant-
based milks are now common. Nondairy milks have also grown in popularity because of environmental issues connected to dairy farming.
Let’s take a look at whole milk and skim milk, nut milks and plant-based milks so you can make the healthiest choice for you and your family.
What is the Healthiest Dairy Milk?
Not all dairy milk is equal. Dairy milk (milk from a cow) comes in many varieties: whole, skim, 1% and 2% dairy milk. Let’s look at the fat contents of the main dairy milk types:
- Whole milk – 3.5% milk fat
- 2% milk – 2% milk fat
- 1% milk – 1% milk fat
- Skim milk – less than 0.5% milk fat
As you can see, most dairy milks are very similar as far as fat contents go. That means all dairy milk delivers saturated fat. That unhealthy fat is linked to an increased risk of heart disease and type II diabetes, obesity and Alzheimer’s disease. The odds of developing breast cancer, prostate cancer and ovarian cancer also increase with a regular diet of cow’s milk and other dairy products. Not so appetizing now, is it?
Why Do We Drink Dairy Milk?
Humans don’t drink milk from a cow because it’s the closest to human breast milk of any animal, and it’s certainly not the most nutritious (more on that in a
minute). We drink cow’s milk because it is easy to get. Generations ago, farmers drank the milk from goats and cows because it was handy. They already had breeding cows they used to produce cattle they would slaughter for their meat.
So why not get milk from the same animal?
Farmers preferred milking a cow rather than a goat because there was more yield; they got more milk. This practice began about 7,500 years ago in central Europe. The problem is humans were not internally designed to process dairy milk. It took countless generations of genetic change before some people could drink dairy milk without getting sick!
Even today, most people do not produce the lactase enzyme (or enough of it) to properly digest and process the lactose sugar in cow’s milk.
The Genetics Home Reference arm of the National Institutes of Health says 2 out of 3 men, women and children can’t properly process the lactose in dairy milk. Healthline believes that number is as high as 7 out of every 10 people.
This causes diarrhea, constipation, nausea, vomiting, gas, bloating and stomach cramps. Negative side-effects over time include headaches and fatigue, pain in your joints and muscles. You can develop mouth ulcers and a lack of concentration, eczema and urination problems.
But wait! Isn’t dairy milk full of calcium? Isn’t calcium needed to form strong bones? The answers to those questions are yes and yes.
However, there’s a catch.
The human body can only absorb between 32% and 35% of the calcium in dairy milk. Probably even scarier is the fact that multiple studies show drinking dairy milk regularly pulls calcium from your bones and leads to a higher risk of weak bones and osteoporosis. None of this sounds good!
The good news is that if you like the taste of cow’s milk, there are much healthier alternatives.
You can get plenty of calcium by eating a plant-based diet, so why not make your milk plant-based as well? You can avoid the downside of dairy milk by switching to a nondairy alternative like coconut milk. It contains none of the lactose which causes digestive problems in so many people, plus you skip the saturated fat and sugar found in dairy and other milks.
Plant-based milks are powerhouses of minerals and vitamins, and they don’t have the cholesterol which is a problem with dairy milk. Coconut and rice are common plant-based milks that boost your health without the dangers of dairy.
Almond Milk and Other Nut Milks
There is no doubt that choosing coconut milk over the milk from a cow is a smart move. The problem with coconut milk and some other plant-based milks is that they have little protein. Milk a coconut and you get no protein. Additionally, even though coconut milk delivers very few calories, most of them come from fat.
Most nut milks like cashew or almond milk have as much or more calcium and vitamin D than dairy milk. You also get healthy dietary fiber which is not present in cow’s milk. Nut milks adhere to vegan stipulations. If you are watching your carbs (you probably should be!), you will appreciate that most nut milks deliver just 1 or 2 grams of carbs per cup. A single cup of cow’s milk weighs in at a whopping 12 grams of carbs.
You also get plenty of vitamin E from cashew and almond milk, macadamia nut and hazelnut milks. If you’re looking for the healthiest of nut milks, consider almond milk and cashew milk. One cup of these milks gives you as much as 25% to 50% of your daily calcium requirements and 25% of your vitamin D needs. A cup of cashew milk gives you 50% of the vitamin E you need each day, with almond milk delivering 20% of your vitamin E needs.
The Milk Comparison Takeaway
For the most all-around nutrition and health benefits, nut milk is where it’s at. There are plenty of flavors, so you can find something that suits everyone in your family. Just remember you will be missing the protein that nut milks deliver, and most of the calories in coconut milk come from fat. If you switch from dairy milk to plant-based milk, you are doing yourself a world of good.
What are your thoughts here? Do you prefer a milk choice and have a reason why? Please share!
If this post got you wondering about other ways you can make easy switches to benefit the health of you and your family, download my FREE guide on 12 Steps to BioHack Your Family’s Health here!
Wishing you well,
Hi! I'm Dr. Jessica
I’m Dr. Jessica Payne, Medical Intuitive, Doctor of Natural Medicine, and your go-to guide for living your life naturally…More
Check Out My Healthy Living Jumpstart
This program was born out of the need of my clients/friends/fellow strong mama's. Knowledge is power when it comes to your family's health. I provide that here!
My Top "15 Paleo Recipes That Never Fail"
These are my go-to Paleo Recipes that my family loves. Download them now for FREE. No mama should have to take this journey alone, Download now and we can do this together!!
How to Feast Holiday-Healthy: Family Favorite Recipes (and Desserts!) Oh, how I LOVE the holidays! The decorating, the food, friends, and family get-togethers. I love it all…except for one thing: The number of children and adults who come through my practice...
5 Things Only Working Moms Will Understand If you’re a working mom like me, you’ve probably heard it all. “Why don't you stay at home and take care of your kids? You can always pursue your career later.” “Aren't you concerned you will miss important...
10 Natural Ways to Protect and Boost Your Immune System Having a strong immune system can help you avoid contracting many illnesses and common colds, or at least reduce the time you must endure them. Who likes being home sick, right? Here’s the scoop:...