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Not long ago, the American milk industry consisted almost entirely of cow dairy milk, with only goat milk being available in some rural areas. As goat, soy, and other milk alternatives begin to grow more popular, however, more diversity in dairy and nondairy foods is starting to appear. Today, there is a dizzying variety of milk products available, and each one offers a unique nutritional profile, benefits, and drawbacks.
Let there be no mistake… due to its health benefits, we think raw milk is best. But raw milk isn’t available to everyone, and because there is such a wide variety of milk products available to consumers, there is sure to be one that you can enjoy.
Easily the most popular animal milk in the U.S. and in Western culture, cow milk provides almost all available dairy products in the country, from whole milk to cheese and yogurt. It has long been touted for its nutritional benefits, but does have drawbacks for some people. Milk allergies are very common and are most prevalent among children. In addition, lactose intolerance affects millions of adults worldwide, causing abdominal cramps, bloating, and other gastrointestinal problems.
Whole cow milk, especially raw milk, contains many important vitamins, fats, and proteins. One serving of whole milk has about 10 grams of carbohydrates, and about 5 grams of saturated fat. And for those limiting their intake of saturated fat, 2 percent, one percent, or skim cow milk is also available. Whole cow milk also contains 35 milligrams of cholesterol, in addition to 125 milligrams of sodium and more than 8 grams of protein. Whole milk does not contain fiber.
Cow’s milk is perhaps most well known for its calcium and vitamin D content. A cup of whole milk offers 30 percent of the daily value (based on 2,000 calories/day) of calcium, as well as 25 percent of the daily value of vitamin D. Note that only raw milk contains many of these nutrients in their natural state, not to mention live cultures and enzymes – pasteurized milk is often fortified to make up for the nutrients lost during the heating process.
One of the oldest domesticated animals, goats have provided people with nutritious milk since before the dawn of agriculture. Goat milk was revered in many ancient cultures, including ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome.
Worldwide, goat’s milk is more popular than cow’s milk. In fact, 65 percent of global milk consumption comes from goats. This is due to several reasons. For one, goats are more compact and environmentally friendly than cows. Dairy goats also thrive on less pasture, require less feed, and have a more varied diet than dairy cows. They can also live on much more rocky and forested terrain, allowing them to be kept in many different environments and climates.
Goat milk is described as rich and creamy, with a sweet and sometimes salty taste. It differs from cow milk in a number of ways.
Unlike cow milk, goat milk is naturally homogenized, meaning the globules of fat contained in the milk don’t separate and rise to the surface like raw cow milk, but rather remain mixed with the liquid milk. For individuals with sensitivity to cow’s milk, goat’s milk can be a viable alternative. It also contains lactose, but in a more digestible form. Goat milk is also free of the protein casein – a protein that slows digestibility and causes allergies for many people.
Goat milk is a great source of health-promoting medium-chain triglycerides, as well as the tryptophan amino fatty acid. It is also a good source of phosphorous. Unlike any other milk, goat’s milk contains the caproic, caprylic, and capronic amino fatty acids, which are touted for their ability to nourish skin (and the reason why goat milk is so popular in soaps and lotions!).
Like cow’s milk, goat’s milk is a very good source of calcium, B vitamins, and protein.
Soy milk is currently the most popular dairy milk alternative. Soybeans are crushed, soaked, and mixed with oil, water, and sweetener to make a milk-like beverage that shares a similar consistency, creamy taste, and some nutrients as dairy milk. Its taste is described as mild, with a nutty aftertaste.
One serving of soy milk offers around 5 grams of fat and 4 grams of carbohydrates. One serving also contains about 30 milligrams of sodium and about 7 grams of protein – about the same amount as cow’s milk. Soy milk is rich in vitamin B-6, magnesium, phosphorous, and riboflavin, in addition to thiamin. It is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Other Dairy Alternatives:
Almond milk is becoming a popular alternative to soy and dairy. It is made from ground and soaked almonds mixed with water and honey or sugar to produce a milk with a creamy, slightly nutty taste. While its fat content compares to dairy and soy, almond milk contains very little protein – only one gram per serving. Like all nut milks, almond milk isn’t suitable for people with nut allergies. Almond milk is also low in B vitamins.
Made from ground and squeezed coconut meat and juices and now often diluted with water to create a dairy milk substitute, coconut milk is a very rich and creamy beverage and offers unique nutritional benefits. Its fats are more easily digested than those in dairy milk, and unlike dairy, the beverage itself is very low in cholesterol. Pure, undiluted coconut milk packs 467 calories in only one cup, however, and is low in both calcium and protein. This milk has an undeniable coconut taste.
Rice milk is another popular dairy alternative. It is comparable to skim milk in terms of taste and texture. It is made from ground rice mixed with water and lightly sweetened. Rice milk is very low in fat and calories, but contains very few nutrients. It is lacking in vitamins and contains very little protein.
The huge variety of milk products today can be dizzying, and it seems like news of dairy or dairy-alternative health benefits or problems show up every day. Public debate over raw versus pasteurized dairy milk, in addition to worries over GMO soy and other health concerns, only adds to the confusion. But with some research, a willingness to experiment with new foods, and an overall healthy diet, just about everyone can enjoy the taste and nutritional benefits of milk.