Food Foundations

Making sense of milk alternatives

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There are many reasons that a family may prefer or a child may require a particular milk.  The market is full of different dairy milks and an ever growing variety of non-dairy milk alternatives.   Not all of these alternatives are created equal.  In this article we explore the pros and cons of some of the milks commonly found in supermarkets.

Cow’s milk

Cow’s milk is a highly nutritious food containing high levels of calcium, vitamin D, magnesium and protein. Unlike many non-dairy alternatives, cow’s milk has no added sugars, flavours, thickeners, emulsifiers, or gums. It’s just cow’s milk.


Lactose free cow’s milk

Lactose free cow’s milk contains no lactose, a naturally occurring sugar in milk. The enzyme lactase has been added to break the lactose down into simple sugars. This enables people who are lactose intolerant to consume cow’s milk.  Lactose free cow’s milk is nutritionally very similar to regular cow’s milk. Lactose free dairy milk is not suitable for those with a dairy allergy.



Goat’s milk

Goat’s milk has a different protein to cow’s milk, making it easier to digest for some people. Goat’s milk is fairly similar to cow’s milk although it is higher in calcium but lower in B12. It also has slightly more calories and fat content compared to cow’s milk. Goat’s milk still contains lactose, although at lower concentration than cow’s milk. Goat’s milk tends to be more expensive and harder to find.


Soy milk

Soy milk has a protein content similar to cow’s milk and contains all the essential amino acids. Most soy milks are calcium fortified making them a good alternative source of calcium.


Oat milk

Oat milk contains double the carbohydrate content of cow’s milk and is more energy dense.  It is a good source of folic acid and often high in fibre.  Oat milk is lower in protein than cow’s milk and soy milk and if not fortified with calcium is very low in calcium.


Rice milk

Rice milk is low in protein and has very low nutrient value.  Sometimes rice milk is fortified with calcium and other vitamins to improve its nutritional value.  Rice milk can be a useful alternative for children with dairy and soy allergies.


Almond milk

Almond milk is often sweetened with added sugar and is low in protein.  Like rice milk it has a very low nutrient value but is sometimes fortified with calcium.


Coconut milk

Coconut milk is high in saturated fat and lacks calcium and protein. However, it contains higher niacin, fibre and iron than cow’s milk. Because of its high energy density it should be consumed in moderation.


Choosing a dairy alternative

If choosing a non dairy milk it is best to choose one that is calcium fortified.  Look for drinks which are fortified with at least 100mg of calcium per 100g.



Article written by Katherine Sparks & Amelia Webster