Cow’s Milk vs Plant-Based Milks: Choosing a Milk Product That’s Right for You

Cow’s Milk vs Plant-Based Milks: Choosing a Milk Product That’s Right for You

Over the past few years non-dairy milk has skyrocketed in popularity and it seems like there’s a new milk alternative on the shelf every week. Because of allergies or intolerances, some people may need to avoid certain milks, which is a benefit of having so many options.

Making a decision, on the other hand, can be overwhelming for some people. Is one better than the other?

We’ve broken down the 10 most popular milks on the market so you can evaluate which one best fits your personal needs:

Cow’s Milk: From a nutritional standpoint, cow’s milk has a lot going for it. It offers 8 grams of protein, as well as plenty of carbs and fat, making it a well-rounded way to start the day or refuel after a workout. It also contains other essential nutrients, including vitamin D, calcium, B12, potassium, and more! Keep in mind however some have GI upset or other issues from cow’s milk, so it would be a good idea to consider a dairy-free milk alternative if you have a milk allergy or are lactose intolerant.

Hemp Milk: This milk is made from the seeds of the hemp plant, which also produces marijuana. However, hemp milk is made from a different part of the plant and contains only trace amounts of THC. Hemp milk is high in calcium, with an 8-ounce glass giving 45 percent of the recommended daily allowance.2 It also contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial to your cardiovascular system. The con is that it has 140 calories per 8 ounces, making it a high-calorie plant milk alternative.2 This is a great option for those who have dairy, nut, and soy allergies.

Almond Milk: This milk is a tasty non-dairy milk alternative for people who can’t or choose not to drink dairy milk, but it’s not safe if you’re allergic to tree nuts. Unsweetened almond milk is low in calories and carbs compared to cow’s milk, making it a popular choice for those following a low-carb diet. Although almond milk is high in the antioxidant vitamin E, it is also deficient in protein and many other minerals.3 Calcium and vitamins A and D are supplemented in many brands, however the amounts vary by brand.

Soy Milk: Soy milk is a popular non-dairy alternative that is cholesterol-free, low in saturated fats, and high in protein. Also, it’s another lactose-free choice that’s also fantastic for cooking. Unsweetened soy milk has about 80-90 calories, 4 grams of fat, and 9 grams of protein per cup.4 However, soy milk can be high in calories, especially if sweetened, and if you have a soy allergy, you should avoid it altogether.

Cashew Milk: Cashew milk is another nut-based alternative that provides a rich, creamy taste if you’re vegan or lactose-intolerant. Cashew milk, like almond milk, is high in vitamin E and low in calories, cholesterol, and sugar (one cup of unsweetened cashew milk typically has 25-35 calories).4 While store-bought cashew milk is frequently fortified with vitamin D and calcium, like other options, it lacks fiber and protein.4 Cashew milk is not suitable for people who are allergic to nuts.


Oat Milk: Oat milk is naturally free of dairy, lactose, soy, and nuts, which is a significant benefit for individuals with dietary restrictions or food allergies. Oat milk, like many other non-dairy choices, usually has fortified calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, and riboflavin.4 It also offers a bit more protein and fiber than other options (around 3-5 grams per cup).4The disadvantage? Oat milk often contains more carbs and calories than other plant-based alternatives, with a cup of most brands containing roughly 100 calories or more.4


Coconut Milk: This plant milk has more saturated fat than other plant milks and lacks protein and calcium, therefore it doesn’t compare nutritionally to other plant milks. An 8-ounce glass of unsweetened coconut milk beverage has 45 calories, no protein, 1 gram of carbs, 4 grams of saturated fat, and just 10% of the RDA for calcium.2


Pea Milk: Pea milk has a similar taste and consistency to cow’s milk. This makes it an excellent choice for individuals who dislike the thin consistency and nutty flavor of other milk substitutes. One 8-ounce cup of sweetened pea milk has about 100 calories, 4.5 grams of fat, 6 grams of carbohydrates, and 6 grams of sugar.5 Pea milk also contains iron, potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin D. This milk is also an environmentally friendly choice because yellow peas are easy and cheap to grow.5 Additionally, it uses less water than almond milk and has a smaller carbon footprint than cow’s milk.


A2 Milk: This milk is 100% real milk from local US farms that comes from cows that naturally produce only the A2 protein and no A1.6 It has the same nutrition and creamy taste as regular dairy milk and research suggests A2 milk may help avoid stomach discomfort in some people.6 You should not drink A2 milk if you are allergic to milk or are lactose intolerant.

Ultra-filtered Milk): Ultra-filtered milk is made from dairy milk. It comes from a cow, and passes under pressure through a thin membrane. This separates, or filters, the water and lactose (sugar) from the other components of the milk. The processors are essentially removing some of the natural water and sugar and what is left behind is lactose-free milk that has more protein, more calcium, and less sugar.7 Many agree that the taste is more creamy and rich when compared to regular milk. This is a great option for those who are lactose intolerant, athletes who turn to protein drinks for exercise recovery, those with diabetes who monitor their carbohydrate intake, and women at risk for osteoporosis and struggle with taking in adequate calcium.7


  1. Iftikhar, N. (2020, May 11). Is milk bad for you? Here’s what the research says. Healthline.
  2. Choosing the right milk for you. Eehealth.Org. Retrieved May 15, 2022.
  3. Danahy, A., MS, & RDN. (2019, November 12). The 7 healthiest milk options. Healthline.
  4. schneik. (2021, November 11). What you need to know when choosing milk and milk alternatives. Cleveland Clinic.
  5. Health benefits of pea milk. WebMD. Retrieved May 15, 2022.
  6. Real cows’ milk – love milk again. A2milk.Com. Retrieved May 15, 2022.
  7. Is ultra-filtered milk worth buying? What you need to know. (2020, February 6). Eat This Not That.


Maryann Walsh, MFN, RD, CDE
Registered Dietitian/ Consultant