Milking the Facts – which one is best?

With such an enormous and ever-growing selection of milks available in our supermarkets, you could be forgiven for ‘having a cow’ over which one to choose. So which one really is best – traditional cow’s milk, or alternatives such as soy, rice, almond or coconut? Third year Bachelor of Food Science and Nutrition student Felicity Curtain gives her take on it all.

Cow’s Milk:  Full cream, low-fat, skim, A2, homogenised, pasteurised, raw, added calcium/Vitamin D, UHT (ultra high temperature – the kind found in cardboard containers in the non-refrigerated section of the supermarket)…the countless variations of cow’s milk could make up a whole article all on their own.

Without a doubt, cow’s milk is the most popular choice amongst Australians, with an average of 106 litres consumed per capita in the last year – a number that is steadily rising, according to Dairy Australia. Milk is a rich source of protein, vitamins and minerals, including calcium, which is extremely important for bone health, and in deficit can lead to the brittle bone condition osteoporosis.

Controversy – What about Permeate?
The Dietitians Association of Australia describes permeate as a mixture of lactose, vitamins and minerals remaining after the removal of fat to produce other dairy products. Essentially, permeate is a natural milk by-product, often used by farmers to standardise the nutrition composition of milk to ensure that the product we buy has a uniform appearance, taste and texture.  Many types of milk are now marketed as  ‘permeate free’, boasting a more ‘pure’ and ‘natural’ product, but the reality is that permeate makes very little nutritional difference and needn’t affect your decision-making.

Almond Milk: Almond milk is rapidly gaining popularity amongst vegans and omnivores alike, both for its healthy lipid profile, fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E) and characteristic flavour. However, it will not provide a significant source of protein or calcium unless you opt for an enriched formula.

Soy Milk:  Soy milk was once the obvious choice for those unable to stomach regular cows milk, however horror stories of ‘man boobs’ and oestrogen overdrive has led many to believe this milk is soy bad for our health!  These concerns stem from the isoflavone content of soy products – natural components that are similar in structure to the hormone oestrogen.

While there’s a range of views on whether or not these isoflavones may be linked to adverse health effects, it’s generally accepted that in moderate amounts soy milk is entirely safe.  Further to this, research has shown that soy may hold additional health benefits such as improved lipid concentrations (potentially stemming from the phytochemical content) as well as being a substantial source of protein and calcium.

Rice Milk: Suitable for those with lactose or other intolerances, rice milk is another alternative gaining popularity.  Mild tasting and low in fat, rice milk is popular in both everyday consumption and baking. Many rice milks on the market are calcium fortified and very low in fat, making them a smart choice for bone and heart health; however, they are also generally lacking in significant protein.

Coconut Milk: While not a traditional choice for drinking milk, coconut milk is popular in baking and cooking. Unfortunately, it doesn’t provide much nutritionally as it contains a significant amount of saturated fat and very little in the way of in protein, calcium and other vitamins and minerals. However, it’s true to say that many delights such as piña coladas and Thai curries wouldn’t be the same without it!

Smart Choice: For a savvy food swap, substitute coconut milk for evaporated milk with added coconut flavour. This will contribute flavour whilst not compromising your waistline; it will also boost the protein and calcium content of your meal.

Milk Price/100g ($) Energy/100ml (kj) Protein/100ml (g) Fat/100ml (g) Sat fat/100ml (g) Sugar/100ml (g) Calcium/100ml (mg)
Cows milk – full cream $2 295kj 3.5g 3.5g 2.5g 6.3g 108mg
Cows milk – low fat $2 215kj 4g 1g .8g 6g 110g
Almond Milk $4.80 136kj .8g 1.22g 0.008g 3.68g 3 mg
Soy milk $2.06 265kj 3g 3.5g .5g 2.6g 118mg
Rice milk $2.40 228kj .5g 1 g .1g 4.6g 118mg
Coconut Milk $5.95 660kj 1.6g 16g 14.5g 1.8g 4mg





















These average results were obtained from a milk alternatives review carried out by Choice Magazine.

So which milk is best? Personally my go-to is cow’s milk, both for the taste and nutritional content. That being said, it’s great to experiment with new options – why not try almond milk in your smoothie and rice milk on your cereal?

Wherever your preference may lie, what’s most important is that you get your twice-daily serving of dairy or dairy substitutes (preferably enriched with calcium). The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend including at least 2 serves of milk, yoghurt, cheese or alternatives as part of a healthy diet.


Join the conversation

back to top