The Ultimate Guide to Milk: The Different Varieties and Their Health Benefits

Thinking of choosing between regular milk and skimmed milk? Stop right there, because the universe has a lot more to offer. Diet choices are now more accessible for those who want to experiment or stay on track. Back in the days, there was only one kind of milk, which came from cows and had a creamy top. Now, you won’t believe that coffee shop menus today list at least ten different types of milk to prepare your coffee. While the large milk variety is excellent news for people with dietary restrictions, it is also confusing to make a pick. But everyone knows that milk is a daily diet essential.

If you stick with your everyday full-fat cow’s milk and aren’t aware of all those less common varieties of milk available in the market, this guide is for you. Let’s get started. 

Note: When choosing the right type of milk, we advise looking for the nutrient count.

Cow’s Milk or ‘Whole Milk’

Good old cow’s milk is the first and most common option. It is cheap, readily available in any supermarket or gas station, and comes with a range of health benefits. Plus, it tastes great and adds flavor to any recipe. However, the recent shift in raising dairy cows led to the injection of genetically modified hormones in cow’s milk. These hormones are passed on to the liquid, which is a problem for regular consumers.

Fortunately, organic brands that fairly raise their cattle are gradually addressing these problems. While the price point of organic milk is higher than regular milk, you’re advised to pick organic cow milk if your budget allows.  Overall, cow milk contains fat, carbohydrates, protein, calcium and B vitamins. It also has the highest protein count of all milk options, so it is great for post-workout recovery. 

Full-fat or whole milk has a fat percentage somewhere between 3.25% and 3.5%. It is more or less the closest to nature without any addition or removal. It has the highest amount of calories and saturated fat compared to other types of milk, and not to mention, more cholesterol.

That being said, it is an excellent source of calcium (contains about 115mg of calcium per 100ml of whole milk). 

Reduced-Fat Milk and Low-Fat Milk

While both these terms ‘low-fat’ and ‘reduced-fat’ might seem similar to you, they actually have distinct meanings when it comes to milk. Low-fat milk has a fat percentage of 1%, while reduced-fat milk has a fat percentage of 2%. 

Since both these milks have less fat content and calories, they are also low on nutritional values compared to whole milk. This is because when fat is removed from the milk, fat-soluble vitamins D, A, E, and K also end up being removed. However, some milk companies have found ways to put these removed vitamins back in the milk to ensure its health benefits. 

If you are watching your weight, low-fat milk is an excellent choice for you. 

Skim Milk

We have discussed milks having 2% and 1% fat in it, now let’s talk about skim or skimmed milk that has virtually zero fat. Since there is no fat in it, skim milk is generally thinner than other types of milk. But to combat this, some milk companies add powdered milk to increase its thickness. However, powdered milk can contain carcinogens such as oxidized cholesterol that is bad for your health. 

Don’t worry, not all skimmed milk contains additives, and to make sure it doesn’t, you should check the label and its list of ingredients. Is skimmed milk any good? Yes, it is, if you are on a diet and want to reduce your weight, skim milk is for you. It is also an excellent source of riboflavin, phosphates, vitamin C and magnesium. Since it has zero fat, it contains slightly more calcium and protein. 

Lactose-Free Milk

Do you know that approximately 65% of the human population cannot digest lactose? For those who aren’t aware, lactose is a complex sugar present in milk. A lactose intolerant individual may develop slight to severe discomfort after consuming regular milk. Thankfully, you can always replace regular milk with a lactose-free variety. 

Lactose-free milk is not made without lactose. Manufacturers add lactase, an enzyme that breaks down lactose to make it easily digestible. The price is higher, and the nutritional profile is similar to cow’s milk. You will also find it sweeter than regular milk because simpler sugars taste sweeter to our taste receptors. 

This one is a perfect choice for people who are lactose intolerant and want to fulfil their daily essential nutrients requirement from milk. However, before buying this type of milk, you should make sure that it is fortified with calcium. It should have at least 100mg of calcium per 100ml of milk. 

Calcium is added in lactose-free milk in the form of calcium carbonate powder that sinks to the bottom of the pack. You should shake the bottle of lactose-free milk well to ensure you are getting the right amount of calcium in every sip. 

If you are on a diet, ensure that the lactose-free milk you are buying doesn’t contain any added sweeteners. Many brands add honey, sugar, and other sweeteners to enhance the taste of their products. If you are concerned about added sweeteners in your milk, opt for unsweetened varieties. 

Long-Life Milk

It is also known as Ultra-high Temperature (UHT) milk. As the name suggests, long-life milk has a very long shelf life (unrefrigerated) of six to eight months. This is because the way UHT milk is pasteurized. It is pasteurized at a much higher temperature compared to regular or whole milk. It is heated to above 135°C for about 1 to 2 seconds, unlike regular milk that is heated to 70°C for 15 seconds. 

The good thing is that long-life milk is similar to whole milk in terms of nutrients and fat content. 

Goat Milk

The name says it all, but you might want to know how it stacks up against regular cow milk. To start off, it is high in calories and fat (including saturated fat). The best thing is it is lower in sugar and lactose, higher in calcium, magnesium, protein, potassium, and vitamin A. Plus, it contains 5 percent of your daily Vitamin C. As it is slightly lower in terms of lactose, people with mild lactose intolerance can try it.

Americans mostly opt for the cow or plant-based milk, but 65 percent of the world’s population consumes goat milk. It can be a subtle shift if you cannot have cow’s milk and want to give other animal milk a go. It tastes sweet and clean, with no strong aftertaste if the milk was handled well. Goat milk also goes shoulder to shoulder with cow’s milk in protein and calcium count. 

Goat milk also helps your body absorb critical nutrients and improves the digestibility of food. Between plant-based milk and goat milk, you should opt for the latter if being vegan is not your resolution. However, goat milk isn’t readily available in the market, which means it might be more expensive than cow and plant milks. Plus, cow’s milk is the winner when it comes to folate, selenium, and vitamin B12. 

Nut and Seed-Based Milks

If you want a healthy substitute of whole milk but don’t particularly like soy milk, then nut and seed-based milks are for you. Almond milk is one of the most popular options that is readily available in supermarkets, but dairy alternatives can also be made from flaxseed and cashews. 

The best thing about nut and seed-based milks is that they are free from saturated fats and cholesterol. They contain only healthy, monounsaturated fats. 

Camel Milk

A regular item in Middle Eastern supermarkets, Camel Milk, is still a new entrant in the American market. There is a difference in the taste and consistency of this milk and its fan base. The flavor is earthy, and many people find it too overpowering. Moreover, the price point of camel milk is slightly higher than other animal milk options. 

Don’t write it off just yet, because camel milk is packed with essential nutrients like protein, potassium, calcium, and 70% of the daily value of Vitamin B1. You can even create iron-rich recipes by using this milk instead of the other options.  

Oat Milk

If you are allergic to dairy and nuts, try oat milk. This milk is made by soaking steel-cut oats in water and then straining the residue. Oat milk is an entirely vegan option, so it’s ideal for those striving to live a dairy-free lifestyle. It could be gluten-free if the oats were not processed in the same machine that processed grains containing gluten. 

It is frothy and creamy in texture, adding richness to your cereal or smoothies. Oat milk has up to 4 grams of protein per serving and is higher in carbs and fiber than other milk options. Commercial oat milks contain calcium and potassium as well. It is more on the expensive side, based on nutritional value. 

Pea Milk

Pea milk is the new cool variant on the block and one that is growing popular by the day. It is a plant-based milk option, ideal for those who are sensitive to dairy, nuts and soy. It offers similar protein value as of cow’s milk and tastes great. 

Commercial pea milk is expensive but fortified with calcium, vitamin A, D and Omega 3 fatty acids. It is available in both unsweetened and flavored options. You can also make pea milk at home by boiling yellow split peas in water and blending the mixture until smooth. 

Almond Milk

Let’s talk about one of the most popular dairy-free milks, almond milk. When the industry was looking for non-dairy milk options, almonds came to the rescue. It came through as the lowest-calorie option on the aisle, with no compromise on taste. The milk is just as nutritious as having almond nuts. It is high in vitamin E and sugar and low in fat, but it is also lower in protein compared to your regular milk.

Almond milk is readily available with varied price points. Shelf-stable boxes are cheaper, whereas organic farms quote a higher price. You can also make it at home by soaking almonds overnight and run them through the food processor before draining. 

If you are an environmentally conscious person, then you might want to skip almond milk due to its production, and the way almonds grow. One almond requires 1.1 gallons of water, while to grow a pound of almonds, it takes 1,900 gallons. Moreover, the production of almond milk produces a lot of food waste. 

If you are on a diet, you should look for almond milk with no added sweeteners. Also, almond milk tends to be quite low on calcium, so opt for the one that is fortified with vitamins and calcium. It is an excellent choice for people who follow a vegan diet or are lactose intolerant. If you suffer from a nut allergy, you are better off without almond milk. 

Cashew Milk

Who doesn’t love cashews (except people with allergies)? Cashew milk is made with the same process as that of almond milk by soaking the nuts overnight and blending. It is sweet and nutty in taste. Cashew milk is available at all supermarkets in sweetened or unsweetened forms.

Unlike other plant milks, cashew milk can nourish your eyes, heart health, and boost immunity. Homemade cashew milk contains more nutrients than commercial varieties. It is lactose-free and full of healthy fiber.  

Soy Milk

Soy milk is not considered dairy milk, because unlike whole milk, it comes from soybeans that have been soaked in water and then later ground up in the water as well. A study found that soy milk is the most balanced as per nutritional profile out of all non-dairy milk. This is ideal for people with diabetes, cholesterol issues, or lactose intolerance. Soy milk also boasts protein content quite similar to cow milk. 

Soy milk is the most affordable out of all plant-based milk options. It is also a product that is in the market since the beginning. 

However, it isn’t that great in terms of calcium because the calcium found in soybeans is indigestible by humans. That being said, most commercial batches of soy milks are fortified with calcium, vitamins, and thickening agents during production. One downside of this milk is its reaction to high heat, as it curdles when boiled/warmed.

Rice Milk

Rice milk is cholesterol and lactose-free. It is ideal for people allergic to dairy, nuts and soy. A cup of unsweetened rice milk will be mainly carbohydrates in a cup, with little protein. Fitness enthusiasts, please take note, this carb boost is significant for post-workout recovery.

Rice milk is expensive and has a niche market. It contains 25% of our daily calcium requirement, so it might be an excellent option to consider if you’re looking to switch things up or living a vegan lifestyle. 

Coconut Milk

Gone are the days when coconut milk only added bliss to curries and sauces. It has now become a primary non-dairy milk option for many. It is vegan and safe for people sensitive to nuts, lactose and soy. Coconut milk is made by blending the flesh of grown coconuts with water. It tastes sweet and nutty and smells like natural coconuts. 

Coconut milk does not contain any protein. It is rich in saturated fat and potassium, and commercial varieties add calcium and vitamins to their offering. Look for a brand that only offers coconut milk and no other additives. 

Hemp Seed Milk

Hemp seed milk is another popular plant-based alternative to cow’s milk. Hemp seeds are the newfound love of nutritionists, rich in protein fats and minerals. Hemp milk is made by blending hemp seeds with water. It has an earthy, nutty taste and creamy consistency. 

Commercial varieties of hemp milk are on the expensive side, fortified with calcium and vitamins A and B. You can also make hemp milk at home and store for up to a week in the refrigerator. People with diabetes must be cautious when buying hemp milk off the shelf, as some companies add extra thickeners and sugars. 

Flavored Milk

Yes, flavored milk is delicious, but it is not the recommended milk choice. That being said, it is better than those artificial flavored, sugary drink options available in the supermarkets. 

Final Verdict – Which Milk Should You Buy?

A lot of people swear by cow’s milk, but allergies and meat-free lifestyles have made its consumption difficult for many. Thankfully, we’re living in an era where non-dairy alternatives take up an entire aisle in the grocery store. 

Whether you want to stick with the same good old whole or skim milk or try something more unique like nut and seed-based milks, you can’t go wrong with the health benefits that all the different types of milk offer. Some recipes turn out better with non-dairy milks, so it is entirely up to you to make that choice. We hope that this milk guide helps you with those choices. Stay Healthy!