Think Thin Thursday ~ How Vast is Our Milky Way? Choose One!

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Comparing Milks: Almond, Dairy, Soy, Rice and Coconut

Not too long ago, the only thing you could expect to drown your cereal in was whole cow's milk. Now, cow's milk comes in all sorts of varieties: whole milk, 2 percent, 1 percent, skim (fat-free), and even lactose-free milk. For people with dietary or allergy concerns, there are also alternatives to cow's milk. Almond, soy, rice, and coconut "milk" are popular plant-based milk alternatives. They're becoming even more available in stores across the United States. Goat's milk is less common in stores in the United States, but is another good choice for some people.

Each type of milk has its advantages and disadvantages, depending on a person's diet, health, nutritional needs, or personal taste preferences. For example, people in key development years (children older than 2 years, teens, and pregnant women) need proteins, vitamin D, and calcium. These are abundant in cow's milk. On the other hand, people who need to watch their calories or saturated fat intake, such as for weight reasons or heart health problems, should look to other options. Whole cow's milk contains more calories and saturated fat than any other milk, aside from goat's milk. It's strange when you take the time to think about it. No other species on Earth consumes milk in their adulthood or consumes the milk of any other species except humans. Things that make you go Huh?

Look at the differences in these popular types of milks to determine which best suits your needs. With all varieties, choose the unsweetened versions. Milk and milk alternatives often contain added sugars which will add unnecessary calories.

Milk and Milk Alternatives:

Nutrition comparison per 8 fluid ounces

    Calories   Carbohydrates (total)   Sugars   Fat (total)   Protein
Cow's milk (whole) 150 12 g 12 g 8 g 8 g
Cow's milk (1%) 110 12 g 12 g 2 g 8 g
Cow's milk (skim) 80 12 g 12 g 0 g 8 g
Almond milk (unsweetened) 40 1 g 0 g 3 g 2 g
Soy milk (unsweetened) 80 4 g 1 g 4 g 7 g
Rice milk (unsweetened) 120 22 g 10 g 2 g 0 g
Coconut milk  (unsweetened) 50 2 g 0 g 5 g 0 g



Whole milk is cow's milk with none of the fat removed.

One cup contains about:

  • 150 calories
  • 12 grams of carbohydrates in the form of lactose (milk sugar)
  • 8 grams of fat
  • 8 grams of protein

None of the milk's natural components are removed. That means whole milk is high in natural proteins, fat, and calcium. Milk sold in the United States is usually fortified with vitamin A and vitamin D, as well. Other cow's milk has the same amount of carbohydrates and protein, with some or all of the fat removed. While whole milk has 150 calories in one cup, 1 percent milk has 110 calories, and skim milk has just 80 calories. Fat-free milk has all of the nutritional benefits of whole milk — protein, calcium, vitamins, and minerals — without the saturated fat and calories. However, absorption of some vitamins may be reduced due to the lack of fat. Lactose-free milk is processed to break down lactose, a natural sugar found in milk products. Lactose-free milk is also a good source of protein, calcium, vitamins, and minerals. The total and saturated fat contents of lactose-free milk vary, as it comes in 2 percent, 1 percent, and fat-free varieties.

Pros of cow’s milk

  • Whole milk can provide essential proteins, extra calories from fats, as well as vitamins and minerals for infants and older adults.
  • Lactose-free versions are available for people who have a lactose intolerance.
  • Cow’s milk, including grass-fed and low-heat pasteurized options, is widely available in grocery stores and convenience stores.

Cons of cow’s milk

  • The versions that aren’t fat-free are higher in saturated fats and calories.
  • The protein in cow’s milk is a common allergen for babies, children, and adults.
  • Some people have ethical concerns about modern dairy farming practices.

Almond milk is made from ground almonds and filtered water. It may also contain starches and thickeners to improve its consistency and shelf life. People who are allergic to almonds or nuts should avoid almond milk. Almond milk is lower in calories than other milks, as long as it is unsweetened. It's also free of saturated fat, and it's naturally lactose-free.

Per cup, unsweetened almond milk has:

  • about 30 to 60 calories
  • 1 gram of carbohydrates (sweetened varieties have more)
  • 3 grams of fat
  • 1 gram of protein

Even though almonds are a good source of protein, almond milk is not. Almond milk is also not a good source of calcium. However, many brands of almond milk are supplemented with calcium and vitamin D.

Pros of almond milk

  • It’s low in calories and contains no saturated fat.
  • It’s a good source of vitamin A and can be fortified to be a good source of calcium and vitamin D.
  • It’s vegan and naturally lactose-free.

Cons of almond milk

  • It’s not a good source of protein.
  • It may contain carrageenan, which may cause digestive issues in some people.
  • There are some environmental concerns about the amount of water used to cultivate almonds.

Soy milk is made from soybeans and filtered water. Like other plant-based milk alternatives, it may contain thickeners to improve consistency and shelf life.

One cup of unsweetened soy milk has:

  • about 80 to 100 calories
  • 4 grams of carbohydrate (sweetened varieties have more)
  • 4 grams of fat
  • 7 grams of protein

Because it comes from plants, soy milk is naturally free of cholesterol and low in saturated fat. It also contains no lactose. Soybeans and soy milk are a good source of protein, calcium (when fortified), and potassium. Probiotic or fermented soy milk is also available. It's an even better choice, especially for people with high blood pressure. However, too much soy may be a problem for people with thyroid disease or other conditions. And a 2008 Harvard studyTrusted Source showed that higher intakes of soy-based foods caused fertility problems and lower sperm counts. Soy is also a common allergen. People who are allergic to soy should not drink soy milk.

Pros of soy milk

  • It’s a good source of protein, vitamin A, vitamin B-12, potassium, and isoflavones, plus it can be fortified with calcium and vitamin D.
  • It contains as much protein as cow's milk, yet is lower in calories than whole milk and about equal to the calories in 1 percent or 2 percent milk.
  • It contains very little saturated fat.

Cons of soy milk

  • Soy is a common allergen for both adults and children.
  • Too much soy may be a problem for people with thyroid conditions.
  • Most of the soy produced in the United States comes from genetically modified plants, which is a concern to some.

Rice milk is made from milled rice and water. As with other alternative milks, it frequently contains additives to improve consistency and shelf stability. It's the least likely of all of milk products to cause allergies. That makes it a good choice for people with lactose intolerance or allergies to milk, soy, or nuts.

Rice milk contains the most carbohydrate per cup, providing about:

  • 120 calories
  • 22 grams of carbohydrate
  • 2 grams of fat
  • little protein (less than 1 gram)

While rice milk can be fortified with calcium and vitamin D, it's not a natural source of either, just like soy and almond milks. Rice has also been shown to have higher levels of inorganic arsenic. The Food and Drug AdministrationTrusted Source recommends not relying solely on rice and rice products, especially for infants, children, and pregnant women. The American Academy of Pediatrics takes a similar stance, suggesting to be sure to focus on variety of foods and to avoid depending on just rice or rice products.

Pros of rice milk

  • It’s the least allergenic of milk alternatives.
  • It can be fortified to be a good source of calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin D.
  • Rice milk is naturally sweeter than other milk alternatives.

Cons of rice milk

  • It’s high in carbohydrates, so it’s the least desirable choice for people with diabetes.
  • It’s not a good source of protein.
  • Eating too much of a rice product may pose a health risk for infants and children due to inorganic arsenic levels.

Coconut milk is made from filtered water and coconut cream, which is made from grated mature coconut flesh. In spite of its name, coconut is not actually a nut, so people with nut allergies should be able to eat it safely. Coconut milk is more accurately referred to as "coconut milk beverage" because it's a more diluted product than the type of coconut milk used in cooking, which usually is sold in cans. As with other plant-based milk alternatives, coconut milk often contains added thickeners and other ingredients. Coconut milk contains more fat than the other milk alternatives, and nearly all of it is saturated.

Each cup of unsweetened coconut milk beverage contains:

  • about 50 calories
  • 2 grams of carbohydrates
  • 5 grams of fat
  • 0 grams of protein

Coconut milk beverage does not naturally contain calcium, vitamin A, or vitamin D. However, it can be fortified with these nutrients. Coconut products have become more popular in recent years, partly because they contain medium-chain triglycerides, a type of fat. Some research suggests this type of saturated fat may actually help with weight loss. However, saturated fats in general are associated with increased risk of heart problems, so further research is needed.

Pros of coconut milk

  • It rarely causes allergies.
  • It can be fortified to be a good source of calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin D.
  • The fat in it may actually promote weight loss.

Cons of coconut milk

  • It’s high in saturated fat.
  • It’s not a good source of protein.
  • It may contain carrageenan, which may cause digestive issues in some people.
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Comments (9)

Ron and Alexandra Seigel
Napa Consultants - Carpinteria, CA
Luxury Real Estate Branding, Marketing & Strategy


Great explanation and well done nutritional facts.  In Europe, after a child is weaned milk was not served as part of lunch or dinner.  We ate plenty of cheese,  yougurt.   Hot chocolate was an occasional treat on cold days.  When we came to the US, they had milk in the lunchroom, but. I did not partake of it.

Say Cheese when you are French on your mother's side.  A 

Sep 26, 2019 11:13 AM
Kevin J. May

No French here that I know of but that won't preclude my cheese consumption Alexandra. Americans may have been duped into the whole dairy milk does a body good campaign. I'm guilty as charged.

Sep 26, 2019 11:33 AM
Kathy Streib
Cypress, TX
Home Stager/Redesign

Hi Kevin- I do use the Lactose-free milk for my occasional treat of a bowl of cereal. Otherwise I don't drink milk and didn't as a child. 

Sep 26, 2019 07:33 PM
Kevin J. May

The choices are endless Kathy with a brand and taste fit for nearly everyone.

Sep 27, 2019 12:50 PM
Michael Jacobs
Pasadena, CA
Pasadena And Southern California 818.516.4393

Hello Kevin - I appreciate your detailed analysis of what has become a staple for many.  More food for thought. 

Sep 27, 2019 05:46 AM
Kevin J. May

Bessie got us through a lot in the 20th century. We can't ignore that  protein boost probably was helped a lot by having Nestle's Quik and Ovaltine fueling at least two generations.

Sep 27, 2019 12:48 PM
Michael Jacobs

I definitely remember Nestle's Quik as a child.  Ovaltine:  I recall the name but not the product.  

Sep 27, 2019 02:12 PM
Brian England
Ambrose Realty Management LLC - Gilbert, AZ
MBA, GRI, REALTOR® Real Estate in East Valley AZ

This is a very good breakdown of the pros and cons, I have been consuming almond milk and coconut for a while, rather than regular milk.

Sep 27, 2019 06:44 AM
Kevin J. May

Every time I eat an almond I try to figure out where the milk comes from Brian. Not having any nut allergies makes it rank #1 with me.

Sep 27, 2019 12:51 PM
Barbara Todaro
RE/MAX Executive Realty - Happily Retired - Franklin, MA
Previously Affiliated with The Todaro Team

Hi Kevin J. May almond milk or skim milk.... I drink very little of it.... no grain.... no sugar..... good fats.... I don't put eggs in any protein shake.... especially with shells on it.... OMG.... even I have my limits.... 

Sep 27, 2019 10:44 AM
Kevin J. May

I forgot to ask you about the schnapps or the tequila?

Sep 27, 2019 12:53 PM
Kevin J. May

Never could drink skim milk Barbara but I've tried all of these at least twice. Unsweetened almond milk is my current choice and now I'm reading about how cow's milk may be a leading cause for osteoporosis in adults. Now they tell us!

Sep 27, 2019 12:35 PM
Barbara Todaro

keep lifting.... that helps prevent osteo.... build those muscles around your bones.... Kevin J. May 

Sep 27, 2019 12:52 PM
Debb Janes
Nature As Neighbors - Camas, WA
Put My Love of Nature At Work for You

Almond milk - unsweetened and carrageenan free. Great overview of the Milky way. :) 

Sep 27, 2019 01:09 PM
Kevin J. May

There's always something to watch out for in the fine print Debb. Thank You!

Sep 28, 2019 05:34 AM
Sally K. & David L. Hanson
EXP Realty 414-525-0563 - Brookfield, WI
WI Real Estate Agents - Luxury - Divorce

We are experimenting with the variations...some that we like and some that don't like us !

Sep 28, 2019 03:11 AM
Kevin J. May

Sally, you've made me laugh but I've been there and it's not a laughing matter. The good thing is you know if it fits the bill soon enough.

Sep 28, 2019 05:38 AM

I found this interesting article about What is Blood Pressure Or Hypertension ?

Apr 01, 2020 11:31 AM

I found this interesting article about What is Blood Pressure Or Hypertension ?

Apr 01, 2020 11:32 AM