Whether you use it for your coffee, breakfast cereal, or enjoy it as is, milk is a nutritious and delicious beverage that’s a staple in any healthy, balanced diet.
With so many brands and options on the market, it’s hard to choose the right milk for you. From plant and nut milks to dairy milk, each type has a different nutritional profile.
For example, nut milks are becoming more popular as a dairy-free alternative and they’re not just for vegans and vegetarians. They’re the only option for people who are lactose-intolerant or allergic to dairy (more specifically to casein which is the main protein in dairy products).
Curious to learn more about the differences between dairy milk, plant milk, and nut milk? In this post, we break down everything you need to know about all three types of milk.
What is Nut Milk?
Nut milk is what comes out when you blend nuts with water to get a creamy, smooth, white liquid. There’s no need to heat or otherwise process nut milk so it’s ready for consumption right away. The most common nut milks include almond, cashew, hazelnut, walnut, and macadamia milk.
Almond milk is the most popular type of nut milk mainly due to its light, pleasant taste and low calorie content. Though raw almonds are a nutritional powerhouse, once they turn into milk, they don’t have much to offer nutrient-wise.
This is why store-bought and homemade almond milk must be fortified with vitamins, minerals, fats, carbs, and calcium in order to be beneficial for your health. The same goes for almost any other nut milk, so you would have to supplement these nutrients otherwise.
What is Plant Milk?
Plant milk is a non-dairy, vegan type of milk made from plant extracts mixed with water (and sometimes vegetable oil and sweetener) as a base. Some of the most common types of plant milk include rice, soy, coconut, tiger nut, hemp, and oat milk.
For example, coconut milk has a creamy, thick texture. It’s made from grated coconut flesh or pulp that’s rich in healthy fats. Based on the fat content, you’ll find coconut cream (higher fat content, lower water content) and coconut milk (higher water content, lower fat content).
The coconut milk used for drinking or adding to coffee is even more diluted with water for a more liquid consistency. However, coconut milk is not a good replacement for dairy milk as it is not a good source of protein.
Hemp milk and oat milk are two of the most popular plant milks, mainly because they’re rich in nutrients, but also because of their light nutty taste and smooth texture. For instance, hemp milk is one of the richest in protein among all plant milks, along with soy milk.
High-quality hemp milk and oat milk can also make great froth, especially if they’re fortified with healthy fats. These fats may include coconut butter, some type of plant oil like rapeseed oil, sunflower oil, coconut oil, or avocado oil.
If you want to make plant milk at home and skip the oil, you can add nuts rich in healthy fats like cashews, walnuts, hazelnuts, or Macadamia nuts. Learn how to make your own homemade hemp milk (+ some yummy iced coffee recipes) here.
Important Note: If you have a baby, a toddler, or a child and would like to replace breast milk or cow’s milk with a plant-based alternative, consult with your child’s doctor first. Developing babies and children have different nutritional needs than adults, especially for calcium and protein, which is something plant milks can’t provide in sufficient amounts.
What is Dairy Milk?
Dairy milk is any milk that comes from mammals, most commonly cows, sheep, goats, camels, and humans. For dairy milk to become safe for consumption, it has to be homogenized and pasteurized in order to eliminate and destroy harmful bacteria and pathogens.
The main sugar in dairy milk is lactose which occurs naturally in the chemical composition of milk. The most widespread dairy milk types today are cow’s milk and goat milk, both of which are rich in protein, calcium, healthy fats, and vitamins.
Cow’s milk is the mainstream option and it can be organic or non-organic, with differences in taste, texture, origin, fat percentage, and nutrient content. However, due to its high lactose and casein content, many people find it hard to digest cow’s milk, developing either lactose intolerance or allergies.
Goat milk is stronger in taste than cow’s milk and it contains more protein, carbs, fats, calcium, and calories. It’s also easier to digest than cow’s milk because it contains lower amounts of lactose.
How to Choose the Best Type of Milk for You?
So how do you know which is the right type of milk for you and your dietary needs?
The key to finding the best milk for you is to listen to your body. If you have even the slightest intolerance to dairy or nuts, talk to your doctor about the dietary choices you should make. If you don’t have any digestive or health issues, you can always try different milks and decide which one makes you feel the best.
With so many brands on the market, you’ll likely go through a trial and error process until you find the best taste, texture, and frothing. Our advice is to go for organic milk (whether it’s plant or dairy) whenever possible or make your own plant and nut milk at fresh at home.
Plant Milk vs. Dairy Milk:
What’s Your All-Time Favorite Milk That You Use in Your Coffee?
Whether you choose dairy milk, plant milk, or nut milk, discovering what’s right for you depends on your own personal diet and nutrition needs, overall health, and lifestyle.
Talk to your doctor if you’re not sure what type of milk you should use and if you’re planning to switch to a different type. Also, make sure you eat a balanced, nutrient-rich diet in order to get all the vitamins, minerals, protein, and healthy fats you need daily.
Frosina A. Ivanovic is a content marketing specialist and writer. She’s passionate about quality coffee, travel, wellness, and digital marketing. You can connect with Frosina on LinkedIn or her website, Zhillmatic.