Plant Vs. Animal Milk: What’s The Real Deal?

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There’s a lot of buzz going around about milks – plants versus animals. It’s hard to decipher which are true claims and which are nothing more than veiled advertisements.

Since non-dairy milk alternatives have hit the scene in  recent decades, it’s important to take a look at their health value compared to the time-tested animal milks.

Some refuse to consume animal milk. And some swear by their healthy and healing powers. Who is right? Let’s look just at each type and see all those pros and cons.


Plant Milks

1. Almond milk

Though almonds pack a protein and nutritional punch, once almonds are processed into milk, most of their nutrient value has greatly depreciated. Almond milk isn’t really “milk” by traditional definition. It is actually made from almonds and water. We refer to this drink as to milk because of its texture, color, and taste. Almond milk has a very distinct nutty flavor and all the natural nutritional benefits of almonds like calcium, potassium, protein, and fiber.

Almond milk contains 40 calories, 1 gram of protein, 2 grams of carbohydrate, and 3 grams of fat per cup. However, the almond content varies from 2-10%, so read the labels attentively.

If you’re looking for a low calorie milk, almond is the way to go. Watch out for additives, such as carrageenan, though, which have been associated with intestinal issues. Though commercial almond milk may contain artificial vitamins and minerals to fortify it, synthetic vitamins and minerals do not absorb completely in the body, leaving much of the nutrition to waste. You can try to make your own almond milk in order to avoid all those artificial additives and sweeteners.

Pros – Low calorie, low carbohydrate, vitamins and minerals, no lactose.

Cons – Low nutrient value.


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2. Other nut milks

You can also find other nut milks, such as peanut or cashew. Peanut milk contains 150 calories, 6 grams of protein, 16 grams of carbohydrate, 11 grams of fat. But, it also has 7 grams of sugar per cup.


3. Soy milk

Soy milk is made by grinding soaked soybeans in water and is another alternative to traditional dairy. There are lots of soy milks available out there, many of them fortified with minerals and vitamins to create the taste and look and nutrition similar to cow’s milk. They’re naturally higher in protein than other plant milks and have a low GI.

Soy milk contains about 130 calories, 8 grams of protein, 15 grams of carbohydrate, and 4.5 grams of fat per cup. It also contains around 7 grams of sugar.

However, soy foods contain estrogen and the presence of too much of this hormone in the body has been linked to cancer, especially cancer of the breasts. Most soy milks contain genetically modified soy, which has also been linked to cancer and other health issues.

Pros – High protein for plant-based milk, naturally cholesterol free, low in fat, high in proteins, long shelf life.

Cons – High estrogen content, high risk of GMOs content.


4. Coconut milk

Coconut milk is made by grinding dried coconut, boiling it in water, and then straining it. Usually vegetable oils, mineral salts, and thickeners are added to this drink. The end product contains 5-20% of the original coconut cream or milk. That’s the case because coconut milk is very often diluted with water. Some makes add flavour to enhance the coconut taste.

With its popularity, coconut milk has become processed. Avoid coconut milk with additives and preservatives, such as sulfites, added sugar and flavorings, and carrageenan.

Note, that coconut water is different from coconut milk. Coconut water is the actual water found in coconuts, while coconut milk and coconut cream are made from coconut flesh/meat soaked in water.

Coconut milk is full of medium-chain triglycerides, which give you a boost of energy, decrease inflammation, and even contains antibacterial properties.

Pros – low carbohydrate and high medium-chain triglyceride.

Cons – May contain harmful additives, high fat.


RELATED: 9 Health Benefits Of Coconut Milk Infographic


5. Rice milk

Rice milk contains 120 calories, 1 gram of protein, 22 grams of carbohydrates, and 1 gram of fat per cup. Though it’s another plant-based alternative for those who can’t have dairy, rice milk has little natural nutritional value as synthetic vitamins are added. Rice is also under scrutiny for containing unnatural forms of arsenic, a toxic substance known to cause cancer and skin issues. Consuming large amounts of rice milk, especially for infants and children, is viewed by some as dangerous.

Pros – Low fat plant-based milk option.

Cons – Low nutrient value, high arsenic content.


Animal Milks

1. Cow milk

Cow milk contains around 100 calories, and today is sold with a percentage of fat: Whole milk, all fat is left in the product; 2%, 2% of the milk is fat; 1%, 1% of the milk is fat, and skim, fat free. Full fat milk contains around 3.5% fat.

But not all cow milk is created equal. Cows have four stomachs to digest grasses, though most cows today are fed a conventional diet of corns and grains – a far cry from what their bodies were built to use. Store-bought cows’ milk is further homogenized and pasteurized (heating to a temperature to kill bacteria and pathogens). The issue is that pasteurization kills the good bacteria with the bad, and the crucial enzymes.

If you can get your hands on grass-fed milk, do so. If you can get your hands on grass-fed, raw milk, where you know the farmer and can see the quality of their operation, do so. State laws vary greatly as to the availability of raw milk, and you can check them out here. Though unpasteurized milk may deter some individuals, the truth is that raw milk is not as “dirty” as it was when pasteurization was introduced, as hygiene practices have greatly evolved. Pasteurizing milk can damage bacteria and enzymes needed for proper digestion.

Pros – High in natural, healthy fats and protein, as well as living enzymes and good bacteria.

Cons – Contains lactose, most cow milk is highly processed, unpasteurized, organic milk may be hard to locate.


2. Goat milk

Goat milk may be easier for humans to digest than cow milk because its protein make-up resembles human milk. Those who have trouble drinking cow milk or have lactose issues may find relief from drinking goat milk.

A cup of goat milk has 9 grams of protein, 10 grams of carbs, and 11 grams of fat. It contains around 160 calories per cup. Goat milk contains more protein, good fats, and calories than cow milk, while containing less lactose. If you’re looking for an animal milk packed with protein, but limited lactose, goat milk may be the answer. Though few stores carry goat milk, you may be able to find a local farmer or a powdered goat milk in a conventional grocery store.

Ancient cultures across the world supplemented with goat milk when human milk was not available. The Weston A. Price Foundation still suggests if breast milk needs to be supplemented, that goat milk is the way to go. If you can bear the goaty taste, it may be a good idea to switch to natural, organic goat milk.

Pros – Lactose free.

Cons – Availability.


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What about Conservation?

How much water is needed to make plant and animal milk? It takes 1.1 gallons to make 1 almond, or 460 gallons to make 1 pound of almonds. Each gallon of almond milk needs two pounds of almonds, which equates to 920 gallons of water.

Four gallons of water are reportedly needed to make 1 cup of cow milk. That means that 64 gallons of water are needed to make one gallon of conventional cow milk. Grass-fed cows may consume less water as they will be eating living grass which contains water.


So What Milk should you Choose?

If you are allergic to lactose, you obviously must avoid cow’s milk. You could try goat milk, or a non-dairy substitute. Almond milk is the most popular non-dairy milk, and is also the healthiest. However, be sure to look for an almond milk without carrageenan and other additives that’s organic, if possible.

While non-dairy milk offers an alternative to those with sensitivities, they generally contain less calories, protein, fat, as well as bioavailable vitamins and minerals as cow or goat milks. The content of the animal’s diet determines how healthy it’s milk is, and it’s important to choose whole fat, grass-fed organic dairy whenever possible. Studies show that grass-fed dairy is healthier than conventional dairy.

Though milk can contain a number of healthy vitamins and minerals, it’s important to note that milk is not crucial. It’s very possible to be completely healthy without consuming milk. So, if you cannot consume cow milk or don’t have access to healthy dairy or non-dairy milks, that is okay. Organic, raw fruits and vegetables and grass-fed, organic meats contain all of the vitamins and minerals your body needs.