Cows Milk vs Non-Dairy Milk Alternatives

Dairy has been a hot topic lately and I am here to offer clarification on this from a nutrition standpoint. There are several reasons why you may choose dairy free products whether is it for health (allergies/intolerances), ethical or environmental purposes. However, low-fat dairy is one of the best sources of calcium and a good source of protein. If you opt to use a non-dairy alternative it is important to make sure you are not missing out on important nutrients. Below is the run down on cow’s milk and many popular non-dairy milk alternatives.

Cow’s milk

Good source of calcium, potassium, and protein. Often fortified with vitamin A and D. Contains cholesterol and saturated fat, however you can limit the amount of saturated fat by selecting skim, 1% or 2% milk.

Lactaid milk (same nutrition benefits as regular cow’s milk)

Cow’s milk that is enriched with lactase enzyme. Suitable for those with lactose intolerance, which is the inability to digest lactose (natural occurring sugar in milk) due to a lactase enzyme deficiency.

A2 milk (same nutrition benefits as regular cow’s milk)

Cow’s milk that has been alternated to remove A1 protein, which can cause gastrointestinal discomfort that may be masked as lactose intolerance. The two proteins in milk are whey and casein. Furthermore, casein contains different variants A1 and A2 protein. A1 has been correlated with gastrointestinal symptoms vs A2. If you have tried lactose free milk without any relief, this may be an option worth trying before a dairy free milk alternative.

Non-dairy milk alternatives

Two major factors to look for:

1. Unsweetened – containing no added sugar.

2. Fortified with calcium – most milk alternatives do not contain calcium unless fortified.

Soy milk

Low fat, cholesterol free and good source of protein. Similar nutrition profile as cow’s milk except not a good source of calcium (unless fortified). Contain isoflavones an antioxidant associated protective benefits from heart disease, cancer and osteoporosis.

Nut milk (almond, cashew)

This is a low calorie option – on average it has about 30 calories per serving for unsweetened varieties. They contain no saturated fat and are cholesterol free. However, they are not a good source of protein. They’re a great option to blend into smoothies or protein shakes.

Dairy, soy and nut free alternatives – great for those with multiple food allergies

Coconut milk

Similar to nut milk, coconut milk is a low calorie option but not a good source of protein. It is cholesterol free, however a majority of the calories come from saturated fat.

Oat Milk

Oak milk is the newest non-dairy milk alternate on the market and is both a cholesterol and fat free option. Oats are good source of fiber, however oat milk only contains about 1g fiber per serving.


By Allie Coulter, RD, CD, PRO Medical Registered Dietitian

Looking for more support with your personal nutrition needs? Schedule 1:1 with a dietitian at PRO Medical.

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