The Cow, The Oat, The Soy or The Goat? Which milk is best?

One of the most prevalent food staple in everyone’s fridge is milk! From the day we were born, we are pretty much conditioned to include this creamy white liquid in our daily diet. We all know that calcium is crucial for the health and development of our bones and also vital for many other functions in our body. It is essential that we consume calcium in our diet and milk is a very efficient way of delivering it to our body. The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend that most of us consume 2-3 serves of preferably reduced fat dairy foods daily with teenage girls, pregnant and breastfeeding women and those over 51 years of age requiring up to 4 serves. This can be achieved with one cup of milk on breakfast cereal, 50g cheddar cheese in a sandwich at lunch and one tub of yoghurt plus a milky coffee (e.g. latte) and will provide more than 1200mg of calcium before even considering other food sources of calcium.

But some people don’t like to drink milk. Some people are lactose intolerant, a small number of people have milk allergies while others fear weight gain, mucous formation and bloating. For these reasons, a number of milk alternatives have flooded the marketplace.


There is a vast array of milks in the dairy section of the average supermarket. On one major supermarket online store, there are 138 different milk products listed and in a Wholefoods online store there were 23 different soy and milk substitutes to choose from. From whole milk to fat reduced and skim milk, to A2, soy milk, almond, hazelnut, coconut and rice milk. There’s milk with added Vitamin D, lactose free milk, goat’s milk and, wait for it, even camel milk. It’s clear to see that milk is an every-day product for most Australians and tastes vary as do opinions on what is healthy or what is best.

Variety of Milks listed on an online supermarket store*

Type Number Type Number Type Number
Full Cream 16 Soy 10 Long Life 20
Low Fat 24 Specialty 5 Oat/Rice 5
No Fat 2 Probiotic 4 Organic 8
Flavoured 39 A2 6 Almond 15
Lactose Free 7 Coconut 2 Permeate free 10

*Coles online: 17/8/2016

Some infants and very young children experience an allergic reaction to cow’s milk resulting in hives, wheezing and, in severe cases, anaphylactic shock. In most cases, children grow out of this condition by the age of 3-5 years. More information on cow’s milk allergy can be found on this website:

Lactose intolerance is a common problem for Australian children and adults, with many children growing out of the problem once mature, and others experiencing increasing difficulty with milk digestion. Common symptoms of lactose intolerance include stomach discomfort, bloating, gas, and diarrhea. This occurs when insufficient levels of the enzyme, lactase, is produced to aid in the digestion of lactose, which is present at high levels in milk. Many individuals can consume small quantities of lactose without experiencing symptoms, and only have issues when larger amounts are consumed. So a dash of milk in the morning coffee is fine, while a large banana smoothie leaves them feeling worse for wear. Regardless, many aim to avoid lactose altogether by opting for a milk alternative. A person’s choice of milk comes down to factors such as personal taste preference and opinions and beliefs about what is most healthy.

Lactose Free Milk is an alternative found in the supermarket today and is designed for people with lactose intolerance. During processing, the lactose within the milk is broken down before packaging, making it a suitable type of milk for those who are lactose intolerant. Soy Milk is also lactose-free and is therefore another suitable alternative to cow’s milk. Many people also choose soy milk for its distinct nutty flavour or because they are following a vegan diet. Soy milk does not naturally contain calcium but many brands are fortified with calcium. If soy milk is preferred, it is advisable to choose a calcium-fortified brand to ensure daily calcium intake is adequate.

Milk contains many proteins, one of which is called beta-casein. A1 and A2 are two common forms of beta-casein. Regular cow’s milk contains a mixture of approximately 60% A2 and 40% A1 beta casein. Milk labelled as ‘A2 milk’ contains mainly the A2 type of beta-casein. To date, there is no solid scientific evidence suggesting that A2 milk is healthier than regular milk and a recent review concluded that it is unlikely A1 in cow’s milk is detrimental to human health (

With the concept of “superfoods” the light has shone brightly upon the health benefits of almonds, particularly related to cardiovascular health. This has resulted in almond milk becoming all the rage in recent years. Boutique brands of fresh almond milk are finding their way into food stores with some costing almost $10 a liter. Almond milk is lactose and dairy-free, so it’s a suitable alternative for people allergic to soy and cow’s milk or are lactose intolerant, or vegan. It has a naturally nutty flavour that many people enjoy.

Many health-conscious, whole food devotees now go to the effort to make almond milk in their own home by soaking almonds in water, grounding them and passing the fluid through muslin cloth. This version of almond milk will have close to 12% almond content (and 88% water). For the time-deprived amongst us, the supermarket is a more realistic option. Many brands on the supermarket shelf have high water content and some sugars added. Some have as little as 2% almond content. The table below shows a comparison of almond milk brand available today:

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A milk buying guide was produced by Choice and is available at: (

Here is a comparison of the nutritional value of some popular milks in today’s marketplace:

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At the end of the day, as long as daily calcium requirements are met through the consumption of a variety of dairy foods (cheese and yogurt if you don’t like milk), nuts and/or foods like sardines with bones, then the only other main factor is nurturing the enjoyment of eating the nutritious foods we love.

Recipe : Banana Oat Smoothie

Processed with VSCO with m5 preset

 1 banana

1/3 cup oats

Tbs almonds or almond butter

½ cup milk of your choice

1 small tub plain natural yogurt

Squeeze of honey (add a drizzle more after blitzing if sweetness is desired)


Blitz all ingredients together until smooth and creamy

copyright 2016

Author: Kristin McMaster, Masters of Human Nutrition, Founder of Food Studies Australia