Which milk is best for you?

Almond, soy, skim, low-fat, full cream… all the types of different milk explained.

When it comes to superfoods, it’s hard to look past dairy.  Cow’s milk is an essential source of calcium, protein, iodine, vitamin A, vitamin D, riboflavin, vitamin B12 and zinc in the Australian diet.  This is why the Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend consuming 2 ½ to 4 serves of dairy products or alternatives each day. Consuming just one serve of dairy per day is associated with a reduced risk of colorectal cancer. Two serves per day are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke, and three serves are associated with a reduced risk of hypertension.

Skim, low fat or full cream milk?

These terms relate to the fat content of milk. Full cream milk contains 4% fat, while reduced-fat contains 1-2% fat, and skim milk contains less than 1%. The fat content is directly related to the calorie content.

This difference in Calories can add up over a day, so keep this in mind if you’re trying to lose weight. Cow’s milk is rich in saturated fat, which can contribute to elevated blood cholesterol levels. Reduced-fat and skim milk can be better options for some people who are wanting to manage their calorie intake.

Which milk do I choose? Cows milk skim vs full cream breakdown.


Looking at the nutrition panel, you may notice that reduced fat and skim milk contain more sugar than full cream milk. It’s important to note that sugar is not added to these kinds of milk. They contain more sugar per 100g because the fat content has decreased. So, the naturally occurring sugar and protein content has increased proportionately. If you want to be sure that sugar is not added to your milk, check the ingredients list.

Allergies and intolerances

Dairy products are health promoting and recommended as part of a healthy diet, but some people need to avoid cow’s milk for medical reasons. People with lactose intolerance should choose lactose free cow’s milk. As it contains all of the same nutrients as regular cow’s milk without the lactose.  Lactose free milk is available in full cream, reduced fat and skim formulations. For people with a cow’s milk protein allergy, calcium fortified soy milk is the best alternative. It’s the closest match to cow’s milk in terms of nutrition. Other milk alternatives such as almond milk, oat milk and rice milk are lacking in protein and are not always fortified with calcium.

Vegan and plant-based diets

If you follow a vegan or plant-based diet, soy milk is the best alternative to cow’s milk. While products such as almond milk and coconut milk have increased in popularity in recent years, they are naturally low in calcium and are not always fortified. Protein is also an issue. Cow’s milk is required, by law, to contain at least 3% protein. There are currently no such regulations for plant-based milk alternatives. Soy milk is close to cow’s milk in terms of protein content. Other products are usually lower in protein, making them a poor substitute for cow’s milk.

Soy milk has fallen out of favour in recent years because of concerns around increasing oestrogen levels (due to soy milk’s isoflavone content) and the risk of thyroid conditions and breast cancer.  However, numerous studies show that eating a diet rich in soy foods is health-promoting and protective against some cancers. The concerns around the safety of soy are related to isoflavone supplements, which are much more concentrated than soy milk and other soy-based foods. Studies show that if you are consuming soy milk, not soy or isoflavone supplements, there are no concerns.

Which milk do I choose? Cows milk skim vs soy milk breakdown.

Milk for strong, healthy bones

Many Australians wonder whether milk is required for bone health. We need both calcium and vitamin D to build and maintain strong, healthy bones, which are vital for leading a long and active life. Milk is rich in both calcium and vitamin D, making it the perfect food to support healthy bones.

In Australia, over 1 million people are living with osteoporosis. After the age of 20, it is more difficult for the body to build bone mass, so continued calcium and vitamin D intake are important to help maintain healthy bones and prevent osteoporosis. Many people reduce their consumption of dairy products to cut calories when trying to lose weight – this can be a problem if calcium and vitamin D are not replaced elsewhere in the diet. If you are following a reduced calorie diet and not consuming dairy and alternatives frequently, it’s crucial to choose products fortified with calcium and vitamin D.

Which milk do I choose? Cows milk skim vs almond milk breakdown.

The bottom line

Cow’s milk is the best option for most people, as it is an important source of protein and calcium.  Those trying to lose weight should switch to reduced-fat or skim milk. People who are lactose intolerant should choose lactose-free milk. Those with a cow’s milk protein allergy or following a vegan or plant-based diet should choose soy milk, as it contains most of the nutrients of cow’s milk.  Regardless of which milk you choose, calcium and vitamin D are crucial, so choose the calcium- and vitamin D-fortified options where possible.

Which milk do I choose? Cows milk vs soy milk vs other plant based milks breakdown.


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Ashleigh Jones, – Senior Dietitian at Lite n' Easy