Which milk is right for you?

    There's a whole host of reasons why more and more people are cutting out cow's milk and exploring alternative substitutes to milk. Nutritional therapist, Kerry Torrens explored the most popular alternatives, before our cookery team put them to the test in the Good Food kitchen…

    Which milk is right for you?

    Scour the dairy shelves in your supermarket and, as well as cow’s milk, you can find goat’s milk, several soya options and milk-style drinks made from nuts. There’s a huge demand for these products, as four out of 10 British households now use an alternative to traditional milk in hot drinks, cereal or cooking.

    One reason is that some of us find cow’s milk difficult to digest, and blame symptoms like bloating, wind and diarrhoea on dairy. This may be because low levels of the enzyme lactase make it hard to digest the lactose (sugar) in dairy. Other people may be intolerant to cow’s milk protein or have a more serious allergy to dairy products.

    Milk allergy is also one of the most common childhood food allergies, affecting about 2-3 per cent of UK infants, with symptoms ranging from skin conditions to digestive problems.

     

    Milk bottleSkimmed, semi or whole? 

    Latest research reveals that skimmed milk isn’t necessarily the healthiest option. Yes, it’s lower in fat and calories, and higher in calcium, than whole milk, but some experts suggest that the saturated fat in dairy may not be a problem in terms of heart health. In fact, by drinking skimmed we may be missing out on fat-soluble nutrients like vitamins A and E.

    Semi-skimmed is low enough in fat to be a ‘low-fat’ food, but it also has lower levels of fat-soluble vitamins than whole milk. So make sure you get your fat-soluble vitamins from other sources, such as brightly coloured salad or veg served with an oil dressing.

     

    Best for babies

    The Department of Health recommends exclusively breast feeding your baby for the first six months of life - after that you can continue to breast feed alongside the introduction of your baby's first "solid foods". From one year of age whole cow’s milk may be offered as a drink. Semi-skimmed is an option from two years and skimmed milk only after five years of age. Always ask your GP or a dietitian for advice if you have queries about breastfeeding or your baby has a milk allergy - some alternatives, like soya drinks, may be unsuitable.

    Find out more about breast-feeding.

     

    Choose the right one for you

    Check our guide below for your best option. Whether you choose dairy milk or not, always include plenty of non-dairy sources of calcium in your diet, such as canned salmon and sardines, green leafy veg, nuts and seeds, including almonds and sesame seeds.

     

    Tradional cow's milkcows milk

    What is it? 

    A natural product, rich in protein and a source of calcium. Organic milk contains higher levels of healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and the cows are less likely to have been exposed to antibiotics and pesticides. Some people prefer homogenised cow’s milk, as homogenisation breaks down the fat molecules, making the milk easier to digest.

    Good for... 
    Cereal, porridge and in hot drinks, and naturally nutritious.

    Taste... 
    Mild and creamy.

    Cooking...
    Ideal in sauces and bakes.

    We tested...
    Whole Milk, 49p/pt, Tesco.

    Cow's milk nutrition per 100ml
    68kcals  122mg calcium 4g fat   2.6g sat fat 4.7g sugar 3.4g protein 

     

     

     

    Lacto freeLactose-free cow’s milk

    What is it?
    Cow’s milk that has been filtered to remove lactose, and has the lactase enzyme added. It contains the same nutrients as regular milk.

    Good for... 
    The lactose-intolerant.

    Taste...
    The same as cow’s milk.

    Cooking...
    Works as well as cow’s milk.

    We tested...
    Lactofree Whole lactosefree dairy drink, £1/1 litre, Asda.

     

    Lactose-free cow’s milk nutrition per 100ml
     58kcals 135mg calcium3.5g fat 2g sat fat 2.7g sugar 3.9g protein 

     

     

    a2 cow’s milkA2

    What is it?
    Milk containing a2 protein only. Cow’s milk consists of a range of proteins, one group being caseins, where the main types are a2 and a1. New research suggests that a1 can cause gut discomfort – if you’ve ruled out lactose-intolerance, you could try a2 milk.

    Good for...
    Those affected by milk protein.

    Taste...
    As good as cow’s milk.

    Cooking...
    Works as well as cow’s milk.

    We tested... 
    a2 Whole Milk, £1.99, Morrisons.
     

    a2 cow's milk nutrition per 100ml
    64 kcals 120mg calcium3.6g fat 2.4g sat fat 4.7g sugar 3.2g protein 

     

     

     

    Goat's milkGoat’s milk

    What is it?
    A natural product, nutritionally similar to cow’s milk.

    Good for...
    A useful option for people who can’t tolerate cow’s milk, as it has smaller fat particles and less lactose. Works well in tea, coffee and hot chocolate.

    Taste...
    A strong, distinctive flavour, slightly sweet with a sometimes salty undertone.

    Cooking...
    Suitable for use in most recipes.

    We tested... 
    St Helen’s Farm Whole Goats Milk, £1.49/1 litre, Sainsbury’s.
     

    Goat's milk nutrition per 100ml
    61 kcals120mg calcium 3.6g fat 2.5g sat fat 4.3g sugar 2.8g protein

     

     

     

    Soy or soya milkSoy milk

    What is it?
    Soya ‘milk’ is comparable in protein content to cow’s milk and is low in fat. Soy-based foods can help to manage cholesterol levels, although you need about 25g soy protein, or 3-4 glasses of soya milk a day, to achieve this. Some brands are fortified with calcium and vitamins A and D.

    Good for...
    Non-dairy drinkers who are looking for a low-fat option – check that your brand includes added calcium and vitamins A and D. Mixes well in tea and coffee.

    Taste...
    Nutty and thick, but not sticky.

    Cooking...
    Works well in baking – try it in our dairy-free Blueberry & coconut cake.

    We tested... 
    Vivesoy Unsweetened soy drink, £1.25/1 litre, Tesco.
     

    Soy or soya milk nutrition per 100ml
    37 kcals120mg calcium1.7g fat 0.26g sat fat 0.8g sugar protein 3.1g

     

     

     

    Almond milkAlmond milk

    What is it?
    A blend of almonds and spring water, this is fortified with calcium and vitamins, including D and B12.

    Good for... 
    Vegans and anyone avoiding animal products, because it’s fortified with vitamin B12. We enjoyed it in hot drinks but felt it worked best in coffee.

    Taste...
    A subtle nutty flavour – choose unsweetened for day-to-day use.

    Cooking...
    Use in the same quantities as cow’s milk – makes a good batch of scones.

    We tested...
    Alpro Almond Milk Unsweetened, £1.59/ 1 litre, Ocado.
     

    Almond milk nutrition per 100ml
    13 kcals 120mg calcium 1.1g fat 0.1g sat fat 0.1g sugar 0.4g protein 

     

     

    Coconut milkcoconut milk

    What is it?
    Made from pressed coconut with added calcium. This is lower in protein, with higher levels of saturated fat than most other plantbased options.

    Good for...
    Vegetarians. Try it with your cereal, and in tea and coffee.

    Taste...
    Light with a hint of coconut.

    Cooking...
    Great for baking, as the coconut flavour won’t overpower the food. Makes a good batch of sweet dairyfree pancakes – as the milk is quite thin, you won’t need as much in your batter.

    We tested... 
    Free From Coconut Milk, £1.69/1 litre, Tesco.
     

    Coconut milk nutrition per 100ml
    25 kcals 120mg calcium1.8g fat 1.6g sat fat 1.6g sugar 0.2g protein 

     

     

     

    Hemp milkHemp

    What is it?
    A blend of hemp seed and fortified with calcium and vitamin D.

    Taste...
    Mild and slightly sweet.

    Good for...
    Hot drinks.

    Cooking...
    Use in smoothies or sauces. Or freeze with fruit and honey for a non-dairy ice cream.

    We tested... 
    Braham & Murray Good Hemp Original, £1.49/1 litre, Tesco.
     

    Hemp milk nutrition per 100ml
    39 kcals120mg calcium2.5g fat 0.2g sat fat 1.6g sugar0.04g protein 

     

     

     

    Oat milkOat milk

    What is it?
    Made from oats and enriched with vitamins and calcium. Low in saturated fat.

    Good for...
    A low-fat option with all the goodness of oats.

    Taste... 
    Creamy with a slightly powdery aftertaste. 

    Cooking...
    Won’t split when heated, good for a white sauce.

    We tested... 
    Oatly Oat Drink, £1.39/1 litre, Sainsbury’s.
     

    Oat milk nutrition per 100ml
     45 kcals120mg calcium 1.5g fat 0.2g sat fat 4g sugar 1.0g protein 

     

     

    Rice milkRice milk

    What is it?
    A sweet milk, low in protein and fortified with calcium.

    Good for...
    Those who can’t tolerate dairy or soya.

    Taste...
    Sweet but neutral – doesn’t give hot drinks a milky colour.

    Cooking...
    Thin consistency, so you may need to thicken sauces with a little extra flour.

    We tested... 
    Rice Dream, £1.99/1 litre, Holland & Barrett.
     

    Rice milk nutrition per 100ml
    47 kcals 120mg calcium 1.0g fat 0.1g sat fat 4g sugar 0.1g protein 

     

    This article was last reviewed on 27 May 2016 by nutritional therapist Kerry Torrens.

    A registered Nutritional Therapist, Kerry Torrens is a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food magazine. Kerry is a member of the The Royal Society of Medicine, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).

    All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact  your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

    Do you have a lactose or soya allergy or just prefer the taste of milk alternatives? Let us know below...
     

    Comments, questions and tips

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    Comments (11)

    Life Of Diva's picture

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    julietho's picture

    Hi,
    Can I just point out that the nhs recommends exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months (i.e. With no other water or foods) and then to supplement Breast milk with food after this period. The WHO recommends Breast feeding for 2 years and beyond. This is the perfect milk for humans!!

    TerezaS's picture

    Lactose-free milk does NOT taste like cow's milk! I tried it once (from a very well known shop!) as I seem to have become intolerant to cow's milk, so thought it might be lactose-intolerance - it was revolting, FAR too sweet - and I have a very sweet tooth! Never again!

    Goodfood1999's picture

    Almond milk certainly is a good alternative - I've been using it for 2 years. However, you should make sure you read the labels, as the amount of almond actually in each product/carton varies HUGELY. For example, Alpro has 2% almonds, Rude Health 1% and EcoMill 7% - so in effect Alpro is twice as good for you as Rude Health, and Eco Mill is seven times better for you - so don't just go for the cheapest / prettiest carton. Also, Rude health actually has much more rice in it than almond - they should infact be advertising it as rice milk, but somehow manage to get away with calling it almond milk! And don't forget, making your own is easy.

    oldwalrus's picture

    One thing you missed - Raw Milk - as it comes from the cow, i.e. not messed around with, pasteurised milk loses most of it's goodness during the heat treatment! Whitewash is probably better for you! (it's what is used to con us into thinking it's good for us anyway - pasteurised milk that is)!

    mums_kitchen's picture

    I am definitely going to use milk alternatives, not because of taste or allergy, but having just woken up to the fact that cows will only produce milk if they've had a newborn. These little calves are taken from their mother within days so that they don't "bond", and most of the little ones are slaughtered soon after for veal.

    lp4v07's picture

    This is very untrue. Most calves aren't removed from their mother until much later than that and then most will be reared until adults either for beef or milking!

    flotty's picture

    I did not know this!! I will definitely not be drinking cows milk anymore.. thanks for the eye opener..

    dorsetdigger's picture

    I've been off milk for some years now, preferring to make my own by soaking oats and dessicated coconut overnight ... whizzing in the blender for a couple of minutes ... straining through a fine sieve and adding vanilla. Makes a particularly fantastic hot chocolate as it thickens when heated. The sludge left in the sieve can be used as porridge or to thicken soups/stews. 100g porridge oats + 35g desiccated coconut + 800ml water + half a teaspoon of sea-salt + 5ml vanilla essence. For anyone interested in their own health as well that of animals the reasons why I will never touch milk again are detailed on http://www.milkmyths.org.uk/.

    Whitney.'s picture

    Watch Earthlings and you will probably never drink cow's milk again.....

    evil_angelwings's picture

    Thanks for the recipe, Dorsetdigger. Its absolutely delicious and cost half to make as to buy!

    Questions (1)

    SaraG's picture

    I have a lactose intollerance /allergy. I think I prefere soya milk but truthfully have not tried all options. I have lactase tablets but find these have to be taken with care - Once a Week Only - which is very boring. I have had this intollerance for at least 18 years. For a short time I was OK - but then it returned & with age I seems to be more sensitive. Any ideas on how to get rid of it /manage it better will be gratefully recieved?!

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