A Buyer’s Guide to Better Milk

a buyer's guide to better milk

Buying a carton of milk used to be a pretty uncomplicated affair, since it was simply a matter of choosing between fat-free, low-fat, and whole. Nowadays, the options seem endless, with everything from grass fed to goat, not to mention the burgeoning category of plant-based milks.  In our house, 1 % organic cow’s milk was always the refrigerator staple. These days, though, I also stock a plant milk, which rotates from almond to cashew, walnut to oat milk. To sort out the best buy for your family, I’ve pulled together this buyer’s guide to navigating the milk aisle.  I’d love to get your two cents on the milk scene (and hear about anything I’ve missed), so feel free to share in the comments section below.

Cow’s Milk

If you think about it, cow’s milk is the least processed of all the options out there, since it comes straight from the source with relatively little added beyond vitamins A and D. Unfortunately, cow’s milk doesn’t go down so well among folks who have a dairy allergy or intolerance (and is verboten for those who are vegan). Lactose-free milk is a solution for some with a dairy intolerance. I’ve also got my ears perked up about A2 Milk, a product being marketed as an option for those who don’t tolerate dairy particularly well  (read more about A2 Milk by heading here).

Goat’s Milk and Other Alternatives

Folks with an allergy or intolerance to cow’s milk can sometimes do goat milk without a problem. Same goes for sheep’s milk, as well as the newest addition to this milk category in this country, camel’s milk (yes, you heard me, camel’s milk is a thing). The biggest challenge here is lack of availability in mainstream markets and price. The nutritional profiles of these milks vary somewhat from cow’s milk, but all are sources of protein, calcium, fat, and carbohydrates.

Soy Milk

A popular choice for decades, soy milk is nearly as good a protein source as cow’s milk. And although not naturally high in calcium, most soy milk is fortified. If concern about GMOs is on your radar, opt for organic soy milk, since the great majority of soy in this country comes from GMO crops. Also, soy milk often has added sweeteners, flavorings, and additives that you may want to skip, so be sure to read the list of ingredients before putting it in your shopping cart.

Nut Milks

The popularity of nut milk started a number of years ago with almond milk. These days, the array of nut-based offerings has ballooned and includes pistachio, cashew, walnut, hazelnut (as well as some seed milks, too). Be sure to read the label to look for added sweeteners, since sugar is a common ingredient in nut milk. The majority of brands are fortified with calcium, but have significantly less protein than cow or soy milk (less than one gram per cup in some cases). So if you’re looking to boost protein at a meal or snack, nut milk may not be the solution. As for coconut milk, be aware of the significant difference in calorie and fat content of canned coconut milk (very high calorie)  versus boxed (more akin to other plant milks). Lastly, if you’re making your own nut milk, know that it doesn’t measure up in terms of calcium relative to store-bought.

Oat, Rice, and other Milks

Rice milk has historically been a popular option for folks with a lot of food allergies. It is low in calories with a thinner consistency than many other plant milks. Hemp milk is higher in calories than many other plant milks and delivers heart-healthy omega-3 fats. Oat milk has emerged in recent years as a real favorite. It has a taste with wide appeal and works for folks with nut allergies.

Pea Milk

Milk from yellow peas? Doesn’t sound particularly appetizing, but taste wise, it’s  a new favorite. Sold under the brand name Ripple, pea milk has an appealing mouthfeel and flavor.  The big difference of Ripple relative to other plant milks is that it has a high protein level, on par with cow’s milk. They’ve also worked a decent amount of healthy Omega-3 fats into the milk as well. Be sure to reach for the unsweetened variety, though, since the vanilla and chocolate have somewhere in the neighborhood of four teaspoons of added sugar per serving.

One important last note, be sure to shake the container before you pour any plant-based milk, since the calcium can settle at the bottom and will never get to your bones.

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buyer's guide to better milk

photo credit: pixabay


10.24.2016 at 5:29 AM #

Ginny Cobb, RD, LDN

Great article, Katie. This subject comes up frequently in my practice. I will refer to it often. I enjoy reading your posts! Keep up the good work!

10.24.2016 at 5:29 AM #

Katie Morford

Hi Ginny, so glad this will be useful!

10.24.2016 at 7:15 AM #

Catherine McCord

This is SO helpful and interesting!

10.24.2016 at 7:38 AM #

Trina Robertson

Thanks Katie for this complete review. It’s a good reminder that milk, whichever your preference, is a nutritious part of your day. Speaking of that, it’s time to break out the 1% milk for my morning latte.

10.24.2016 at 7:38 AM #

Katie Morford

Enjoy that latte 🙂

10.24.2016 at 9:03 AM #

Kim-NutritionPro Consulting

Very informative post! Clears up many common misconceptions among consumers.

10.24.2016 at 10:57 AM #

Noreen Gallo

Great article. So nice to clear up some of the “hype” around this topic. I will share often with my clients Noreen Gallo MS RD

10.24.2016 at 12:32 PM #

Jessica @ Nutritioulicious

This is such a helpful run down of all the (many) milk options available these days. I recently saw a picture of Ripple, but didn’t know it was pea milk. So interesting! Thanks for sharing!

10.25.2016 at 8:52 AM #


We always have cow’s milk and soy milk in our fridge. I prefer soy to almond or other nut milks due to it’s protein content. It is most used for smoothies that need those protein grams.

10.25.2016 at 8:52 AM #

Katie Morford

I like soy milk in smoothies too…and I agree that it’s nice to get some protein in there.

03.01.2017 at 6:19 AM #


thanks for the information

09.02.2017 at 8:29 AM #


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12.31.2017 at 10:24 PM #

April T.

Best milk alternative EVER: http://www.oatly.com/

Someone turned me on to it – it’s balanced (fat, protein, low sugar) and so creamy and delicious. You can use the ‘finder’ to try it at a coffee shop near you (many also sell it).

12.31.2017 at 10:24 PM #

Katie Morford

Hi April,

Thanks for the comment. I haven’t seen Oatly in my neck of the woods, but will keep my eye out for it!

01.12.2018 at 1:25 PM #


I don’t like nut or soy milks, but oat milk is delicious! To me it has a similar feel to cows milk and pleasant, mild taste. Whole Foods carries a shelf stable brand.

01.12.2018 at 1:25 PM #

Katie Morford

Funny…I was just reading an article in this months vogue, which included a taste test of all of the alternative milks and oat was in the top five. Also up there was pea milk (Ripple brand), camel milk, sheep milk, and goat milk.

04.24.2019 at 3:34 AM #


I’m a big fan of Dakin Dairy Farms milk (https://dakindairyfarms.com) that is sold in the Tampa Bay area of Florida. Our local Whole Foods Markets even repackage it under their 365 brand, which is awesome. It’s pretty much grass-fed and organic, and it’s local. I can tell that it isn’t pasteurized as much as the typical commercial cow’s milk, because it tends to go bad in less than a week. That makes it even better in my mind, since I’ve read that the higher the heat used to pasteurize milks, the less nutrients are left in them (why so many like raw milk).

04.24.2019 at 3:34 AM #

Katie Morford

That sounds wonderful….worth seeking out for those who live in the area. We have Strauss brand in the Bay Area, which sounds very similar and is delicious (great yogurt, too).

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