Wondering what milk version is the best choice for health and performance?
Is cows milk better than the alternative milks?
Or is soy milk and almond milk the healthier choice?
In today’s blog, I compare the 3 biggest players in the milk game (Dairy Milk vs Soy Milk vs. Almond Milk), to answer the question: which type of milk is BEST?
The milk debate has been going for years now and there is always the question I most often get asked: which milk should I drink? When it comes to milk comparisons, the key is to not let emotion or social media influence you and use the nutrition profile of each milk product to determine who is the undisputed winner.
Milk is a staple of many diets around the world and is very likely one of the more common food products you personally buy each and every week you make the trek to your local grocery store. However, in the last decade or so, we have seen two factors come up that have complicated the milk game: the unprecedented rise of the milk alternatives as well as unjustified “dairy hate” perpetuated by the misinformed and pseudo-Scientifics that are found on social media and on TV.
Let’s address the latter nice and quickly shall we. There is NO/ZERO/ZILTCH evidence to support the notion that dairy and dairy milk is bad for you or causes “inflammation” or causes weight gain problems. The only time you should avoid dairy milk is if you are allergic, intolerant, or simply hate the taste. Beyond that, you should be able to freely and happily chug down good ol milk as you please (within moderation of course, as with anything we put in our mouths).
Now as for the case of the rise of milk alternatives in terms of both availability and popularity…well that can be explained by and large by the direct effect of the diary propaganda mentioned above as well as the fact that more and more people who can’t tolerate normal milk, now have alternatives that suit their needs.
However, today we are comparing the 3 big players in the milk game from the perspective of nutrition adequacy and for those who are not suffering from allergies or intolerances which determines the suitable options for them. Although, even if that is you, this blog will help you decide on the BEST alternative milk so keep on reading my friend.
Anyways, without further ado…
Introducing the 3 Amigos
The 3 biggest players are:
I will be comparing these 3 from the angle of what the main purpose of milk is from a culinary or nutritional point of view: to boost protein intake (i.e. build strong functioning bodies) AND to boost calcium intake (i.e. to build strong mighty bones). Protein and calcium will be noted in ‘per 250mL’ standards as that is 1 standard cup and well…milk is a cup filler at the end of the day.
Beyond that, obviously taste preferences will be a key determinant for you but I don’t talk in subjectives here. I will also not nurture you misguided hate for dairy that is not supported by science and research - so do not expect me to keep your feelings in check either (#JustSaying).
Dairy milk is the milky goodness you get when you milk a fellow mammal such as your dairy cow or goat (I have even heard that camels milk is none too bad but I havent personally tried it so can’t talk in absolutes). Dairy milk is technically the only “real milk” by definition but we live in a world where technicalities don’t matter when new food products are created. This milk not only provides a good healthy dose of protein and calcium but is also full of other nutrients and electrolytes - making it a great recovery concoction for the athletically inclined.
Protein (per 250mL): 8-9 grams (depending on the milk)
Calcium (per 250mL): 295-330 grams (again, depending on your milk brand and type of choice)
Soy milk (Soya Milk in some parts of the vocabulary of society), is a plant based drink made from the soaking and grinding of soybeans. This milk alternative is the OG of milk alternatives in my eyes and has been around for MANY years. Being a soybean product, soy milk has a good dose of complete plant based protein - making it a solid vegan friendly protein option.
Soy based products such as soy milk, also have a dose of calcium which makes it a universally reasonable option when dairy milk can’t be consumed. Fortification with calcium is also very common among soy milk products which only adds to the nutritional balance. By and large, soy milk is the closest thing to cows milk nutritionally among all the alternative milks due to its natural protein content and healthy dose of calcium goodness.
Protein (per 250mL): 8.5 grams
Calcium (per 250mL): 275-300+ grams (varies by brand and type)
Almond milk is simply a plant based drink made from the processing of water and almonds. It is not created by a hard morning of milking your almonds - duh. Despite being called almond milk, however, it bares very little resemblance nutritionally to almonds (I liken it to the water leftover after almonds decide to take a wee lil bath). It’s semi-almond. It’s quasi-almond. It’s the diet coke of almonds.
Nonetheless, it’s super trendy and popular especially since the rise of more plant based eating. However, because of the nature of almond milk, it is protein deficient and needs to be calcium fortified to be even comparable to it’s dairy or soy milk competitors. Here is a guideline to follow: make sure any milk alternatives have AT LEAST 120mg of calcium per 100mL serve to be considered equivalent to dairy milk in that department (if not, then you are just drinking fancy water with crap nutrition).
Protein (per 250mL): 1.5 grams
Calcium (per 250mL): 200-300 grams (varies by brand and type)
So now you know the fundamentals of the 3 biggest players in the milk game. Based on the information presented above, it should be clear what the hierarchy is and the answer to the question of “which milk is best?” is evident.
If you have no allergies or intolerances and like dairy milk, then you will be happy to know that dairy milk is still the OG and the best milk option to have (for athletes and non-athletes alike). You can’t go wrong with the natural hit of high quality protein, healthy dose of adequate calcium, and the benefits of the other nutrients naturally found in dairy.
If you can’t drink dairy or don’t like the taste, then soy milk is definitely the next best thing. Soy milk has a good dose of decent quality plant based protein and is typically more than adequate in calcium. The only drawback is the taste is an acquired one for some.
If you can’t drink dairy nor can tolerate soy (allergy or otherwise), the almond milk that is FORTIFIED with calcium is the okay choice. You should still be able to eat enough protein from other sources but some extra effort will be needed.
All in all, you should NOT be choosing almond (or even soy milk) simply because you heard drinking dairy milk is “bad for you” or causes “XYZ” or some other B.S. There is too much misinformation around dairy in the nutrition space so make sure you get your info and advice from a Dietitian.
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Coach Aleksa (The Sports Dietitian)
Hi there! My name's Aleksa Gagic - i'm a Brisbane Sports Dietitian & Brisbane Sports Nutritionist. I have 7+ years experience in providing professional nutrition consulting and want to help you learn about the power of flexible nutrition.