February 01, 2019

Are plant-based milks healthier than cow's milk?

Q: Are plant-based milks such as soy milk or almond milk healthier than cow's milk?

A: Cow's milk (dairy) and the other plant-based beverages you mention can all be healthy choices. However, there are wide nutritional differences depending on the type of product and the brand. You can generally break down the benefits by:

  • Fat content — Skim milk has negligible amounts of fat, but the amounts of cholesterol-raising saturated fat increase stepwise with 1 percent, 2 percent or whole milk. Soy and almond milks contain about 2 to 4 grams of fat per cup — but it's predominantly healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
  • Protein — Dairy milk takes the protein title with a little over 8 grams per cup. Soy milk comes in a close second with about 7 grams per cup. Traditional almond milk lags behind with just 1 gram per cup. Of note, some newer nut milk varieties have added pea protein.
  • Calcium — Dairy milk naturally has about 300 milligrams of calcium per cup. Many soy or almond milks are fortified with calcium to at least match the amount of calcium in dairy milk, but you'll need to check nutrition labels to determine calcium content.
  • Added sugars — Unflavored white dairy milk and unsweetened soy and almond milk contain no added sugars. However, for some, the taste of unsweetened soy or almond milk can be an issue. You may find between 4 and 20-plus grams of...