The number of people choosing nondairy, plant-based alternatives to cow's milk appears to be growing. So, how do these different milks compare nutritionally?

says that eating and drinking milk that comes from cows has been falling, with interest in alternative milks rising.

Some of the different types of plant-based milk products include:

  • almond
  • hemp
  • oat
  • soy
  • coconut
  • rice
  • quinoa
  • spelt

One of the main medical reasons why people choose plant-based milk products is to avoid symptoms of lactose intolerance or a cow milk protein allergy.

Doctors estimate the incidence of this allergy is in children under 3 years old. The incidence is lower in adults.

Some people may also choose plant-based milk products because they believe they are more sustainable, ethical, or healthful options compared to cow's milk.

In this article, we take a look at the pros and cons of drinking almond, cow, hemp, oat, and soy milk from a health perspective.

man looking at non dairy milk in supermarket
The number of people drinking nondairy milk is increasing.

Almond milk is one of the most widely consumed plant-based milk variety in North America, the European Union, and Australia. Researchers have suggested that almond milk is an who suffer with allergies or intolerances to milk.

Compared to cow's milk, almond milk has less saturated fat and more unsaturated fats. The healthful fats in almond milk may help people lose weight and keep it off.

Almond milk is low in calories and protein, which may not be suitable for all people, especially children.

People who are not looking to lose weight will need to add additional sources of calories, and choose healthful sources of protein, such as beans and fish, to meet their daily needs.

Some manufacturers add calcium to almond milk to better resemble the nutritional content in cow's milk. People be able to absorb as much of this calcium as they would from dairy, so they should be sure to consume plenty of other calcium sources, such as dark green vegetables.

Almond milk is available in flavored varieties. Some of these products have added sugar to extend the shelf life and improve the flavor and texture.

When people add almond milk to hot beverages, they will notice the milk separates.

Unflavored hemp beverages are also compared with cow's milk. There is, however, more protein in hemp beverages than in almond milk.

Hemp seeds are also , similarly to almond milk. shows that replacing saturated fats with these more healthful fats can help lower a person's overall cholesterol.

Hemp milk will not separate in hot drinks, so people can add it to their coffee and tea.

Some people may not like homemade hemp milk because of its earthy taste and chalky texture. Store-bought varieties have additional ingredients that help to mask the taste and texture.

Oat milk has a mild, creamy flavor that makes it good for cereals, hot beverages, and drinking on its own.

Oat milk is not suitable for people with gluten intolerance or with celiac disease.

Unflavored oat milk has the highest amount of of plant-based milk varieties. Although the sugar is natural, oat milk is very high in carbohydrates.

Along with soy milk, oat milk provides more , than cow's milk. Many manufacturers add additional vitamins and minerals to oat milk to increase the nutritional value of the drink.

Soy milk is the for cow's milk and the first plant-based alternative to appear on the market in the United States.

The suggests that people with lactose intolerance consume fortified soy beverages as an alternative to cow's milk.

When people compare soy milk with almond, hemp, and oat milk, this milk alternative has the per serving.

As with many other plant-based milk varieties, soy milk manufacturers often add calcium and vitamin D.

Plant-based milk varieties have , which are compounds that can block the absorption of calcium. According to the 2019 review in the journal Nutrients, experiments on soy milk show that despite the presence of these compounds, calcium absorption was similar to that of cow's milk if the manufacturers .

Although soy milk has more protein than other plant-based milk products, cow's milk has of the essential amino acids methionine, valine, leucine, and lysine.

The body does not produce essential amino acids, so people need to make sure they get enough of these in their diet.

Plant-based sources of amino acids include:

  • soy milk and soy products
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • peanut butter
  • legumes
  • grains

People also consume soy milk because it has , which researchers suggest have anticancer effects.

Some people dislike the flavor of soy milk. To mask the bean-like flavor of this drink, manufacturers sometimes add other flavors and sugars. People who want to reduce their sugar intake should be mindful of these additions.

Doctors may also recommend that children under 3 years old with cow milk protein allergy avoid drinking soy milk, as they may also be allergic to soy.

Farmers use a when growing soybeans, so people who want to avoid pesticides may wish to choose organic brands.

Some people are unable to drink cow's milk due to lactose intolerance.

Today, many people are choosing plant-based milk alternatives over cow's milk. One reason for this switch is increasing concern about the health risks of consuming dairy.

A small percentage of children and adults have an allergy to cow milk protein.

Doctors usually diagnose cow milk protein allergy in babies. Symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhea, swelling of the lips, tongue or throat, blood in the stool, hives, wheezing, fussiness, and insufficient weight gain.

Lactose intolerance is another reason people avoid cow's milk. Those who are lactose intolerant have difficulty digesting cow's milk.

Lactose intolerance is very common. In fact, the have a reduced ability to process milk products after infancy. of some communities in East Asia are lactose intolerant.

Symptoms of lactose intolerance include bloating, gas, diarrhea, and abdominal pain after consuming dairy.

In some countries, people have become ill from drinking raw cow's milk that the bacteria has contaminated.

Some researchers have suggested that there may be an association between consuming cow's milk and the development of , but is necessary to confirm this claim.

Several studies have explored the association of cancer risk and dairy consumption. Researchers have found a in people who consume a diet high in dairy. Calcium may have protective effects on colorectal cancer.

Other studies on the risk of bladder, prostate, and breast cancer and dairy consumption show conflicting results and require further research.

Again, the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that people consume to meet their calcium needs.

Older found that lactose-intolerant adults can likely tolerate at least 12 grams of lactose, which is the amount present in approximately 1 cup of milk.

People may also find that they can consume aged cheeses, which are essentially lactose free, and yogurt with active cultures, which help digestion.

Anyone experiencing bothersome symptoms after consuming lactose can speak to a doctor about alternatives.