7 types of milk: main differences, benefits and downsides

There is a type of milk for everyone out there

types of milk

With every new visit to the supermarket, you may have noticed that the milk shelf is growing at a steady rate. And it doesn’t include just cow’s milk or other animals anymore. Almond, soy, and rice are making their way up the ranks and becoming more and more popular. If you want to get to know them better, find below a quick summary of their main differences and benefits between the most popular types of milk.

7 types of milk and their main differences and benefits

The following types of milk are considered the most popular and best-selling ones. To understand their nutritional content as well as their benefits and downsides, a comparison is made with cow’s milk.

Cow’s milk

types of milk cow

Cow’s milk is the most widely consumed and known types of milk. Since it is intended to feed and nurture calves, it is also the most nutrient-rich type.


It has a high content of casein, whey protein, vitamin B12, calcium riboflavin and phosphorus, but it is also high in saturated fats and calories, which raises the debate about how healthy it is.  On average, 100ml of this whole milk contains 67 calories, 3,33 g of protein, 3,75 g of fats and 4,58 g of carbs.

Cow milk also comes in different varieties:

Lactose-free: same as whole cow milk but without lactose.


Whole fat: maximum 3,25% of fat content.

Low-fat: maximum 1% of fat content.

Skim: less than 0,5% of fat content.


Raw vs Pasteurized: similar to each other. Pasteurized milk is subject to a high-temperature treatment that kills harmful bacteria but can also destroy good enzymes. Raw milk has more enzymes, but is also more likely to be contaminated by bacteria.

Soy milk

types of milk soy

Soy milk is a plant-based milk made by crushing and blending soybeans in water and then straining them. It has a mild, creamy flavor and it’s particularly good to use with savory dishes or just to add to the coffee and cereals.

It is also the closest milk to the cow’s variety nutrition-wise, with a similar content in protein, carbs, calories and fats. Soy milk also provides all essential amino acids that the body cannot produce.


Nevertheless, this milk is surrounded by some controversy as studies have so far provided mixed results regarding its safety. The problem lies in its high content of isoflavones, phytoestrogens that mimic estrogen and may trigger hormonal imbalances.

Almond milk

types of milk almond

Almond milk is rapidly becoming a favorite among the plant-based types of milk. It has a sweet and slightly nutty flavor and a light texture, making it perfect for enhancing a coffee or to use in baking.

This milk features on average only 2% of almond content because it’s made from mixing and straining crushed almonds with water. For this, it is much less nutritious than cow’s milk, but it also has half of the fat content and calories of the latter.


Nevertheless, most commercial brands enrich their milk with more vitamins and mineral to bring it closer to the cow’s type. The only downside is that it’s common for them to add sweeteners and sugars to enhance the flavor too.

Coconut milk

types of milk coconut

Coconut milk is the result of blending the flesh of this fruit with water. It has a creamier texture than its almond counterpart and a dash of sweet coconut flavor to it.

It contains 1/3 of cow’s milk calories and the lowest content of protein and carbs out of plant-based types of milk: none.


This milk is mostly consumed due to its distinctive flavor, that enhances many culinary dishes and it also makes it pleasant to add to baking goods.

Oat milk

types of milk oats

Oat milk is a blending of oats and water with added ingredients (e.g. gum) to improve its consistency. The flavor is similar to that of oats prepared with water, although some commercial brands also add other flavorings.

Calorie-wise it is very similar to cow’s milk, but it contains 1/2 the protein and fats and twice more carbs.


The main advantage of this milk, however, it’s its richness in fiber and beta glucans, which have been linked to potential effects such as boosting the immune system, helping to treat metabolic dysregulations and having an antitumor effect.

Rice milk

types of milk rice
Source: Bo Cong Anh

This milk made of milled white and brown rice with water has a sweet and mild taste. It is also the least allergenic of all the milk types, including the plant-based ones. However, it’s also quite poor in its nutritional content.

It has approximately the same calories as cow’s milk and the double of carbs, but much less protein and fats. Due to its high glycemic level index (between 79-92) it is not recommended for diabetics. Likewise, its low protein content makes it one of the least suitable milk types for the elderly and children.


Cashew milk

types of milk cashew
Source: Raw Food Magazine

Cashew milk is creamy, sweet and nutty, characteristics quite appreciated for baking. Its texture is thicker than most types of milk and it is frequently used in recipes when it’s necessary to thicken any gravy or sauce.

It contains 1/3 of cow’s milk calories and 1/2 its content in fat, but it is also low on proteins, carbs and sugars. Overall, it is best suited for cooking or for those looking to cut calories.

Which one is the better?

It depends on your goal.


If you’re looking for the most nutritious milk, then cow’s milk by far the best. However, by now you can also find enriched plant-based types of milk that are similar enough and in that case, it is a matter or personal preference.

For those looking to lose weight, almond milk is the one with the lowest calories, with the cashew and coconut types coming in second. Be sure to check the labels every time, though, as some varieties can be sweetened and have more calories than expected.

The truth about cow’s milk: is it really healthy for you?

types of milk good bad

When the nutrient content is taken into account, cow’s milk with 2% or less of fat is far superior to other types of milk. It is rich in calcium, protein phosphorus, vitamin D, riboflavin and it contains all essential amino acids not produced by the body.


However, it also has its downsides. It has more fat than plant milk, inflammatory properties, it is insulinogenic which triggers blood sugar levels to spike and it’s high-calorie compared with other types of milk. Besides, there is also a matter of ethics since it comes from cows and the particular case of lactose intolerance.

To put it simply, cow’s milk is like any other food. It has its pros and cons.

The question is rather if drinking cow’s milk is necessary or not… and it isn’t. Even if you don’t get the same combination of nutrients in any other food, you can still consume them through your diet. Most commercial brands of plant milk also fortify their products make them as similar as possible to cow’s milk nutritional content.


That being said, dairy milk is a very practical and easy way to increase the intake of important nutrients. If you like drinking it, there is no reason for you to quit, but you shouldn’t feel it necessary or mandatory. Likewise, children require a higher intake of some of the vitamins and minerals present in cow’s milk. Although they don’t need to drink it, it can certainly be a good strategy for them to acquire their nutritional needs.

Written by Catarina Alves

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