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Nutrition Smack Down: Cow’s Milk vs. Nut Milk

February 28, 2023

Are you nuts for nut milk? You’re not alone.

The global market for plant-based milk was projected to reach $21.7 billion in 2022. And with that, North America has seen a large decline of milk consumption over the past decade.

The craze for non-dairy milk products – including, but not limited to, almond, coconut, cashew, walnut, soy and oat milk – is driven by growing interest in plant-based diets, environmental concerns and an increase in lactose allergies.

But are non-dairy milks actually better for your health? We asked Jamie Allers, RD, with Hartford HealthCare’s Digestive Health Institute to give us a nutritional breakdown.

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The argument for cow’s milk

The biggest nutritional plus for cow’s milk is that it is a great way to get a boost of protein into your diet, Allers says. The different types of dairy milk – whole, 2%, 1% and skim – allow you to manage the amount of fat you are getting, while still getting the protein.

Dairy milk is also loaded with calcium, which is important for bone health.

Nutritional breakdown

So how do a glass of 2% milk and a glass of unsweetened almond milk compare? Here’s the nutritional breakdown.

While the cow’s milk has more calories (122 vs. 30), fat (4.6g vs. 2.5g) and sugar (12g vs. 0g), it also offers significantly more protein (8g vs. 1g). Interestingly enough, the almond milk has more calcium (450mg vs. 307 mg), but also more sodium (170mg vs. 95mg).

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Watch out for added sugars

With the nut milks, Allers says, it is important to read labels as the market is flooded with all kinds of flavored and fortified types now. “Lots of brands are fortified with vitamin D and calcium,” she says. “But they can also have a lot of added sugar, especially if you are buying the flavored ones. If you are trying to limit your sugar, look for the unsweetened brands.”

And when in doubt, aim for moderation instead of elimination.

“The least processed can be the better choice for most people,” she says. “People without comorbidities that might dictate choices can usually be more satisfied just by using less of the real thing. For instance, you might use less whole milk in your coffee to make it the way you enjoy compared to the amount of skim milk that might be needed to achieve the same taste – resulting in fewer extra calories overall.”