Cow Milk vs Plant-Based Milk: Which One Is Better?On November 30, 2021 by Harold Hopper
Though non-dairy milk has been available for some time, it has lately witnessed a surge in sales and popularity, owing to environmental concerns, dairy problems (ranging from allergies to lactose intolerance), and general curiosity in dairy alternatives. However, it doesn’t mean that cow milk is bad because it is the ideal ingredient for a variety of sweet and savory delights, and it may improve both the taste and the health of a meal. Cow milk, known for its numerous health advantages, is an excellent substitute for a well-balanced meal. Then what is the difference between these two?
Cow Milk Benefits
Cow’s milk is naturally high in protein, calcium, potassium, and B vitamins, and it is frequently fortified with vitamin A (which is found in whole milk) and vitamin D. Much plant-based milk are fortified with many of the nutrients present in cow’s milk, but not all of them are. Pouring a glass of milk is a simple way to add calcium and high-quality protein to your diet, both of which are vital elements for creating strong bones and muscles.
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Concerns with Cow’s Milk
Although milk appears to have numerous benefits, many people choose not to consume it for a variety of reasons.
- Allergies: it is estimated that 2-3% of infants are born with a milk allergy, although most outgrow it by age six. Regardless, if you have a true milk allergy, you should not consume milk.
- Lactose intolerance: It is estimated 36% of Americans and 68% of the world’s population have some degree of lactose intolerance, meaning they lack the enzyme lactase that breaks down the natural lactose sugar found in milk. For these individuals, consuming milk can lead to intestinal discomfort. Lactose-free milk is available, but some people prefer other alternatives.
- Environmental concerns: Dairy cattle produce more greenhouse gas emissions and require more land and resources than plants do. Research shows that producing milk alternatives is a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly practice.
- Antibiotics and pesticides: While organic milk seems less likely to contain antibiotics and pesticides, not everyone can afford that option. Antibiotics and pesticides are prevalent in conventional (non-organic) milk, though the health consequences of these residues are not fully known.
- Hormones: Cow’s milk contains estrogen and progesterone, so some fear that these hormones can cause cancer and/or lead to early puberty in girls. There is limited research to support these claims.
- Prostate health: Research has shown that men that consume a lot of milk and dairy products are at higher risk of developing prostate cancer.
- Mixed research on bone health: While there is ample evidence that milk can support bone health, there has been some recent research that suggests calcium in milk may not protect against osteoporosis and fractures.
Plant Milk Benefits
Plant milk is good for the environment as well as good for your health. Alternative milk beverages need less land, water, fertilizer, and energy to produce than dairy animals. Plant milk is an excellent alternative to cow’s milk for individuals who want to eat a plant-forward diet. Plant milk is also a good option for those who have milk allergies or lactose intolerance
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Concerns with Plant-Based Milk
Just like with cow’s milk, there are concerns with plant-based milk.
- Nutritional Gaps: nutritional contents vary between all of the plant-based milk, but soy milk is the only one that truly compares to cow’s milk. If cow’s milk is a normal part of your diet and you replace it with plant-based milk (other than soy milk), you will not be getting the same quantity and types of nutrients as before. This is very important to keep in mind when subbing plant-based milk for kids.
- Price: Do a quick Google search or walk down the plant-based milk aisle of your grocery store, and you will quickly notice that plant-based milk prices can be significantly higher than cow’s milk. Some types are less expensive than others, so choose the one that works for your budget.
- Filler Ingredients: A lot of plant-based milk have filler ingredients, thickeners, natural flavors, etc. That’s not to say that all of these are bad, but we recommend sticking to ingredients that you can recognize as much as possible.
- Added Sugars: Sugar is added to a lot of plant-based milk to increase sweetness and improve palatability. Choose unsweetened versions for optimal health.
However, there is no obvious winner! The answer is entirely dependent on your dietary requirements, limits, concerns, budget, and application.
The most important factor to consider is how you will include it in your diet. Remember that most plant-based milk is not nutritionally equivalent to cow’s milk, so if you consume milk regularly as a major source of protein and calcium and wish to convert to a plant-based alternative, pick one that is an excellent provider of those nutrients.
Here you can learn more about 7 uses of milk that you may not know.