close up of milk against blue background

Health Bite: Comparing Milk and Alternatives

Brian GermanFeatures, Health Bite

Comparing Milk
Photo by Pixabay on

Back in the day, there were only a couple types of milk. Regular, and skim. These days, “milk” is made from practically anything!

Hi, I’m Rachel Eslick with your AgNet West Health Bite and today we’ll be breaking down the differences between cow’s milk and a few milk alternatives. Although I’m a first generation Portuguese American with family roots in the dairy industry, I’m also a nutrition nerd who enjoys many different kinds of non-dairy milk.

For the sake of brevity, let’s take a look at a few of the popular alternatives, soy, almond, and oat, as well as regular milk and skim milk. Before we compare what’s on the nutrition label, let’s also address why someone would choose a milk alternative. If someone doesn’t tolerate lactose – a sugar compound found in dairy – that would be a strong reason. Beyond that, if someone is vegan and doesn’t eat any animal products, or if they’re trying to watch their calories and macronutrient intake. Other than that, some of us simply like to experiment with different foods to find our taste preference.

If keeping calories low or high is the primary goal, the lightest option is almond milk at just 30 calories per cup. Whole milk is the heaviest option at about 140 calories per cup. Skim, soy and oat milk are between 80 and 130 calories per cup.

For those trying to bump up their protein, skim and whole milk are the winners. Each have about 9 grams, soy has a respectable 7, while almond and oat milk only have a couple grams of protein. 

If carbohydrates are important to you, unsweetened almond and soy milk only have a couple grams of carbs. Meanwhile oat milk has about 15 grams, which makes sense since it’s made from oatmeal, a whole grain. Skim and whole milk have 12 and 13 grams of carbohydrates, respectively. 

And the third and final macronutrient we’ll look at is fat. Not surprisingly, whole milk has the most with about 9 grams per cup. Skim milk has almost none. Almond, soy and oat milk fall in the middle, with between 3 and 7 grams per cup, respectively. 

One of milk’s most redeeming qualities is calcium, which makes our bones stronger, right? So how do the milk alternatives stack up against regular dairy milk? It’s a mixed bag, of course. Almond milk actually has more, at least on the label I used for our purposes today: 30% of the daily value, compared to about 25% in skim and whole milk. Oat milk has about 20% of the daily value, and soy has the least at 15%.

Over the years I’ve heard almonds and therefore almond products, like milk, demonized because the crop requires a lot of water. Then again, cows have been thrown under the bus for their contribution to climate change. But we’ll leave the milk sustainability comparisons for another day.

Health Bite: Comparing Milk and Alternatives
Rachel Eslick

For AgNet West’s Health Bite, I’m Rachel Eslick. I can help you reach your health and fitness goals with 1:1 and group training. Visit