Gone are the days when you only brought cow's milk from the supermarket. Which is great for those who have dairy intolerances, allergy or sensitivity, and for those who are vegan or have environmental opinions.
There are now two main categories of milk, Animal based and Plant based.
Animal based milk comes from cows, sheep, goats or maybe a low-lactose alternative.
Plant based milk comes from a variety of different plant proteins i.e. nuts, seeds, grains, legumes and even vegetables.
None of the milks available can claim to be the healthiest, as the best option depends on individuals metabolism, dietary needs and current diet.
So which milks have the best impact on our overall health i.e. Gut Health and Heart Health.
Animal Based Milk
Cows Milk is compacted with nutrients, providing us with good quantities of protein, calcium, potassium and a variety of vitamins, this covers the array of cows milk available i.e. Whole, Semi Skimmed, Reduced Fat, and Skimmed.
Cows milk to a greater extent is unprocessed, however the majority is pasteurised to eliminate harmful bacteria. Fortunately pasteurisation doesn't affect the nutritional benefits. They usually add Vitamin D.
A current phase that is becoming very popular is unpasteurised, or raw milk, especially for people who favour unprocessed foods. Due to the possible harmful bacteria its strongly advised not to give to children younger than 5 years of age.
Cows milk is not suitable for those that are Lactose intolerant, or convalescing from stomach flu, as cows milk can be hard to absorb.
Lactose-Free Milk is cows milk that is manufactured/filtered removing the majority of the sugar called Lactose. Once passed through this process they then add an enzyme called Lactase which digests the remaining Lactose.
Lactose-Free milk still has the nutritional benefits of cows milk.
Goats Milk is easier to absorb than cows milk, with the benefit of being more nutritionally compacted and offering additionally Vitamin A. However Goats milk is an acquired taste, as very strong.
Plant Based Milks
Soy Milk is manufactured by soaking and grinding soy beans, which you can do at home if you wish.
Soy milk contains protein, however less fat and potassium. Soy milk is often fortified with vitamins and minerals, and occasionally calcium. Unsweetened is the most natural option, Sweetened has sugar added.
Often soy milk is thickened and seasoned with salt. In the realms of nutritional value, soy milk is the closest to cows milk.
Oat Milk offers more fibre than other plant based milks, but due to the process of manufacture it offers very few nutritional values and often it is sweetened. During manufacture they add oil, thickeners, stabilizers, emulsifiers and preservatives. Great if you want a frothy coffee and that's about all.
Almond Milk is manufactured by soaking the almonds and straining, removing the beneficial nut fragments, during manufacture they add salt, vitamins, minerals and stabilizers and preservatives.
Hemp Milk is manufactured by soaking hemp seeds and grinding them. Due to the limited carbohydrates it is lower in calories than animal milk and the majority of plant based milks. However it often contains added salt, vitamins, minerals, stabilizers and preservatives.
Coconut Milk has much less protein than cows milk and is however gaining popularity, as often used in cooking and within smoothies. Coconut milk is manufactured by mixing the white coconut with the coconut water.
Some varieties contain stabilisers, salt, flavouring and added vitamins.
Rice Milk has the least amount of protein than the majority of milks, nevertheless its inclined to have extra manganese and selenium.
Rice milk is more popularly made at home, as shop brought often has added oils, salts, and sweeteners.
The list can go on, re plant based milks;
Tiger nut milk
Chia seed milk
Macadamia nut milk
But how do these different milks affect our health.
Dairy milk including yoghurt and Kefir can increase our helpful Gut Bacteria however it didn't boost diversity of the Gut Microorganisms.
If you are healthy and have no intolerance to cows milk, then cows milk is a good option.
However if you prefer plant milk avoid those with added emulsifiers and sweeteners. (emulsifiers (some) can cause inflammation with in the Gut)
The closest in nutritional value of the Plant milks to Animal milks nutritional values is Soy milk.
Dairy products do contain saturated fats however a recent research study found consuming up to 200ml of cows milk a day didn't seem to affect cardiovascular health.
Yes many plant based milks are lower in saturated fat and calories than cows milk. However the manufacturing process often destroys the part of the plant that provides nutritional value and required lots of additional ingredients to enjoy. Meaning they are not as healthy as promoted.
Its important that we continue to check the labels of foods and questioning the processes the original ingredient goes through and can you tell what that ingredient was before the process.