When you stroll down the milk aisle at the grocery store, you might become overwhelmed by the choices. Some milk is from animals and many others are from plants – so how do you know which is better?
Plant milk and animal milk have many unique pros and cons, and it’s impossible to objectively consider one better than the other. You’ll need to consider the differences and decide which one is a better fit for your dietary preferences, health conditions, and other factors.
So what are these pros and cons? We’ll compare plant milk vs. animal milk in this article so YOU can decide which is better!
What is plant milk?
Plant-based milk is just that – made from plants. While it’s not like cow’s milk and other mammal milk, plant-based milk usually blends plants (nuts, seeds, etc.) with water and then strains the solids out. Thickeners are generally added to make the plant milk more creamy.
Some examples of plant milk are soy milk, almond milk, and oat milk – but there are many more besides those!
Pros of plant milk
- Plant milk can be lower in carbs than animal milk (when unsweetened), making many of them keto-friendly.
- Many types of plant milk are Paleo, unlike mammal milk.
- Can be lower in fat (especially saturated fat) compared to animal milk.
- Suitable for those with a milk allergy and/or lactose intolerance.
- Can be shelf-stable if packaged in aseptic packaging, which gives it a longer shelf life than animal milk, which is usually perishable and needs to be refrigerated.
- Can be fortified with vitamin D, an important nutrient not found in many foods.
Cons of plant milk
- Many types of plant milk are lower in protein than animal milk, which is naturally rich in protein.
- Plant milk isn’t naturally rich in calcium, so might not be a good source of calcium if it’s not fortified.
- Some types are sweetened since plant milk doesn’t contain much sugar on its own due to the lack of lactose (milk sugar). Diets high in added sugar can be detrimental to your health, so the added sugar in sweetened plant milk can add up.
- Can be more expensive compared to cow’s milk (the most popular animal milk in the United States).
What is animal milk?
Animal milk is milk from mammals – the technical definition of a mammal is an animal that produces milk for its young. Examples of animal milk include cow’s milk, goat’s milk, and donkey milk – but like plant milk, there are more than just those.
Animal milk is usually pasteurized (heated to kill germs – unless you choose raw milk which isn’t pasteurized) and treated in a way to evenly mix the fat globules into the liquid portion (homogenization).
Unlike plant milk, animal milk is usually richer in fat, particularly saturated fat. This is especially true for whole milk versions that aren’t considered low-fat or reduced-fat.
Pros of animal milk
- Naturally richer in protein compared to many types of plant milk.
- Can be naturally richer in fat & calories (which can be a benefit for those wanting to increase the fat/calories in their diet).
- Natural source of calcium.
- Can be more budget-friendly than plant-based milk (but not always).
- Has fewer ingredients compared to some types of plant milk (free of thickeners, preservatives, etc).
- Usually fortified with vitamin D, an important nutrient not found in many foods.
Cons of animal milk
- Not vegan-friendly.
- Not suitable for very low-carb diets like keto.
- Not Paleo-friendly or vegan.
- Can be high in fat, which can be a con for those wanting a low-fat diet.
- Contains lactose, so isn’t suitable for those with lactose intolerance unless it’s a lactose-free version.
- Milk is one of the major food allergens – especially cow’s milk.
Which is better – plant milk vs. animal milk?
Plant milk vs. animal milk – is one better than the other?
It’s impossible to objectively say if plant milk or animal milk is better. It all comes down to your dietary preferences and any health conditions you might have.
For instance, if you’re a vegan, then plant milk is 100% a better choice than animal milk for you. If you prefer a higher-calorie, higher-protein option, then animal milk might suit you better. If you have a cow’s milk allergy, then you should stay away from cow’s milk and might have better luck with plant milk. (See what we mean? It depends on many factors!)
Like many things with nutrition, there’s not usually a black-and-white, one-size-fits-all answer. You’ll have to decide for yourself and make an informed decision knowing the pros and cons of both plant milk and animal milk.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), plant-based milk is considered milk but isn’t a part of the dairy group. The dairy group includes animal-based milk and related products made from milk such as yogurt, cheese, etc.
Soy milk that is fortified with vitamin D and calcium is the most similar to cow’s milk nutrition-wise.
Goat’s milk is slightly lower in lactose than cow’s milk, so some people might tolerate it better than cow’s milk. Some people find goat’s milk easier to digest than cow’s milk because the fat globules are smaller.