In the ever-expanding world of milk, there are so many nutritional and dietary considerations. When choosing a type of milk, each person might look for a product based on a different benefit or priority – whether it’s a milk that’s lower in fat or higher in fat, one that packs the most protein, or the best choice for lifestyle diets like vegan, keto, and paleo.
When it comes to milk and milk alternatives, one of the big considerations for some people is cholesterol content. If your cholesterol levels are something you’re watching or if you’re interested in heart-healthy foods, it’s helpful to know which milks contain cholesterol and which don’t.
The bottom line: pretty much any milk that comes from an animal will naturally contain cholesterol; generally, the lower the fat content, the lower the cholesterol content will be. Alternatively, any milk that comes from a plant-based or non-dairy source will be naturally cholesterol-free.
Cholesterol content in animal milk
Dairy milk is the category where you’ll find cholesterol, because cholesterol is something that’s only found in animal products. So regardless of the source of the milk, if it came from an animal, it’ll come with some level of cholesterol.
As far as types of commercialized dairy milks that are readily available on most grocery store shelves today, the big four that make up the dairy category are cow’s milk, goat’s milk, sheep milk, and buffalo milk. However, there are many animals outside of that group that also produce milk that’s consumed by humans (some admittedly more rare and harder to access than others).
Other more obscure animal milks include camel milk, donkey milk, yak milk, mare milk, and even moose milk, reindeer milk, and llama milk. It’s less likely that you’ll grab a carton of one of these, but these types of animal milk are consumed in various parts of the world. If you happen upon any of them, know that they too will contain cholesterol just like their other animal counterparts.
That said, some milk is higher in cholesterol than others – and that’s typically something that’s directly correlated to the milk’s fat content, and more specifically saturated fat. The higher the saturated fat, the higher the cholesterol tends to be. So while milk that’s high in fat isn’t necessarily bad, this is something to pay attention to on the label if you’re watching your cholesterol levels.
Here’s the full list of milks that contain cholesterol, along with the specific amount per one-cup serving (if available). For reference, the daily recommended cholesterol intake is typically no more than 200 mg to 300 mg per day.
|Type of Milk||Cholesterol Content|
|Skim Milk||5 mg|
|Mare Milk||11 mg|
|1% Milk||12 mg|
|Camel Milk||17 mg|
|Whole Milk||24 mg – 35 mg|
|2% Milk||20 mg|
|Donkey Milk||20 mg|
|Goat’s Milk||27 mg|
|Buffalo Milk||46 mg|
|Sheep Milk||66 mg|
|Yak Milk||51 mg|
What to know about cholesterol and milk
Milk tends to get a bad rap because it’s higher in cholesterol, but it’s also full of essential and beneficial nutrients – so it can be confusing whether to drink it, how much of it to drink, and which type of milk is best for you.
There are also two types of cholesterol: HDL is the “bad cholesterol” and LDL is the “good cholesterol”. Milk contains unsaturated fat, which can raise HDL cholesterol, but it also contains vitamins and minerals like calcium, magnesium, and potassium, which can help raise LDL cholesterol. Since milk can help raise both good and bad cholesterol, the key with dairy products is to consume them in moderation.
There are many factors that go into someone’s cholesterol levels, including genetics, diet, lifestyle, and exercise. What you eat and drink is certainly important, but it’s only part of the puzzle. If you’re someone with healthy cholesterol levels, then most types of milk, in moderation, won’t necessarily drastically or negatively impact your heart health.
However, if you’re someone who is known to have high cholesterol and or is focusing on a heart-healthy diet, then the best choice when it comes to dairy milk will be skim milk to avoid extra cholesterol and saturated fat. Or even better, go for any of the dozens of plant-based milks available that are all naturally cholesterol-free.
Cow’s milk contains varying amounts of cholesterol depending on the percentage of milk fat. Whole milk typically has around 24 milligrams of cholesterol per cup, and can reach as high as 35 milligrams. 2% milk has around 20 milligrams of cholesterol, 1% milk has around 12 milligrams of cholesterol, and skim milk has the lowest amount at 5 milligrams of cholesterol per serving.
No, cholesterol is only found in animal products and all plants are naturally cholesterol free – so alternative milks like almond milk, oat milk, soy milk, cashew milk, hemp milk, and many more all contain no cholesterol.
As far as dairy milk, skim milk has less saturated fat and is much lower in cholesterol than other types of cow and animal milk. While skim milk is the best dairy milk choice, any plant-based milk alternative will be cholesterol-free.