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Health & Wellbeing / Ali Horsfall

What’s The Deal With All The Different Milks RN?

Since when did buying milk become such a complex decision making process? If you’ve ever stood shivering at the supermarket fridge umming and ahhing over almond or cashew milk, wondering what the heck hemp milk will taste like in your coffee, or weighing up the health vs taste benefits of the red top over the blue top, you’ll totally know what we’re talking about.

The milk market has exploded in the last few years, meaning way more options alongside the standard dairy choices. And that’s a good thing. But while it’s great being spoilt with such a vast milk selection – we counted around 15 different types on the shelves – it certainly doesn’t make for an easy choice when picking something to stir in your porridge.

So to avoid any milk meltdowns, we’ve created a quick go-to guide when navigating the white stuff. You can thank us later.

Cow’s milk – full fat 

Whole dairy milk is the “original” milk containing a health-essential range of nutrients, including a high amount of protein, calcium, zinc, vitamins A and B, and iodine.  

Taste factor: Smooth and creamy.

Nutritional NTKs: Despite being packed with goodness, the downside of whole milk is that it’s high in saturated fat. Also, the low levels of the enzyme lactase found in cow’s milk can make it hard for some people to digest the lactose (sugar) in dairy. Other people may have a more serious allergy to dairy products or be intolerant to cow’s milk protein – meaning full fat, semi-skimmed or skimmed milk should be avoided.

Cow’s milk – semi-skimmed 

This is a slightly thinner liquid than the blue top and is the UK’s most popular choice. The green top is made by skimming off some of the cream from the milk so it has less fat per pint than whole milk.

Taste factor: Similar to whole milk without the rich, creamy taste.

Nutritional NTKs: Semi-skimmed milk has fewer calories and is lower in fat and than whole milk (9.9 grams of fat per pint compared to 22 grams per pint) but has lower levels of fat-soluble vitamins, including A and E. Despite this, the calcium levels are slightly higher than in full fat milk as it’s the watery part of milk that contains the all calcium. Who knew?

Cow’s milk – skimmed (the red one)

Fully skimmed milk has all the cream removed from whole milk, so it contains as little as 0.1 percent fat. It’s the milk of choice anyone wanting a low fat intake.

Taste factorLight and watery with a mild “milky” taste.

Nutritional NTKs: Skimmed milk is higher in calcium than semi-skimmed or whole milk and it still contains lots of nutrients and protein, but like semi-skimmed milk has much less vitamin A and E.  

Soy milk

Soy milk is probably the most popular of dairy alternatives and is made from a blend of water, oil and soybeans.

Taste factor: The slightly sweetened version is the best option for drinking and tastes nutty, thick and as close to normal milk when used in tea and coffee. There’s an unsweetened version too that’s better for baking and cooking.

Nutritional NTKs: For anyone lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy, soy is the staple alternative. Despite being dairy free it has roughly the same amount of protein, fat and carbohydrates as cow’s milk.

Oat milk

Oat milk is made with pre-soaked oat groats enriched with vitamins and calcium and is a great substitute for semi-skimmed or skimmed milks.

Taste factor: Oat milk is naturally sweet so doesn’t need added sugar or sweeteners. It’s a good choice for cereals, porridge and baking as it has a naturally creamy taste.

Nutritional NTKs: There’s less protein in oat milk than dairy or soy milks. It does, however, contain more fibre than milk and some other alternatives, including a kind of fibre called beta glucans, which have been found to help control cholesterol levels. Oat milk isn’t suitable for anyone who is intolerant to gluten.

Hemp milk

Hemp milk is a plant-based milk made from pre-soaked hemp seeds and has a slightly watery texture.

Taste factor: Beany and slightly nutty – it’s best enjoyed drank cold or added to cereal. Hemp milk is also available in chocolate and vanilla flavour.

Nutritional NTKs: Hemp milk is low fat and packed with essential nutrients such as omega 3, omega 6, magnesium, calcium, iron, potassium, riboflavin, folic acid, zinc and thiamine and vitamin A, E, D, and B12 and 10 essential amino acids – making it a great source of protein for vegans.

Almond milk

This dairy-free, soy-free, lactose-free milk is made from toasted, ground almonds. It’s incredibly versatile making it a go-to substitute for any drink or recipe where dairy milk is used.

Taste factor: Nutty with a thick consistency.

Nutritional NTKs: Almond milk contains a higher amount of protein than either rice or oat milk, but be beware, it also has added sugars if you choose the sweetened version – unsweetened or organic is the healthiest.

Coconut milk

Here’s one for coco lovers – this milk shouldn’t be confused with the canned, concentrated coconut milk, or coconut water however as they’re all slightly different.

Taste factor: This diluted coconut milk is smooth and sweet with a light flavour.

Nutritional NTKs: Drinkable coconut milk does have fairly low amounts of protein and calcium but unlike other milks, contains a small amount of beneficial ‘medium chain triglycerides’ – fats that are a good source of energy and can help to support the immune system.

Flaxseed milk

Flaxseed milk is cold-pressed flax oil mixed with filtered water – it’s a great option for vegans and works well in smoothies and for making soups.

Taste factor: Creamy and smooth with an earthy undertone.

Nutritional NTKs: Flaxseed milk is packed with hearty-healthy omega-3s that help prevent diabetes and strokes, vitamins A, B12 and D, as well as calcium, and has no saturated or trans fat. Flaxseed milk doesn’t contain protein however.

Rice milk

Rice milk is a grain milk made from brown or white rice and is the third most popular dairy alternative after soy and almond milk.

Taste factor: It has a light and mild flavour a lot like dairy milk, but with a watery consistency.

Nutritional NTKs: Rice milk is a good choice for anyone with a nut, soy, or seed allergy. Rice does have slightly more in carbohydrates than most other non-dairy milk because it’s grain based, but doesn’t contain as much protein or fats as most other non-dairy milk.

Cashew milk

Similar to almond milk, cashew milk is made from cashews blended with water and is suitable for anyone with a lactose intolerance.

Taste factor: Ultra-creamy, light and nutty.

Nutritional NTKs: A cup of cashew milk can give you 50% of your daily vitamin E – which is great for your skin and is also loaded with other vitamins and calcium. It’s lower in protein however.

Goat’s milk

Goat’s milk is nutritionally very similar to cow’s milk, but up 50% of people who experience lactose intolerance to cow’s milk find that they can easily digest goat’s milk.

Taste factor: Distinctive and tangy.

Nutritional NTKs: Selenium, which is an essential mineral that supports the immune system, is found in goat’s milk. This milk also provides higher levels of omega-3 fats; calcium, phosphorus and magnesium and offers more than twice as much potassium as cow’s milk.

Camel’s milk

Camel’s milk has been used for centuries by Nomads and Bedouins and is rated for its medicinal properties. It’s the milk you’re least likely to find in your corner shop although it will soon to be stocked in major UK supermarkets thanks to Kim Kardashian kicking off a craze for the milk.

Taste factor: Just like cow’s milk, but with a slightly salty, heavier taste.

Nutritional NTKs: This milk is dubbed the closest to human breast milk. It has triple the amount of vitamin C found in cow’s milk and is also full of antibacterial and antiviral properties. Camel Milk has fewer calories, less bad cholesterol, and lacks the A1 casein protein and lactoglobulin found in cow’s milk so is suitable for those with lactose intolerance and food allergies in milk.

Kefir milk

Kefir is a fermented milk product – little a drinkable yoghurt – and is popular for its probiotic benefits.

Taste factor: Similar to natural yoghurt but with a thinner consistency.

Nutritional NTKs: Kefir milk is rich in a variety of probiotic bacteria and yeast that can treat and restore the balance in the gut and improve digestion. It’s also a good source of calcium and vitamin K for bone health.

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