What Is The Healthiest Type Of Milk?

If you're someone who likes drinking milk or dairy-free milk substitutes, you may be wondering if you're consuming the healthiest variety.

Before we get into the healthiest type of milk, it's important to shine a light on the ongoing controversy between dairy farmers and producers of non-dairy beverages, and what can be labeled as "milk" (via Pew Charitable Trusts). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ultimately made efforts to crack down, defining milk as "the lacteal secretion ... obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows." However, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture include soy beverages fortified with calcium, vitamin A and vitamin D in the dairy group because "they are similar to milk-based on nutrient composition and in their use in meals."

As the mixed messaging and debates surrounding the word "milk" continue, non-dairy beverages, such as soy and almond milk, are typically included in discussions about milk options.

This is the best milk option if you can't consume dairy

When it comes to the question of the healthiest type of milk, registered dietician Katherine Zeratsky at the Mayo Clinic includes dairy milk, along with soy and almond milk, as part of her analysis. However, she concludes that, when comparing dairy milk to these types of plant-based non-dairy beverages, non-fat skim dairy milk is the healthiest choice for balanced nutrition.

Health experts tell Insider that, while 1 cup of cow's milk contains key proteins, vitamins, and minerals, you're going to need an alternative if you're sensitive to the lactose in dairy milk.

Soy milk is the closest in nutritional value to traditional cow's milk, registered dietician Sylvia North tells Insider. This is because soy milk has high levels of protein, and it is often fortified with calcium. Zeratsky of the Mayo Clinic makes the same recommendation. Pea and hemp milk are also high in protein. However, some people have trouble with the beany or grassy taste of pea milk, and hemp milk is often higher in calories than other milk alternatives.

The healthiest milk may be non-fat cow milk, but there are plenty of alternatives. Just be sure to take the nutritional makeup of the various milk options into account, as well as your body's dietary needs.