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  • Writer's pictureKaren

When did milk get so complicated?

Updated: Jul 2, 2020

Milk choices have come a long way since the 1/3-pint bottle horrors of my primary school days. Served always just above room temperature, its no wonder I hated the stuff! I also remember the cream sitting on the top of the milk left in the glass bottles by our milkman - and how it sometimes froze overnight, raising the tinfoil top a few centimetres, held up by a shoot of frozen milk.

Now, not only have we a range of dairy adjusted by fat content but also an ever-increasing choice of plant based alternatives. With so many now on the market, and all claiming they are healthier than the rest, it can be hard to decide which one is the best for you.

For anyone who is lactose intolerant, consuming dairy can lead to digestion and skin problems. This is particularly true with non-fermented forms of dairy (fermented forms include Greek yogurt, Kefir, cottage cheese).

Whilst, statistically, 65% of the adult population is believed to be lactose intolerant, it's important to look at that number from your own personal context. Lactose intolerance is primarily dependant on your genetics and only about 5% of people of Northern European descent are affected compared with up to 90% of people of East Asian descent.


The wonderful choice we have on the market will, for many of us, be a matter of personal taste (or ethical choice) as opposed to medical necessity.

Dairy milk

Pro: high in protein, higher in calcium ⠀⠀⠀

Cons: higher in sugar, not good for people with a lactose intolerance. Also, because most dairy is pasteurised it will have lost some of its beneficial nutrients and enzymes.⠀⠀

  • Whole milk. With a fat content of 3.5%, whole milk contains the most energy, fat and vitamin A, all important for growth and development. A 200ml glass of whole milk has 136 calories.

  • Semi–skimmed milk contains half the fat of whole milk at 1.7% and has 95 calories in a 200ml glass, and contains less vitamin A. Levels of other nutrients including protein, calcium, and vitamins such as vitamin B2 and B12 are not reduced.

  • Skimmed milk is virtually fat free with just 0.1 – 0.3% fat. Skimmed milk contains 70 calories in 200ml glass, less vitamin A than whole milk, but has roughly the same amount of protein, calcium and other non–fat soluble vitamins. Its the least creamy in texture and flavour

Almond milk

Pro: low in calories, contains vitamin E, lactose free ⠀⠀⠀

Con: low in protein⠀⠀

Typically produced from ground almonds, filtered water, and a small amount of sweetener (i.e. brown rice syrup), though you can easily find unsweetened varieties.

It has a lightly sweet almond flavor which works well in desserts and smoothies. Not recommended for savoury recipes.

Coconut milk

Pro: low in calories, contains potassium, lactose free ⠀⠀⠀

Con: low in protein⠀⠀⠀

Not to be mistaken with regular or light coconut milk (sold in tins), coconut milk, the drink, is sold in cartons like other milk alternatives. It has a light coconut flavor, and works in sweet recipes and on cereal. Coconut milk also blends well in savoury dishes, particularly Asian recipes.

Soy milk

Pro: high in protein, vitamin D & B12, lactose free⠀⠀⠀

Con: not good for those with allergies or those who may already have too much estrogen in their system⠀⠀⠀

A very versatile milk alternative with a higher protein and fat content than most. It has a distinct bean flavour which makes it most suitable for savoury sauces and baking. It can replace dairy milk in most recipes though the flavour could overwhelm less robust ingredients.

Oat milk

Pro: nut,soy and lactose free, helps lower cholesterol and aids digestive health⠀⠀⠀

Con: can be higher in sugar & carbs⠀⠀⠀

It has a pleasant earthy taste that is neither bitter nor overly sweet. It's great in cereals and smoothies and for baking. It can also work in savoury dishes and some denser puddings. It may be too strong a flavour for lighter sauces and desserts.

Cashew milk

Pro: good source of fibre, full of iron, low In calories, lactose free⠀⠀⠀

Con: low in protein 

It has a mild flavour profile so is very versatile and can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes. ⠀

Whichever you choose, try to opt for the unsweetened versions when you buy them at the supermarket!⠀⠀⠀

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