Comparing Nutrition of Cow’s Milk to Plant-Based Alternatives

Published on: Mar 19 2018

How well do plant based alternatives fare nutritionally compared to cow’s milk? This is the title of a study published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology.

Plant-based substitutes for dairy, like almond milk or vegetarian cheese, have been steadily increasing in popularity as more people self-identify as being sensitive to lactose or dairy products. Many of these products differ in nutrient content from their dairy counterparts, though, which has the potential to create dietary gaps for consumers.

Woman drinking milk

The researchers from McGill University compared nutrient content of the four most commonly consumed types of plant-based beverages globally, almond, soy, rice, and coconut, to that of dairy milk. When it came to nutrient content they found soy milk was the only alternative to come close to that of cow’s milk, with other alternatives primarily lacking in protein.

TYPE OF MILK Calories Fats Proteins Carbohydrates Calcium
Cow’s milk 158 9.05 g 8.11 g 11.5 g 294.2 mg
Soy milk 95 4.5 g 8 g 4 g 330 mg
Rice milk 130 2.5 g 1 g 26 g 315 mg
Coconut milk 45 4.25 g 0 g 1 g 220 mg
Almond milk 35 2.5 g 1 g 1 g 330 mg


Despite the differences between products, using words like milk, cheese, and cream can lead consumers to believe these products are equivalent, which is why the European Court of Justice recently ruled that plant based products can’t use dairy names.

There are still many reasons consumers would want to choose alternatives to cow’s milk, so it’s important to make sure these products are delivering the nutrition consumers expect when making their purchase. The main message for the food and beverage industry to take away from this study is that dairy alternatives should strive to contain similar nutritional qualities to dairy milk to prevent the creation of dietary gaps in consumers. This is especially important for products aimed toward children, where the high quality protein from dairy is helpful for healthy growth and development. For more information on dairy’s nutrition contributions to health, read our blog Dairy Science and Consumer Perception Realign.

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