Almond vs. Cow’s Milk—Which Is the Best Milk to Drink?

Written by Joel Marion

best milk to drink

Q: I’ve drank cow’s milk all my life. I even remember drinking it fresh from the cow when I was a little kid. Now, I’m seeing all types of different milks in the grocery store. Is there any real reason to use almond milk instead of fat-free cow’s milk? When it comes to fat loss and getting rid of belly fat, which one is really best?

-Linda

A: Thank you for your fantastic question, Linda! There are so many choices when it comes to milk—from rice to hemp to almond to cow’s. But let’s take a closer look at perhaps the two most popular options (almond vs. skim milk) and get right to the point.

What’s the Best Milk to Drink

Cup for cup, unsweetened almond milk seems to be the best milk to drink over much of the commercially available milk, including cow milk. Here’s why…

At only 30 calories per serving, unsweetened almond milk contains less than half the calories of a glass of skim milk.

Unsweetened almond milk is naturally sugar-free. On top of that, a serving of unsweetened almond milk even boasts 1 gram of fiber. On the contrary, a glass of skim milk contains 12 grams of sugar, most of which is lactose.

This is important since over 33% of the United States population is lactose intolerant. What does it mean to be lactose intolerant? Simply, the body doesn’t produce enough of the enzyme lactase to break down this difficult-to-digest dairy-based carbohydrate. Symptoms typically appear within 20 minutes to 2 hours of ingestion and most commonly include stomach pain, gas, bloating, cramping, diarrhea, nausea, and even vomiting. Not fun!

You might be asking, “What about calcium?” That’s another great question because of the importance of calcium for bone health. Interestingly, a serving of almond milk actually contains 50% more calcium than skim milk! A cup of unsweetened almond milk boasts 45% of the recommended daily value of calcium whereas a glass of skim milk provides 30%.

That’s two points for almond milk being the best milk to drink.

Dietary calcium does more than just build bones. As a matter of fact, it’s directly related to sleep cycles. According to one study, calcium levels in the body are higher during some of the deepest levels of sleep, such as the REM (rapid eye movement) phase. The study concluded that disturbances in sleep, especially the absence of REM deep sleep or disturbed REM sleep, are related to a calcium deficiency. Restoration to the normal course of sleep was achieved following the normalization of the blood calcium level. Maybe having that warm glass of milk—cow’s or especially almond!—before bed really does have some merit.

Another benefit for almond milk being the best milk to drink is the fact that it is loaded with Vitamin D, providing 25% of your daily requirements for the “sunshine vitamin.” Almond milk is also an excellent source of Vitamin E, yielding 50% of the recommended daily value in a single serving. According to the USDA, 86% of the United States population fails to meet the RDA for this antioxidant powerhouse, and a cup of skim milk does little to help, as it contains virtually no Vitamin E.

Almond milk also contains 3 grams of fat—about 2/3 of that is the monounsaturated variety. Monounsaturated fats, which are also plentiful in olives, olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds, are typically known for being “heart healthy.”

The #1 Worst Fat

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In addition to cardiovascular benefits, recent research from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that monounsaturated fats boost the metabolism by increasing resting energy expenditure and physical activity. What’s more, the researchers noted that participants who consumed more monounsaturated fats were in a better mood to boot!

Thus, after we tally up all these results, it’s pretty easy to conclude that making the switch from skim milk to almond milk can help burn belly fat and augment health and vitality.

As usual, however, it’s a great idea to check the label as the overwhelming majority of store-bought versions do have added stabilizers, preservatives, thickeners, flavors, etc. In an “ideal” situation, the best version of almond milk would likely only contain (filtered) water and almonds.

And arguably, the best milk to drink would be one made at home. To make, you take one cup of almonds and soak them overnight (preferably at least 12 hours in filtered water with a pinch of sea salt). Rinse your almonds well and then place the soaked almonds in a blender with 4 cups of filtered water. Then just blend—it does take several minutes—until it’s smooth and creamy. Then strain the mixture. Your milk can easily be stored in a glass jar or pitcher in the fridge for up to a week.

Or, if time doesn’t allow for you to make it yourself, you can also find better store-bought versions that list almond milk (i.e., filtered water and almonds) as their first ingredients.

Either way, you’ll find almond milk is tasty, healthy, and works great in your favorite BioTRUST smoothie!

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I hope this helps!

-Coach Joel

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More From Joel Marion

  • CLEVON HENRY

    How much food is required for an average stomach in terms of healthy eating and portions?

    • This is a fantastic question, Clevon; thanks for sharing!

      What many don’t realize is that food intake is only partially driven by calorie content. In fact, the stomach itself does not sense the caloric or nutritive content of a meal. The fact of the matter is that there are many factors involved, but one that’s often overlooked is the volume of food consumed. In fact, the volume of food that you consume may be one of the most important factors in making you feel full and cue you to stop eating.

      This is where the concept of energy density comes into play. This simply refers to the relationship of calories to the weight of food (i.e., calories per gram). Foods like oils, bacon, butter, cookies, crackers, junk food, fast food, etc., (which contain about 4 – 9 calories per gram by weight) are generally considered “high-energy-dense” foods (HEDF); on the other hand, “low-energy-dense” foods (LEDF) contain between 0.0 – 1.5 calories per gram, by weight, and they tend to have a high water and fiber content, two important factors reducing energy density.

      Here are some examples of low-energy-dense foods:

      *Nearly all fresh vegetables and fruits
      *Colorful, starchy vegetables and fruits (e.g., bananas, potatoes, squash, yams)
      *Broth-based soups
      *Beans and lentils
      *Dairy (e.g., Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, milk)
      *Minimally-processed whole grains (e.g., quinoa, maize, amaranth, oats, rice, barley, sprouted grains, spelt, etc.)

      Studies have shown that when folks eat more LEDF as part of their overall diet, they feel full and satisfied sooner and those feelings persist for relatively longer periods of time—despite a lower calorie intake. In other words, structuring your diet around LEDF (e.g., more veggies, fruits, and highly-satiating foods) allows you to eat more total food while consuming fewer total calories. Another way you might look at this is “eat more, weight less.” Pretty nifty, eh?

      Without getting too “thick into the weeds” of the science (which I’m happy to if you’d like to go off the trail with me), the food and fluid we consume distends the stomach and triggers mechanoreceptors and nerves (e.g., vagal afferents). The stretching and tension experienced in the stomach wall produces a feeling of fullness, which affects satiety and energy intake. Some argue that there may be a threshold concentration for nutrients in the digestive tract before volume alone influences satiety and food intake. In other words, meal volume, meal composition (e.g., the types of macronutrients in the meal), and even “orosensory” perception (which refers to the taste, smell, and mouthfeel that we experience when we eat) can all trigger satiety (and reward).

      In case you want to dive deeper into all this, you may consider looking up the “volumetrics” diet, which was developed Dr. Barbara Rolls, who’s done a ton of research on energy density, satiety, food intake, and weight management.

      Going back to your initial question (sorry I got a little…okay, a lot…off-track there), I’m not sure that there’s a clear-cut answer. In other words, I’ll go with my standby answer of “It depends,” as once again, there are many factors involved. Speaking very generally, people tend to consume about 3 – 5 pounds of food each day. As you start to compare diets high in HEDF versus those rich in LEDF, you can see how 3 – 5 pounds of the former would result in a substantial increase in calories compared to the latter.

      The take-home point: Eat more whole, minimally processed foods, especially more veggies and fruits, and fewer heavily processed junk, packaged, and fast foods.

      So, Clevon, I hope that you found that somewhat helpful. Let us know if you have any additional questions. We’ll be happy to go deeper.

  • elizabeth james

    I’m glad you specified commercially available milk in your article. Raw grassfed cow’s milk (or goat milk) is actually the healthiest option in my opinion. While almond milk is good, the disadvantage is that almonds (even organic ones) are fumigated with propylene oxide (something banned in Europe because it is considered to be a probable carcinogen). I believe that almond milk will only concentrate that chemical further, increasing the load someone receives. If you are looking to eat ‘clean’, almond milk is not the way to go….

    • Cristina

      Hi Elizabeth. We value your opinion, and appreciate the information you have shared with us. Kudos to you for being so mindful of good nutrition, and in doing your due diligence to educate yourself about the ingredients going into the foods you are consuming.

      In an “ideal” situation, the “best” version of almond milk would likely only contain the following ingredients: (filtered) water and almonds. And arguably, the “best” version would be one made at home, as the overwhelming majority of store-bought versions do have added stabilizers, preservatives, thickeners, flavors, etc. In these cases, the “better” versions will have almond milk (i.e., filtered water and almonds) as their first ingredients.

      As far as dairy goes, it does tend to get a bad rap, although it’s not entirely deserved. Some people do take issue with dairy (e.g., lactose, proteins), and dairy is one of the more common food sensitivity triggers. With that being said, in many cases, even moderate sensitivities to dairy can be overcome with a digestive enzyme supplement.

      If you do consume dairy, then it would be highly recommended to opt for organic (if possible, from grass-fed cows), as you mentioned.

  • Ed Spencer

    I have a serious nut allergy, will almond milk have any affect?

    • Cristina

      Hi Ed. Great question. Nut milks, like almond milk, have nothing to do with dairy milk. It is basically water that has been used to extract ‘nut essence’ from nuts. If you have been diagnosed with a severe nut allergy, I would strongly advise you to steer clear of almond milk, or any other nut milk.

      Additionally, it may be important to mention that any material on this blog is provided for informational purposes only, and is general information that may not apply to you as an individual, and is not a substitute for your own doctor’s medical care or advice. Never disregard medical advice or delay seeking medical care because of something you have read or accessed through this site.

    • Coach Stefanie

      Hello, Ed. Just chiming in since I saw you mentioned a nut allergy. As Coach Cristina mentioned, anyone with a nut allergy should, by all means, avoid all nut milks. That said, I wondered if coconut milk might be a viable option for you. Although the the FDA considers coconut to be a tree nut, botanists consider it a “drupe,” meaning a fruit with a pit. It’s definitely best to check with your doctor first, and possibly get tested for a coconut allergy, before trying it. But, I just thought I’d throw it out there as another possible milk option for you!

  • Maggie

    You compare almond milk with “skim” milk. Low fat dairy has been shown to be linked with weight gain. But you failed to compare with full fat milk and, most importantly , RAW full fat milk. It’s a whole different matter.

    • Cristina

      Hello Maggie. Thank you for sharing your feedback. The comparisons made in the article above were in response to a question from one of our readers, Linda, who was interested in our opinion of choosing almond milk over fat-free milk. We certainly were not discounting that there are other sources of milk available that may also provide similar benefits.

      With that being said, if you’re going to opt for cow’s milk, which is conditionally acceptable, I would opt for Organic Valley (preferably their grass-fed line). The milk will have a more favorable fatty acid profile and is non-GMO. You’ll also be confident knowing that your milk comes from cows that haven’t been treated with synthetic growth hormones or antibiotics, and in general, the cows have likely been treated with great care.

      Unsweetened coconut milk is also an excellent option. It’s sugar-free, has more calcium than cows milk, and is a good source of vitamin D. It’s also rich in medium chain triglycerides, which have been shown to boost the metabolism and reduce body fat.

      Also, I would avoid skim milk because you’ll actually want to take advantage of the fat profile of organic dairy, whole milk or 2% would be a better option.

      • Maggie

        Sorry– I missed her comment being about fat free milk. But nevertheless, I would suggest not only drinking full fat organic milk from grass fed cows, but if at all possible, also raw. Pasteurized, homogenized milk has very little in common with the real thing.

        • Cristina

          Hello again, Maggie. I agree with you on your suggestion of full fat organic milk from grass fed cows.

          Raw milk sales vary by state, with sales being illegal in certain states and highly preemptive in others. As a result, when choosing
          cow’s milk, dairy products, and beef, we tend to recommend opting for food products from organic, grass-fed animals, which tend to have healthier fatty acid profiles not to mention that the animals are typically healthier and more humanely treated.

          Thank you for taking time to share your opinion with others. Please come again.

  • Clemantine Noel

    I do like Almond milk but I usually have Flaxseed milk in my cereal. How do the different kinds of milk stack up? Cow’s, Almond, Flaxseed, Goat, etc. it would be helpful to have a comparison chart on each of the key features of the different milks.

    • Cristina

      Hi Clemantine. Excellent question, and what a fantastic suggestion to have a comparison chart. While I don’t have one that is all encompassing, I do have some resources which may be helpful.

      Milk Facts

      Plant Based Dairy Alternatives

      Animal Milk Comparisons

      I appreciate your desire to discover which type of milk may be the best option for you, as an individual. I am going to do some additional research and see if I can provide you with a comparison chart to satisfy everyone’s preference. Stay tuned!

  • OhReally333

    Perhaps the author might have mentioned the fact that “almond milk” is not milk at all.

    • Cristina

      Noteworthy point, OhReally333. In the traditional sense, “milk” is the liquid secreted from a female mammal’s mammary glands (intended for the nourishment of her young).

      Having said that, it is commonly accepted that non-dairy, plant-based milk alternatives (e.g., almond, coconut, soy, quinoa, cashew, etc.) are described as “milk” as well. However, perhaps more satisfactory terminology may be almond-based non-dairy alternative.

  • Donna Caskey Snyder

    I just read about you almond milk vs. cows milk. What about coconut milk I have heard that it is good for you too. Is coconut milk good for your body or not?

    • Cristina

      Greetings, Donna. We are delighted you took the time to check out this article, and for your great question.

      Unsweetened coconut milk is an excellent option. It’s sugar-free, has more calcium than cows milk, and is a good source of vitamin D. It’s also rich in medium chain triglycerides, which have been shown to boost the metabolism and reduce body fat.

      Generally speaking, when it comes to fat loss, we tend to recommend that folks opt for low-calorie options like unsweetened almond and/or coconut milks.

      • Donna Caskey Snyder

        I drink either coconut or almond milk, trying to cut sugar amounts, since I was diagnosed with diabetes over a year ago. I wasn’t for sure if I was drinking the right thing until I was reading your discussion about almond milk. Thank for your information it makes me feel like I’m going in the right direction with my health.

        • Cristina

          Hi Donna. We hope you know that we are thankful for the trust you have placed on us, and we are working extra hard to always push ourselves to the next level.

          If there are any topics you would like to learn more about, or if you have any questions we can address for you in a future “Ask the Coaches”, please don’t hesitate to let us know!

          • Donna Caskey Snyder

            I’m diabetic and I’m trying to control it with diet, that is very hard at times. Is there any foods that would help with my sugar levels to keep them more normal?

          • Cristina

            I can completely understand your concerns, Donna. I am required to remind you that based on the nature of your inquiry, it is important that I mention the information we provide is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any medical conditions. If you are taking prescription medications and/or being treated for a medical conditions, we advise that you consult with your physician prior to starting any new supplements, diet program, or exercise routine.

            Generally speaking, high-fiber carbohydrates have a lower GI score, and adding protein to a carbohydrate-rich meal lowers its glycemic response. The following are some great resources that may provide helpful information for practicing good nutrition:

            American Diabetes Association

            Dietary Goals for Type 2 Diabetes

            Foods to Help Manage Diabetes

            Along the lines of physical activity and exercise, according to the American Diabetes Association, both aerobic exercise and strength training are most important for managing diabetes, enhancing insulin sensitivity, and improving carbohydrate metabolism.

            In my experience, many folks with diabetes do not include strength training in their exercise regimens, yet this is arguably one of the most important activities that one can do to improve insulin sensitivity and carbohydrate tolerance.

  • osotiredofitall

    What about the water it takes to grow the almonds? In California, which leads the world in almond production, many small communities don’t have good water to drink or wash with, right near huge almond and other nut farms.

    • Cristina

      Hi osotiredofitall. Kudos to you for being mindful of the conditions in which many of our crops are cultivated.

      The following organization has published a considerable amount of research on almonds, and this information lends itself to your concerns:

      California Almond Board

      One thing I discovered that I found to be interesting is the water almond trees use grows more than just almonds. The hulls, the fuzzy green outer covering, feed dairy cows. And shells are used for energy production through co-generation and as livestock bedding.

      In addition to that, almonds require roughly 1 gallon of water to come to fruition. This is similar to many of the other fruit and nut trees local to California.

  • Pedro E. Hurtado

    Any animal products that have been serving to humans, in the last 15 years, are danger for the person who eat their animal flesh or drink the animal milk.
    This has to do with the hormones and steroids discovered 18 years ago, to inflate the muscle of a person’s body, and becomes Mr. Superman’s Body. Later
    on someone had the idea to use these hormones and and steroids to give to the chicken’s, and that was the beginning of the big business on the chickens.
    The natural time for the chicken to grow up was 115 days, but with the new treatment to feed the chicken with the hormones and steroids, the chicken is
    ready to be sale in only 30 days compared with 115 days. The price of the chicken meat also went down. Now the chicken are feed 6 times in 24 hours.
    but the “food” giving to these animals are their own excrement, the head and neck and lower part of the legs, the inside organs of the chickens and feathers.
    I can give you all the details on this Big Business, which is used on the grow of all animals including pigs and cows – I can give you all the information on the preparation of the foods for the chicken, pigs,cows, dogs, cats. which include certain amount of hormones and steroids. One single egg has the hormones
    and steroids which will change your body for the worse. –

  • anil patel

    hello, this is very interesting. how does human milk (e.g. expectant mothers) compare init has terms of nutritional content? if it has real value, can a woman generate it without being pregnant or a new mother? some people don’t ;like the taste of milk yet they want the nutritional benefits. what would you recommend for them? how about drinking a regular ensure or boost, does that cover the need? another note; almond milk turns out to be an expensive proposition compared to cow’s milk, so many can’t afford it for regular use. what if you mix the two together 50:50. if the result is close to being good, why not promote that way as a practical approach? i’ve heard good things about goat’s milk as well. how does that compare to almond milk? how does all the above compare to mixing hot water with powdered milk like cremora or coffee-mate? i’ve used this in a pinch when running out of regular milk. many adults have a challenge with too much dairy, since by design the levels of the enzyme renin that breaks down milk, gradually reduces as we age. you can practically hear it sloshing about inside babies. however, in grown-ups it’s drastically reduced. finally, the freshness of milk has a direct effect on taste. it pays to check the expiration date. cow’s milk is still considered to be the most commonly available and affordable.

  • Jeff

    It is hard to believe you did not mention anything about protein in these milks. Is this about pushing your product or telling the truth with out a slant? We are looking for the whole truth to make our decisions, not a view with pertinent information left out.

    • Cristina

      Hi Jeff. I want to personally thank you for providing this valuable feedback. While the above referenced article was meant to address one of our readers inquiries as to the better option between skim milk and almond milk, you are indeed correct that we neglected to mention the protein content in these milks.

      According to the Almond Board of California, “Every one-ounce serving (about 23 almonds) provides 6 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber, plus vitamin E (35 percent DV [daily value]), magnesium (20 percent DV), riboflavin (20 percent DV), calcium (8 percent DV) and potassium (6 percent DV).”

      Unfortunately, if you are purchasing a store bought variety, you may only be looking at roughly 1 gram of protein per serving. However if you make your own almond milk, these nutrient values will likely go up. When I make my own almond milk, I use only two ingredients: almonds and water. My ratio is one cup of almonds per two cups of water, which yields a milk with a much higher nut percentage than the commercially available options.

      The following is a great resource which not only shows how much protein is contained in various milk options, but other important nutrients:

      Nutrient Content in Milk Varieties

      Looking forward to your next visit, Jeff.