Cow’s milk was a staple of the American diet for many years, but more recent science has shown us that 65 percent of people actually have difficulty processing lactose, giving rise to a slew of milk alternatives. With so many dairy-free milk options, it’s difficult to know which is best. So what’s the deal? Is milk bad for you? If you can process lactose with no problem, which is better—organic grass fed cow’s milk or nut milk?
Ultimately, everybody is different so it really depends on how your body reacts to each. But generally speaking, both options have their pros and cons.
The main benefit of cow’s milk is that it’s high in protein–an essential component of every cell in your body. Not only does your body use protein to build and repair muscle and tissue, it also makes up your hair, nails, skin and more. Just one cup of cow’s milk contains 8 grams of protein—that’s more than a hard boiled egg.
Cow’s milk is also a good source of calcium and potassium, which most Americans are deficient in. Calcium is the most important mineral for strong bones and is essential for cell communication throughout your body, so reaching your daily recommended level (1,000 mg for women and 1,200 mg for men) is vital to overall health. Similarly, potassium sends nerve signals throughout the body and regulates things like body fluid and muscle contractions. A high-potassium diet has even been found to prevent stroke and other cardiovascular diseases.
It’s also fortified with Vitamin D, which is known to build bone strength, support your immune system, reduce inflammation and more. However, it can be hard to maintain adequate levels, as vitamin D isn’t found in many foods. This coupled with our primarily indoor lifestyles these days likely contributes to the reason 90 percent of our members at Parsley Health are vitamin D deficient , so having a solid source of Vitamin D in your diet can be a great benefit of cow’s milk.
Since the majority of the population has difficulty digesting lactose, even the highest quality cow’s milk brands can lead to uncomfortable symptoms like bloating, diarrhea and stomach pain. Most importantly, dairy is commonly inflammatory in people with a dairy allergy and inflammation is a major player in diseases including Alzheimers , cancer , diabetes and heart disease .
Nut milk is fortified with vitamins A, D and E—all fat soluble vitamins that are essential to overall health, responsible for everything from maintaining vision, to improving bone health to protecting our skin from aging.
Importantly, nut milk has no lactate content, meaning no risk of sensitivity and inflammation. If you think you have a lactate sensitivity, nut milk is probably the best choice to ensure a smooth and healthy digestive system.
We’re often asked, “Is almond milk healthy, and what is the best milk alternative?” Nut milk does come with a few notable downfalls. Nut milks are often highly processed and can contain some questionable ingredients and added sugars. If you are going to opt for an oat milk, be sure to choose a high quality brand and check the label for added ingredients like rapeseed oil, an inflammatory and highly processed industrialized seed oil. The cleanest brands will have gluten-free oats and water as the only ingredients. The best option? Make your own oat milk! We’ve got a recipe here .
When it comes down to it, there are benefits and downfalls of both milks so knowing your body is most important. If one type of milk doesn’t sit well with you, then it’s probably a sign that your body is having trouble processing it. Whether its nut, oat, coconut, or cow’s milk, choose the option that makes you feel your best.
Jackie is the Director of Coaching Services at Parsley Health. She has over eight years of health coaching experience, both in person and virtually, in functional medicine settings. Before joining Parsley Health she worked for Dr. Frank Lipman in his NYC practice. She holds a Health Coaching Certification from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition as well as additional training from the School of Applied Functional Medicine.