These days if you “got milk” you could be sipping on one of many beverages. Depending on what you’re looking to milk out of the carton, one may be a better fit than others. Let’s look at five milks you might find yourself poring over: cow’s, almond, buttermilk, coconut, and soy.

Cow’s Milk

Cow’s milk is homogenized to evenly distribute fat globules within the liquid and then pasteurized to eliminate any potentially harmful bacteria.

Options: whole (3.25%), reduced fat (2%), low fat (1%), ½%, and skim (0-0.5%). You’ll also find brands on the shelf with added DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid.

Nutrition Facts: Calories and total fat range from 80-150 calories and 0-8 grams. Aside from these differences, the nutrition for one cup of whole, reduced, low, or skim milk will look almost identical: 125 mg sodium, 360 mg potassium, 0 g fiber, 12 g carbohydrate, 11 g sugar (lactose), 8 g protein, 30% calcium, 5-10% vitamin A, and 25% vitamin D. Cow’s milk also contains the B vitamins, especially riboflavin and B12.

Almond Milk

Whip up a DIY batch by grinding almonds in a blender with water and straining out the liquid with cheesecloth. Try using the leftover almond pulp as a nutritious topper for Luvo’s Steel-Cut Oatmeal.

Options: Flavored, original, or unsweetened. Unsweetened versions have a pleasant, subtle nutty taste. I’ll add blended fruit, vanilla extract, or cinnamon for flavor. Nutrient fortification and ingredients that affect shelf life or texture differentiate brands.

Nutrition Facts: Almond milk is an attractive option for lactose intolerant individuals, vegetarians, and vegans. One cup of unsweetened almond milk contains 35 calories, 3 g fat, 160 mg sodium, 1 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 1 g protein, 30-45% calcium, and is fortified with the same amount of vitamin A & D as cow’s milk. Most are also fortified with vitamin B12, riboflavin, and vitamin E.

Buttermilk

Cultured buttermilk is made by reintroducing live cultures of lactic acid bacteria into pasteurized milk to ferment lactose and form lactic acid. The high lactic acid content gives buttermilk its tart flavor.

Options: Cultured reduced or low fat buttermilk. Try concocting your own batch of Neer More, a savory South-Indian style spiced buttermilk that pairs well with Luvo’s Red Curry Chicken.

Nutrition Facts: Buttermilk has a higher sodium content of ~250 mg, but otherwise the nutrition info is the same as the milk it was made from. The live bacteria in cultured buttermilk are a source of probiotics, aka the “good” bacteria that is beneficial for gut health.

Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is made by soaking shredded coconut pulp in water and then pressing the pulp to release liquid (not the same as coconut water, which comes from the cavity of immature green coconuts).

Options: Canned and in a carton. Flavored and unsweetened. Canned coconut milk is less diluted, has a thicker consistency, and is mainly meant for cooking needs versus drinking. Coconut milk in a carton has a thinner consistency, similar to skim cow’s milk.

Nutrition Facts: One cup of unsweetened coconut milk in a carton contains a similar nutrition profile to almond milk: 45 calories, 4 g fat, 70 mg sodium, 60 mg potassium, 1 g sugar, and no fiber or protein. Most versions are fortified with varying amounts of calcium (4-45%) and vitamins A (10%), D (25-30%), and B12 (25-50%).

Soy Milk

Soy milk is produced by soaking dried soybeans in water and then grinding them with additional water. It’s heated to sterilize the liquid and deactivate antinutrient compounds released from soaking the dried beans.

Options: Soy milk comes in many flavors and has a thicker consistency than cow’s and almond milk. Again, I like adding my own flavoring to the unsweetened version. You’ll also find brands that are now fortified with DHA.

Nutrition Facts: Soy touts the highest protein content of the dairy-free, plant-based options. It’s lactose free, so the sugar content is lower than cow’s milk, but otherwise it’s most similar nutritionally. One cup of unsweetened soy milk contains 90 calories, 4 g fat, 75 mg sodium, 350 mg potassium, 2 g fiber, 1 g sugar, and 8 g protein. Fortified versions usually have the same calcium, and vitamin A & D content as cow’s milk.

Milk It Your Way

We all have unique dietary needs and preferences, which means one milk doesn’t necessarily fit all. Take yours into consideration, along with the info above, and try out a few to find your best pick.

Looking for more info on this subject? Check out this blog post written by RD, chef and fellow Luvo blogger Sara Haas. Share your favorites and any best practices you have with us in the comments below!