Moo-ove over cow’s milk: the pros and cons of milk alternatives

Blacktown hospital dieticians Alice Meroni and Yvonne Li

Whether it’s for a dietary requirement or because they tickle your tastebuds, milk alternatives have become increasingly popular in the last decade – but do they offer the same nutritional value as cow’s milk?

Blacktown hospital dieticians Yvonne Li and Alice Meroni offered some professional insight into the topic.

They argued that whilst cow’s milk offers the best natural goodness – milk alternatives such as soy, almond, oat and rice milk can still be a great substitute for your diet. 

“Milk, in all its forms, is a rich source of energy and nutrients, and should be included as part of a healthy diet,” Yvonne said.

“Milk choice is often dependant of many things such as diet intolerances, cultural beliefs, ethical beliefs and taste preference.

“It is important that each person knows what milk is best for them as an individual based on diet, exercise levels and overall health.” 

Let’s break it down with the experts 

Cow’s milk

“Cow’s milk can come in a variety of forms (skim, light and full cream) and all offer the same level of protein and calcium,” Yvonne said.

“Fat levels do differ, with skim milk having zero fat – a good option if you are trying to minimise this intake.

“For the average person, full milk cream will not lead to weight gain if you consume it in moderation. It’s also great for babies and children as it can assist with growth and development.”


“Soy milk is one of the more highly regarded suggestions for those looking for alternatives to cow milk,” Alice said. 

“Soy milk, much like cow’s milk, is high in proteins and carbohydrates and has less saturated fat.

“However, it is lacking the calcium levels that cow’s milk has. When choosing soy milk it is important to choose fortified soy milk with added calcium.”


“Almond milk, like soy, is low in saturated fats,” Yvonne said.

“However it has very minimal amounts of protein and calcium.

“For those needing a high protein diet such as the elderly or athletes, we would usually deter from recommending almond milk.”


“Oat milk often tastes very similar to cow’s milk and is a great source of fibre,” Alice said. 

“Unfortunately it is low in protein and calcium and high in carbohydrates – which is not great for people with diabetes.” 


“Rice milk is not as common as soy, almond and oat, however, is a safe choice for those with nut or soy allergies,” Yvonne said.

“Rice milk is good for those with high energy requirements, such as athletes, due to the high carbohydrate contents.

“On the downside, it is similar to other alternatives, as it’s low in calcium and protein.”

The verdict?

Alice and Yvonne stressed that in general terms, no milk or milk alternative is significantly better than the other, and that it each milk will benefit individual’s differently depending on health and lifestyle choices. 

Although many milk alternatives are low sources of calcium and protein, a balanced diet will allow these nutrients to be gained from other sources and not impacting your daily nutritional intake.

Before making any dietary changes, please contact a dietician to find out what is best for you.

The WSLHD dietician departments can be contacted on 9881 8000 (Blacktown Mount Druitt Hospitals), 8890 6638 (Westmead Hospital) or 8759 3148 (Auburn Hospital).