There is ‘no apparent health rationale’ for recommending cow’s milk over plant-based milk, says new review

Author: Maria Chiorando

Read Time:   |  14th April 2023

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Cow's milk is associated with increased risk of heart disease and certain cancers, according to the review by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine


There is ‘no apparent health rationale’ for recommending cow’s milk over plant-based milks, a new narrative review says.

The review, by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, has been published in the International Journal for Disease Reversal and Prevention.

It compares the nutrient content of dairy milk to plant-based alternatives and considers the health implications of both.

To compile the review, researchers reviewed relevant studies and obtained data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s FoodData Central website on nutrients found in cow’s milk, almond milk, soy milk, oat milk, coconut milk, and rice milk.

These included fat and cholesterol, carbohydrates, protein, calcium, and vitamin D.

Nutrient content

Among their findings, researchers discovered that cow’s milk (like dairy from other animals) contains more fat and saturated fat compared with most plant milks. In addition, cow’s milk also contains cholesterol, while plant milks do not.

According to the Physicians Committee: “As a percentage of calories, cow’s milk is 47 per cent fat and 28 per cent saturated fat. Dairy products are the largest contributors to saturated fat intake in the American diet.”

When it comes to carbohydrate content, the review found that dairy is higher in sugar than most plant milks.

They noted that ‘lactose is the dominant carbohydrate’ in dairy milk, while there is ‘considerable variation in carbohydrates’, among plant-based milks.

Both cow’s milks and plant milks are often fortified with vitamin D, says the review, with similar amounts of the vitamin.

With regards to protein content, the review says both dairy milk and soy milk are higher in protein than almond, oat, rice, or coconut milk, though notes that ‘milk products are not required to meet protein needs’.

Meanwhile, the animal-derived milk is high in calcium. Researchers noted that good vegetable sources of calcium include green leafy vegetables. Additionally, plant milks are often fortified with calcium.


Cow’s milk vs plant-based milk

In a statement, Anna Herby, DHSc, RD, CDCES, a co-author of the review and the nutrition education program manager for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, discussed the review.

She said: “Plant milks are nutritionally comparable to cow’s milk.

“But what you don’t get with plant milks are the health risks associated with dairy milk, including increased risk of heart disease and certain cancers.”

She added: “Our findings underscore the need for the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPlate – which health care professionals and the general public look to for nutrition guidance – to de-emphasise cow’s milk and warn of its health risks.”

Why not get active in the kitchen and whip up your own alternatives to dairy? Here is how to make your own pistachio milk, hemp milk and quinoa milk

Featured image © beats_ via Adobe Stock


Written by

Maria Chiorando

Maria is an editor and journalist. Her work has been published by the Huffington Post, the Guardian, TechnoBuffalo, Plant Based News, and Kent on Sunday among other national and regional titles.

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