Plant vs. Animal Milks - Is One Truly Healthier Than The Other?
By Tyler Woodward
Does milk really need to come from a cow or are plant-based milks the newest superfoods on the market? To break this down, let’s address why we drink milk in the first place.
- What's In Milk?
- What’s In Plant-Based Milks?
- Benefits Of Plant-Based Milks
- Benefits Of Cows Milk
- What Type Of Milk Should You Buy?
What's In Milk?:
Everyone knows that milk is highly nutritious and packed with vitamins and minerals. What vitamins and minerals are actually in milk?
- Vitamin A (as retinol) & Beta-Carotene (plant Vitamin A)
- The B Vitamins, specifically B2, B5, & B12
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin K ( as K2)
- Other electrolytes including magnesium, potassium, sodium, & phosphorus
- Trace Minerals including iodine, zinc, iron, & selenium
What’s In Plant-Based Milks?:
And the answer is pretty much nothing. Naturally plant-based milk are virtually nutrient void. They contain very little of the electrolytes particularly calcium, magnesium, and depending on the milk potassium, ect, most contain no trace minerals like iodine, zinc, iron, ect, and last, but not least they all contain literally 0 vitamins. Which is why all plant-milks are fortified with vitamins and minerals including:
- Vitamin A, as beta-carotene or Retinyl Palmitate
- Calcium as calcium carbonate
- Vitamin D2 as ergocalciferol
- Iodine from kelp
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin E
The issue with these fortified vitamins is that they are usually poorly absorbed by humans. Nearly all of these fortified vitamins are plant vitamins that are slightly different from the active versions in humans. A lot of these vitamins can be converted into the active, human form by our body, but it does not do so readily.
You can imagine this like a hand-me-down shirt that’s way oversized. Yes, it’s still a shirt, but the shirt doesn’t fit you and it’s more like a dress. You can alter the shirt and have it trimmed/adjusted to fit you well, but not easily and a lot of times you’re probably better off just buying a shirt that fits in the first place.
This is the same case for these plant-based vitamins. Our body generally does not absorb them very well compared to the animal vitamins. The portion of these vitamins that are absorbed only a fraction of them will be converted into their active (animal) form and actually used.
- Vitamin D2 supplements are worse at increasing Vitamin D levels and more likely to degrade over time
- Calcium is more poorly absorbed in plant milk, most studies show about 10-15% less is absorbed compared to cows milk. Additionally, many plant-based milk contain high levels of phytic acid and oxalates which can actually disrupt the absorption of calcium in humans, while also leaching calcium among other minerals out of the digestive tract. Additionally, plant-based milks are usually higher in phosphorus which further decreases the absorption of calcium
- Vitamin A as beta-carotene is estimated to only be absorbed and converted into its active form about 10% of the time. It’s estimated that 10 -28X as much beta-carotene needs to be consumed to equate the amount of retinol (pre-formed/animal Vitamin A). Retinyl Palmitate on the other hand is pretty well absorbed if the nut milk uses this form of synthetic Vitamin A
Not to mention, that nut milks do not contain any vitamin K, particularly K2 which is the active form in humans and essential to regulating calcium.
What Are The Proclaimed Benefits Of Plant-Based Milks?:
- Fewer Calories - One of the main benefits of plant-based milks is that they contain less calories per cup than animal milk, but you have to put this in perspective that they also contain significantly less nutrients. Additionally, calories get treated as the enemy, as people try to avoid them, but really you should try to consume as many calories as possible without gaining weight. How could you increase your metabolism without increasing the amount of calories you burn?
- Filled With “Healthy Fats” - Nut milks (not coconut) are filled with the so-called “healthy” polyunsaturated fats, but these fats are anything, but healthy. Polyunsaturated fats refers to the amount of double bonds in the fat (unsaturated =double bonds, poly = many), the more double bonds the more unstable the fat is leading to oxidative stress and inflammation. Saturated fats like those primarily found in cow milk are much more stable because they do not have any double bonds and do not cause oxidative stress or inflammation.
- Higher In Vitamin E - While nut milks have higher amounts of Vitamin E than regular milk, polyunsaturated fats inhibit the absorption of Vitamin E and also increase our dietary requirements for Vitamin E. Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant in our body, but when the polyunsaturated fats oxidize in our body it uses up our vitamin E. Additionally, it's been shown that the higher your consumption of polyunsaturated fats the larger your vitamin E requirements.
- Tastes Better Than Regular MIlk - While this is subjective, the only reason why plant-based milks might seem to taste better is usually the added sugar they put into the milks to make them taste better. By this logic you might as well just add sugar to cow milk to sweeten it up.
- More Environmentally Friendly - Believe it or not, nut milks are about as environmentally unfriendly as it gets. Monocropping, the farming of a single crop, completely destroys the biodiversity of an ecosystem, ruining the soil over time. Not to mention the loads of pesticides that are used to harvest nut milks and protect the plants from “pests” (also known as other animals) and insects, among invasive herbs. Much of which wash out into nearby rivers and streams causing damage to wildlife there. This isn’t to say that dairy-farming is all sunshine and rainbows, but grass-fed and pasture-raised dairy farms can contribute to the environment and our food supply in a positive manner if done correctly.
Read More: The Nonessential, "Essential" Fatty Acids
Benefits Of Cows Milks:
- Rich Source of Calcium - Cows milk contains a high ratio of calcium to phosphorus, making it a great dietary source of calcium. Additionally, it contains both Vitamin K & D which are necessary to regulate calcium and vitamin D specifically is necessary to absorb it.
- Protein - Plant-based milks do not contain nearly as much protein as cow's milk and most people already do not consume enough protein as it is.
- A Complete Food Source - Cow’s milk contains 90% of the nutrients you need to survive and all three macronutrients: carbs, fats and proteins.
- Vitamin K2 - Milk and other dairy products are virtually the only way you can consume K2 in your diet. K2 is necessary to regulate calcium and is involved in bone growth and development and blood clotting. Plant-based vitamin K1 can be found in vegetables, but only a small percent can be converted into K2.
- Saturated Fats & Cholesterol - Yes, contrary to popular belief saturated fats and cholesterol are necessary to produce the fat-soluble hormones like testosterone, estrogen, progesterone and vitamin D.
Read More: Cholesterol Collusion
What Type Of Milk Should You Buy?:
- Organic - This ensures that no harmful chemicals, pesticides, or hormones are put in the cows to increase growth
- Grass-Fed - Grass-fed cows contain significantly higher levels of nutrients from eating grass instead of grains.
- Non-Homogenized - The process of homogenization mixes the milk into a single smooth mixture, but also breaks apart some of the beneficial nutrients and enzymes in milk.
- Raw or Unpasteurized Milk - If you can find a high-quality source of raw milk it will have a ton of beneficial probiotic bacteria that get broken down upon pasteurization. Humans have been drinking milk for the last 10,000 years and it was only in the last 100 or so years that pasteurized milk became popular as a means of bringing dairy cows into unhealthy city environments.
With so much conflicting information on health & nutrition today it can seem impossible to find a place to start, which is why we have the Thermo Diet Program. The Thermo Diet is our diet program designed to educate you how to eat a nutrient-rich diet that fulfills your daily and weekly vitamin and mineral intake. By doing this you provide your body with everything it needs to thrive and allowing you to achieve a state of optimal health, or as we call it 'The Thermo State'. Click here to try out The Thermo Diet today!
My goal in writing this article, as always, is to provide you with logically-based principles that you can use to form your own conclusions regarding any information you may come across within this subject. I really hope you found this article interesting and if you have anything to add to this article, or any comments or criticism, feel free to reach out to me on our facebook groups or on Instagram @tylerwoodward_fit. Also, please feel free to share this article with anyone that might be interested.
Thanks for reading!
Until next time… be good