Plant-based milk vs. cow’s milk: What’s the difference?

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Though non-dairy milks have been around for a while, they’ve recently experienced soaring sales and enormous popularity — due, in part, to environmental concerns, dairy issues (from allergies to lactose intolerance), and just general interest in dairy alternatives.

From the variety of base ingredients to the assortment of flavors, there have never been more knock-offs to choose from. But if the number of choices has left you udderly confused (see what I did there?), here’s a quick guide to help you navigate the dairy and non-dairy aisle.

Dairy milk

Most non-dairy milks are compared to cow’s milk, which has a strong nutritional package. Cow’s milk contains 8 g of protein — more than a hard boiled egg — along with 300 mg of bone-building calcium and 400 mg of potassium, a nutrient that’s lacking in most Americans’ diets.

It’s hard to argue with the spectrum of nutrients in milk, unless of course, you have lactose intolerance (which causes troubling symptoms, such as gas and bloating) or a milk protein allergy. Speaking of lactose, the 12 g of sugar listed on a milk label are all from this natural sugar.

Cow’s milk contains 8 g of protein— more than a hard boiled egg.Blaine Shahan / LNP via AP

Milk itself comes in many varieties, from fat-free (skim) to whole, organic and lactose free. I generally recommend 1% milk since as the percentage goes up, so does that saturated fat. That said, if you’re otherwise healthy and consuming mostly good fats from foods like avocados, nuts, olives, and oily fish, I’m less concerned about 2% milk.

As far as organic goes, it’s a term that refers to the farm’s sustainability and management practices. Though I choose organic milk for my home, organic and conventional milk have the same nutrition and safety profile, so deciding between the two comes down to a personal choice.

Nutritional notes (per cup; based on 1% milk): 110 calories; 2.5g fat (1.5g sat fat); 8g protein; 12g carbohydrate; 12g sugar; 0g fiber

Tasting notes: Ranges from a little thin and watery (fat free) to luscious and rich (whole).