No longer is it a simple choice between reduced-fat and full cream. Now, there’s a wide variety of milk alternatives filling up the dairy cabinet, which makes choosing the best one a little tricky. And while trendy milks like soy, almond and oat might seem like the healthier option – that’s not necessarily true. Here’s why.

The nutrition

Cow’s milk is rich in nutrients – and in contrast to what most people think, it’s not innately fattening. It’s a good source of muscle-building protein, as well as calcium that’s crucial for strong bones and teeth. And that’s not all. Cow’s milk also provides a range of other nutrients, like Vitamin B12 for nervous system function, Vitamin A for healthy eyes and potassium for heart and muscle function. Sounds like a real food multivitamin, right?

If you’re not into dairy, soy milk is the next best thing. That’s because it’s protein content is similar to cow’s milk, and while it’s not naturally a source of calcium, there are many brands that are fortified (which means calcium is added during manufacturing).

Next up, it’s nut milks, like almond and macadamia. Unlike what you might have heard from your local wellness guru or personal trainer, these hipster ‘milks’ aren’t actually the nutrition bomb they’re made out to be. The percentage of nuts they contain is super low (at around three per cent) – they’re little more than filtered water. Of course, if you can’t have dairy or soy, a nut milk may be your only option, and if so, do your best to find one fortified with calcium.

It’s a similar story for grain milks like rice and oat, too. One benefit of oat milk, however, is that it contains beta-glucan, which is a type of fibre that works to lower cholesterol and can therefore can support heart health. Nonetheless, you can get beta-glucan from eating regular oats, so don’t feel like you must drink the milk! Grain-based milk options contain more carbohydrate than cow’s milk and have a higher glycaemic index, which means they have a more profound effect on your blood sugars. Again, if they’re you’re only option, try to find a calcium-fortified variety.

Last but not least, coconut milk – and boy oh boy, is there an unnecessary health halo here! You see, coconut milk is rich in saturated fat that’s bad for your heart, and it contains little protein or carbohydrate. In terms of micronutrients, it’s not a standout, either.

The numbers

So now for what you’ve been waiting for – the number of calories in each of these different types of milk. Hopefully by now, however, you can recognise that milk is far more than just the amount of energy it contains, and the nutrient-density should be seriously considered. But without further ado, here’s a list of milks in order of most energy-dense to least energy-dense. For the sake of comparison, each value represents 100mL.

  • Full cream cow’s milk – 281 kilojoules (67 calories)
  • Rice milk – 255 kilojoules (61 calories)
  • Regular soy milk – 241 kilojoules (58 calories)
  • Oat milk – 213 kilojoules (51 calories)
  • Reduced-fat cow’s milk – 191 kilojoules (46 calories)
  • Reduced-fat soy milk – 153 kilojoules (37 calories)
  • Skim cow’s milk – 142 kilojoules (34 calories)
  • Sweetened almond milk – 123 kilojoules (29 calories)
  • Sweetened cashew milk – 123 kilojoules (29 calories)
  • Coconut milk – 95 kilojoules (23 calories)
  • Unsweetened cashew milk – 73 kilojoules (18 calories)
  • Unsweetened almond milk – 69 kilojoules (16 calories)

Melissa Meier is an online and Sydney-based Accredited Practising Dietitian. You can connect with her at or on Instagram @honest_nutrition.