In A Nutshell
Besides the obvious difference of where the milk comes from and the ethical debates about consuming animal products as opposed to plant products, these three types of milk have very different nutritional values. While cow milk is high in calcium, it also contains a high percentage of lactose, and goat milk is better for people who are concerned about their cholesterol. Soy milk is the choice for people who want something that came from a plant rather than an animal, and while it’s high in calcium, it can also prevent absorption of proteins into the body.
The Whole Bushel
One of the biggest differences between these types of milk is their lactose content, meaning the amount of milk sugars present in the substance. Cow milk contains the highest amount of lactose, which can make it undrinkable for anyone who’s lactose intolerant. Being lactose intolerant isn’t just inconvenient, it can be painful, too – but because goat milk is much lower in lactose content, people who have sensitivity to lactose can often still drink it. And that extends to products made with goat milk, too, such as cheese and yogurt. Soy milk is (for most people) a similarly lactose-free substitute.
Even for those who aren’t sensitive to lactose, goat milk is much easier to digest than cow milk. Even though it has a higher fat content than cow milk, the fat molecules in goat milk are much smaller. This doesn’t just make them easier to digest, but it also keeps the milk from separating in the refrigerator the way cow milk will. Goat milk also contains a form of vitamin A that can be used immediately, without undergoing a chemical transformation to make it usable by the human body.
Similarly, goat milk also has a lower cholesterol content than cow milk, and what cholesterol it does contain is similarly more readily available for absorption into the body. Those concerned about their cholesterol levels often look to soy milk instead, though, as it contains compounds called “isoflavones” and virtually no cholesterol. Isoflavones help to lower levels of bad cholesterol already in the body.
Cow milk is not only extremely high in protein, but it’s also what’s called “complete protein.” That means it contains everything that the body needs to absorb amino acids and turn them into a viable form of protein. It’s also the highest in calcium (with goat milk very close behind), and contains the highest amount of vitamin B.
Whole cow milk is very high in fat content, but with 1 percent, 2 percent, and skim options available, there’s no need to skip the cow milk just to avoid the fat content. The rest of the nutritional profile on low-fat cow milk remains largely unchanged.
There’s also a taste difference. Some people don’t like goat milk because of its distinctive taste—a mixture of sweet and salty—along with its equally distinctive odor. Soy milk comes in a variety of flavors, which can make it much more appealing to a wider group of people. Once fat starts getting removed from cow milk, there’s a definite change in taste and texture.
There are also a few other options for those looking for a non-animal milk alternative. Almond milk is quickly growing in popularity, containing many of the same vitamins as animal milks but lacking in protein. Rice milk lacks many key nutrients, proteins, and vitamins; and while low in cholesterol, coconut milk is higher in saturated fats and calories than the heaviest animal milk.
Of course, all types of milk exist in fortified and unfortified forms. Fortified forms often add more of the good stuff, whether it’s calcium, protein, or different types of vitamins.
So what’s the best choice? That’s all dependent on individual health goals and conditions.
Show Me The Proof
LiveScience: Is Milk Really Healthy for You?
Nutritive value of goat milk
Nutritional differences between soy- and cow’s milk
The skinny on milk nutrition: Cow, goat, rice or soy?
Benefits of Goat Milk vs. Cow Milk