I thought it would be interesting to take a look at some of the nutritional difference between cow milk: non-fat, 1%, 2%, Whole, and non-dairy milks: rice, soy, almond, hemp, and oat.
The cow milk industry wants all of us to believe that milk does a body good, and I do believe that there are some great nutritional benefits to cow milk. However, there are many people who cannot drink cow milk either because of lactose intolerance, a milk allergy, or out of a values choice like vegan. I have a Type II allergy to cow and goat milk and have had to seek out other alternatives, and fortunately, there are plenty. So, let's take a look.
Parameters for the comparison
For this comparison, I chose brands that are widely popular in the US. Nutrition numbers can vary depending on the brand you get. This is just a basis. I used the typical information that most people seek which includes calories, fat, carbs, and protein. I added in sugars because the non-dairy milks can be high in sugars, and added in Calcium% because the benefit of cow milk that is highly emphasized is the calcium. All the non-dairy milks are "Plain" flavor. The numbers are all based on a 1 cup (8 fl oz) serving.
What stands out in the comparison
The two things that initially stood out to me was the difference between protein and the amount of sugar. There is a higher amount of protein (almost double) in the cow milk than in the non-dairy milks, and there is a significant amount of sugar in both. Soy and Almond milk have the lowest number of sugars, and all the non-dairy drinks have more carbs than the cow milks.
Calories and fat wise you're getting about the same between the cow milk and the non-dairy milk. Whole milk has the highest fat content of all, but if you stick to the 1% milk, the playing field is about equal. I found it surprising that hemp milk offered a whopping 46% of Calcium% compared to cow milk. It's surprising to me only because I have only recently tried hemp milk, and learned of its benefits.
Soy is not as healthy as you think
Looking at the non-dairy numbers, soy looks like one of the "healthier" choices because it scores low in calories, carbs, sugars, and high in protein. However, many commercially made soy products like soy milk are not as healthy for you as you think because soy has properties that can inhibit protein and mineral absorption, and can inhibit thyroid performance. Dr. Mercola has more specific information about the dangers of soy.
My naturopathic doctor has me avoiding soy milk. I primarily drink rice and now hemp milk. I can't have almond milk because I have an allergy to almonds, and I don't drink oat milk often because it is high in the carbs and sugar. It is really tasty though in a milk shake.
Hope this chart can help you make more informed choices when looking at cow and non-dairy milks. Please share any thoughts or insights you have.