Are Milk Alternatives Really Milk?

By Jeanne Tuttle
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Milk alternatives have made a big presence in grocery stores, advertisements and even on the news in the last few years. And then in early 2019, the FDA told plant-based milk producers they needed to find a new name because they can no longer call their products “milk.” So, if dairy milk is milk, then what exactly is plant-based milk?

Plant-based milks are made by grinding a bean or nut and then adding water, flavors, vitamins and minerals. The nutrients and amount of sugar in plant-based milk varies considerably based on how it was produced and what was added. 


Dairy milk is made by milking a cow. Once the cow is milked, the milk is then pasteurized to remove any pathogens or organisms in it. From there, the milk is homogenized. This is a mechanical process that breaks up the fat in the milk so that it’s fully suspended in the milk. If the milk wasn’t homogenized, there would be a layer of cream on top of your gallon of milk — hence the saying “this is where the cream rises!” The amount of fat in the milk is what you see at the grocery store — cream, whole milk, 2% milk, skim milk, etc. Now that we know how these “milks” are made, what’s the actual difference between them, and what’s the best option for your family? We all know plant-based milk alternatives can be a great option for people with lactose intolerance or who experience sensitivity. Dairy milk is great for people with nut or soy allergies. Allergies aside, how do they compare?

Here’s a great infographic from dairygood.org. It gives a general overview of what is in each glass of each of these different types of milk.

If you’re still not sure, here are some tips I follow when making a purchase for my family. These tips can be used from purchasing food to purchasing a new pair of jeans:

1.      Reading labels is important

2.      All brands are not created equal

3.      A friend’s preferred “milk” doesn’t make it right for your family

My main piece of advice: Do your research and be an informed buyer. Knowing all the facts will help you find the best milk version for your family.