Although cow milk is still the most popular milk of choice, it’s declining in popularity, with sales expected to drop by 27% by 2023 from 2013. Non-dairy milks have been growing rapidly in popularity but what other animal milks are there? And which is the best animal milk for human consumption?
Benefits of cows milk
One cup of cows milk contains 125 calories, and 42 of those calories are from fat. 11% of your daily potassium requirement is in a cup of milk, as well as 10% of your vitamin A needs, 4.1% of vitamin C, 24% calcium, and 0.7% iron. Dairy milk is also a source of vitamin B12, and has folate, niacin, pantothenic acid, and vitamin B6 in small doses.
There are lots of different variations of milk on the market such as half & half, lactose-free, 1%, and 2% which will have slightly different nutritional profiles.
If you don’t like milk, are lactose intolerant or allergic, or are even just curious, there are other animals milks safe for human consumption to choose from.
What other animal milks are there?
Goat milk and even goats cheese are not considered as unusual as other animal milks like camel milk.
One cup of goat milk contains 168 calories, 91 of which come from fat. The globules of fat in goats milk are smaller than the globules in cow’s milk. This means that the body can break it down quicker, which can help ease symptoms of lactose intolerance like cramping and bloating. One cup of goat milk has 14% of the RDA of potassium, whereas cow milk contains 11% of the RDA. A cup will contain 8.7 grams of protein which is only slightly more than the same amount of cows milk which falls 0.2 grams short.
Goats milk will provide 9.7% of the RDA of vitamin A, 5.3% of the vitamin C RDA, and 0.7% iron. It has slightly more calcium than cow’s milk with 25% of the calcium you need per day in one cup.
However, goats milk can affect vitamin B-12. There’s a substance in goat milk that can bind with B12 and stop the body from absorbing the vitamin. If you have a vitamin B12 deficiency, goat milk is not the milk for you.
Goats milk is described as tasting “goaty”, it has a grassy earthy taste because the fatty acids are different from milk. This also means that the cream in goats milk does not rise to the tip as it does in cows milk.
American buffalo are somewhat related to cows so it doesn’t come as a surprise that buffalo milk is an option.
One cup of buffalo milk contains 237 calories, 151 of which come from fat. Buffalo milk has the highest amount of saturated fat with 55% of the 17 grams of fat being saturated. It’s also higher in cholesterol than goats milk which has 27mg of cholesterol while buffalo milk has 46mg.
A cup of buffalo milk will provide 12% of your daily potassium needs, and fulfill 8.7% of vitamin A, 9.4% of vitamin C, 32% of calcium, and 1.6% of iron.
Buffalo milk is the highest in protein with 9.2 grams of protein per cup, and it beats cows milk in terms of calcium content too.
It’s also a source of iron, magnesium, and zinc. Buffalo milk and cream is a popular addition sauces and deserts in Indian cooking.
Camel milk is a rarer alternative animal milk. One cup of camel milk has 116 calories, 54 of which come from fat It’s the lowest in protein with 6.2g per cup. It’s rich in thiamine with 58% of the RDA in one cup. One cup of camel milk will provide 16% of the RDA for vitamin B2 (riboflavin), 10% of Vitamin C, 12% of potassium, and 12% phosphorus. It’s also a decent source of calcium with 32% of the daily recommended amount.
Camel milk is believed to be able to boost the immune system and fight organisms that cause disease, this is because it contains the proteins lactoferrin and immunoglobulins. It’s sometimes the only source of water in dry climates of the Middle East.
Camel milk is an acquired taste as it’s watery and salty. If you do track down some camel milk in the US, it will probably be more expensive than cow and goat milk.
Which animal milk is the closest to human milk
All milks are different because animals need to feed their young something appropriate to their species and habitats. For example, seal milk is 61% fat so their pups can build up a healthy layer of fat to keep them warm, whereas the opposite seen in black rhinos in the African savannah which is just 0.2% fat.
On average human milk is only 4% fat, and 1.3% protein. The remainder is made up of 90% water and 7.2% lactose. Surprisingly zebra milk is the closest to human milk, as it’s 2.2% fat, 1.6% protein, 89% water, and 7% lactose. However, zebra milk is not something you can find in a grocery store! When looking at lactose levels, goats milk is closer to human milk with 9 grams of lactose per cup, compared to 12 grams of lactose per cup of cows milk.
Goats milk formula for babies is considered to be closer to human milk than cow, even though dairy-based formulas are still more popular.
It is believed that animals with similar digestive systems to us have milk more suitable for humans. Cows, goats, buffalo, and camels have three to four stomachs! Zebras, horses, and donkeys all have one stomach and a somewhat similar digestive system. Donkey milk is much lower in fat than human milk.
Horse milk is turned unto a fermented drink in Russia and Asia called kumis. Kumis is described as sour, bitter, and sweet. Asians and Russian’s began drinking it 2,500 years ago as it was believed to help with digestive issues and tuberculosis. It has piqued the interest of the US and Europe as it may be more suitable for those who are lactose intolerant. What holds horse milk back from being more commercially available, is the fact that the mare doesn’t produce milk unless her calf is present so it’s difficult to produce.
Why do we drink cow milk?
The reason cow and goat milk are popular is not because of any similarity to human milk, but because it’s easier to source cows and goats.
Although sheep are also common farm animals in these regions, they’re difficult to milk and produce very little. Sheep milk is also considerably higher in fat than cow and human milk, so it’s more suited to cheesemaking than drinking.
Pigs are also difficult to milk and produce little. The fat content is still much higher than humans, with dairy milk having a more similar nutritional break down to human milk than pigs anyway.
Drinking milk is not as popular beyond the US and Europe, and these regions are home to cows, goats, buffalo, and not zebras and camels. Most Asian and African people drink little to no milk.
Which animal milk is the healthiest
To define healthy it’s really a case of what you’re looking for in all of these animals milks for human consumption. Although the other animal milks actually contain more calcium than cows milk, some have their drawbacks such as goats milk inhibiting B12 absorption.
Some people might opt for buffalo milk for the protein content, fat, and calories if they’re looking to gain weight, but if you want to maintain or lose weight then stay away from buffalo milk.
Goats milk formulas are said to good for babies because its easier to digest. However, cows milk formulas are still higher in folic acid and B12, but formulas are usually fortified with these vitamins anyway. Goats milk formula can also be more tolerated by babies who are sensitive to dairy. It doesn’t contain the casein protein, alpha-S1, which is a problem for some with cows milk, and is gentler on the gut. There is a big difference between being lactose intolerant and being allergic to milk, so while goats milk has less lactose than dairy milk, people with milk allergies can still react to goats milk because cow and goat proteins are similar.
If you’re lactose intolerant the best milk for you is either a lactose-free version of cows milk, or a non-dairy alternative to milk like soy, oat, or almond.