Goat's milk, soy milk or cow's milk - how do they compare nutritionally?

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Friday, 10 January 2014.
Tagged: calcium, healthy kids, kids, milk, soy

Goat's milk, soy milk or cow's milk -  how do they compare nutritionally?

Q. I have a two-year-old son who is lactose intolerant. How do goat's milk and soy milk compare nuritionally to ordinary cow's milk? And is he likely to grow out of this?

A.  All three milks are similar nutritionally, being good sources of protein for growth, B vitamins for nerves and digestion and bone-building calcium (provided you choose calcium-fortified soy drinks, which most are - read more below).

But both cow's and goat's milk contain about 4 per cent lactose so neither is suitable for your son. But you can purchase low-lactose and lactose-free cow's milks in fresh or long-life forms at the supermarket if he likes their flavour. Look for brand names such as Zymil.

If he doesn't like milk, hard yellow cheeses (cheddar, parmesan) and yoghurt have very little lactose but still have all the other nutrients of milk.

Soy milks

There are two types of soy milks and this is important to know this as their calcium content is quite different:

1. Pressed soy milks - these are made from soy beans and are as close to the natural bean as possible. Usually they are NOT fortified with added calcium.

2. Composite soy milks from soy protein concentrate or isolate - these have added oil, sugars, thickeners, vitamins and minerals including calcium so they closely match the profile of milk. They have the same calcium as cow's milk - around 120mg per 100ml which translates to about 300mg per glass. These are the best choices for your son. However, he may not like their taste nor are they as 'natural' as the pressed milk. It's something to think about.

Getting enough calcium

For a growing toddler, the problem is to get sufficient calcium for his bones and teeth at this age. Milk, cheese and yoghurt are the richest sources of calcium - and their calcium is well absorbed. He needs some 400mg of calcium a day which would normally come from two glasses of milk OR two tubs of yoghurt OR two thick slices of cheese.

He will ingest small quantities of calcium from sardines or salmon with their small edible bones and from certain vegetables (broccoli, spinach) and nuts (almonds, sesame seeds). But kids generally don't eat enough of these foods nor is their calcium well absorbed.

A calcium supplement can help but it's not something I like to recommend for young ones. I much prefer them to get their nutrition from food where there's little chance of overdose and the nutrients are present in the right form in combination with other complementary things.

Will your son grow out of lactose intolerance?

This all depends on how he acquired the intolerance in the first place.

If he developed it following a bout of gastroenteritis or food poisoning, his digestive tract will recover after 4 to 6 weeks and he should be able to resume his usual diet incuding milk and yoghurt.

However as you didn't mention anything about this, I suspect he's had this for a while

Many racial groups are lactose intolerant and don't consume milk after the age of 5 or thereabouts. If your family has Asian, African or Middle Eastern inheritance, then it's quite likely that they won't be able to drink much milk past childhood. You'll find cultured (fermented) dairy products in place of milk - things like yoghurt, soft cultured cheeses, keffir or lassi drinks. The bacteria used to make yoghurt and cheese actually break down the lactose from milk so these products are better digested and tolerated.

Finally ....

Remember that there are degrees of severity with lactose intolerance - over time, he may be able to manage small quantities of regular milk, especially if drunk with a meal. Research shows that many people with the problem can and do drink milk regularly without any pain or symptoms. While they don't gulp down a milkshake or a tall glass of milk on an empty stomach, they can certainly manage milk with their tea or coffee or milk with a bowl of cereal.

Downloads / Fact Sheets

Lactose in dairy foods and alternatives - free DOWNLOAD

Adobe PDF icon 100x100Download my handy one-page counter which lists where lactose is and which foods have the highest concentration.

Catherine Saxelby

About the Author

Catherine Saxelby knows nutrition! She is an accredited nutritionist, food commentator, blogger and award-winning author. Her latest book Catherine Saxelby's Food and Nutrition Companion answers all those tricky questions on healthy eating, diets and supplements. It draws together a lifetime of advice and gives you all you need to know to eat right! It's a complete A to Z. A handy desk go-to reference.