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Dairy Council

Types of milk

The main difference between the different types of milk is their fat and calorie content. For most of the other nutrients in milk, such as protein, calcium and B vitamins, the amounts are similar.

Whole Milk - fat content - 3.5%

Standardised whole milk has a fat content of 3.5%. A 200ml glass of whole milk has 130 calories.

Semi-skimmed Milk - fat content - 1.8%

Semi–skimmed milk contains half the fat of whole milk; 1.8% of fat compared to the 3.5% in standardised whole milk. Semi–skimmed milk is the most popular type of milk in Northern Ireland. 

Semi–skimmed milk has fewer calories (95 calories in a 200ml glass) and less fat than whole milk, and less vitamin A. Levels of other nutrients including protein, calcium, and vitamins such as vitamin B2 and B12 are not reduced.

Semi–skimmed milk can be given to children as a main drink from the age of one year.

Skimmed Milk - fat content - less then 0.3%

Skimmed milk is virtually fat free with just 0.1 – 0.3% fat. Skimmed milk contains less calories (70 calories in 200ml glass), fat and vitamin A than whole milk, but has roughly the same amount of protein, calcium and other non–fat soluble vitamins. 

Skimmed milk is less creamy in appearance and taste due to its reduced fat content. Skimmed milk is not suitable as a main drink for children under five years old.

1% Fat milk - fat content - 1%

As with other reduced fat milks, 1% has less fat, calories and vitamin A than whole milk, but has similar amounts of other nutrients including protein and calcium. 1% milk has 85 calories in a 200ml glass. As with skimmed milk, 1% fat milk should not be given as a main drink to children under the age of five. 


All types of milk are rich in protein at around 3.5% or 7g in a 200ml glass. The protein in milk is high quality.

Plant-based drinks

There are many plant-based drinks on the market manufactured from ingredients such as oats, soy, pea, hemp, rice and almonds.

Plant-based drinks vary in their composition but none are nutritionally the same as milk so can't just be swapped for milk.

Unlike milk, plant-based drinks are generally low in protein (on average, around 0.5% protein versus 3.5% for milk); soy drink is an exception at around 3%. Again, in contrast to milk, the protein in most plant-based drinks is of lower quality.

Milk is naturally rich in calcium, plant-based drinks are not, although some plant-based drinks have calcium added.

Some other nutrients which are missing or at low levels in plant-based drinks compared with milk such as vitamin B12 may also be added.

But it is important to know that there are large differences in fortification and some nutrients such as iodine, of which milk is an important source, are not routinely added.

Organic plant-based drinks are not fortified at all.

Even with some fortification, plant-based drinks cannot mimic the natural matrix of nutrients in milk.