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.
Standardised whole milk has a fat content of 3.5%. A 200ml glass of whole milk has 130 calories.
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 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.
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.
All types of milk - whole, semi-skimmed and skimmed - are good sources of calcium. They all also rich in vitamins B12 and B2 and iodine, and provide potassium and phosphorus.Find out more about the benefits of the nutrients in milk
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 remember 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.
This section of our website is specifically for nutrition and health professionals to help keep you up to date with the latest nutrition research, particularly in relation to milk and dairy products. You’ll find summaries and presentations from our conferences and events, together with scientific overviews of dairy and health topics.