How much milk should I drink a day?

The Healthy Eating Plate, created by Harvard’s School of Public Health, has conspicuously removed the cow. Milk products, that is.  In response to a growing body of science-backed evidence, Harvard asserts we simply don’t need as much milk as we’ve been drinking. Previous dietary guidelines recommended the equivalent of three 8-ounce glasses/day.

Research can be confusing because findings are inconsistent. What we do know is that milk and milk products take a heavy toll on the environment.

So, to balance our dietary needs and the toll on the environment, Harvard Health recommends one to two 8-ounce glasses/day. 

In today’s market, the options for milk substitutes seem endless – hemp, oat, almond, coconut, soy, rice, lactose-free, organic, and the list goes on. The milk substitute trend has gained momentum, amplified by recommendations such as Harvard’s advice to limit dairy intake to one or two glasses of milk per day. It’s evident that milk substitutes are challenging the supremacy of traditional cow’s milk.

However, before you make the switch, it’s essential to consider the reasons we consume milk beyond its calcium content. Milk is valued not only for its protein but also for its nutritional profile, combined with being a low-sugar and low-fat beverage. While many milk substitutes offer these benefits, it’s crucial to understand what each alternate milk product brings to your glass. Because not all milk substitutes replicate every aspect of cow’s milk, dietary adjustments may be necessary to compensate for any missing elements.


  • Cow’s milk is a source of calcium, Vitamin B-12, potassium, and Vitamin D (when fortified).
  • Soy milk comes closest to cow’s milk in terms of potassium levels. Increasing our intake of natural potassium sources is vital for heart and bone health.
  • Fortified milk substitutes can match cow’s milk in terms of vitamins and nutrients, but thorough label reading is necessary to ensure the milk substitute you choose meets these criteria.


Remember, calcium isn’t exclusive to dairy products; it can also be found in leafy greens, beans, and tofu. As with anything, moderation is key. An excessive intake of calcium can lead to kidney stones and weakened bones.


  • Soy milk provides nearly the same protein content as cow’s milk. Some children develop allergies to cow milk proteins and may need to switch. Regardless, it’s crucial to ensure an adequate protein intake in your diet. If you typically have cereal and fruit for breakfast without cow or soy milk, seek alternative protein sources such as eggs, tofu, quinoa, or chia porridge.


Low Fat:

While fats have faced scrutiny over the years, the focus has shifted toward sugar. It’s essential to avoid beverages overloaded with saturated fats that offer no protein content. For instance, coconut milk contains roughly five times the fat of regular milk, and it’s predominantly saturated. Save coconut milk for culinary purposes and opt for almond or other nut-based alternatives for drinking.

Low Sugar:

Cow’s milk contains naturally occurring sugar called lactose, which some people have difficulty digesting. Lactose accounts for approximately 40% of cow milk’s calories. Regular whole milk contains roughly 12 – 13 grams of total sugar (3 teaspoons) per 8 oz serving, contributing to its natural sweetness. However, many milk substitutes contain added sugars (some soy milks have up to 12 grams of sugar per 8 oz glass). It’s advisable to select unsweetened milk substitute options or, if that’s too bitter, opt for original milk substitutes with naturally occurring sugars, but aim to keep added sugars below five grams (1 teaspoon).

Be cautious about chemical sugar additives that may be present in some milk substitutes, including Aspartame, Acesulfame-K, Saccharin, sucralose, and monk fruit extract.

Navigating the diverse landscape of milk substitutes requires careful consideration, label reading, and a nuanced understanding of nutritional components. By making informed choices, you can tailor your dietary preferences to align with your health and nutritional goals.

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public health has a great chart to compare all the milks and their nutrients.