The human race has been drinking cow's milk since cattle were domesticated around 10,000 years ago. From being only for the rich and powerful in the days of the ancient Egyptians, milk became an important ingredient in the diet of almost every human being on the planet.
The reasons why it became popular are a no-brainer. It’s creamy and delicious, plus it’s a great source of macronutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrate) and is loaded with vitamins and minerals like calcium. Milk has even ingrained itself in our language: “milk of human kindness”, “mother’s milk”, “don’t cry over spilled milk”. But… cow’s milk is not perfect for everybody. It contains lactose, a carbohydrate which many people have trouble digesting if they don’t produce the necessary enzyme (lactase) to digest it. Others simply have an allergy to dairy products, and those who are on a low carb or low calorie diet may choose to avoid certain types of milk because of carb or calorie content.
Of course, dairy is not the only milk available, there is now a huge range of plant-based milks, but which are suitable for a keto diet? Are any of them? Let’s dive in.
Milk & Keto FAQ’s
Can You Drink Milk on Keto?
You can drink milk on keto, BUT you do need to be careful about which milk you choose taking carbohydrate level into account. .
While a tall glass of traditional dairy milk is, almost always, a big no-go area when you’re on keto, you can add cream to your coffee and don’t fret, you don’t have to eat your cereal dry. We’re fortunate in that there are a ton of milk alternatives on our grocery store shelves, such as unsweetened almond, oat, soy, coconut, and more. Many of these suit the keto lifestyle, and we’ll explore them each in detail in the sections below, so keep reading!
Is Cow’s Milk Allowed On A Keto Diet?
Yes and No. The typical keto diet includes a lot of dairy which is loaded with protein and fat, but one cup of milk contains a mahoosive 12g of carbs.
Obviously, that’s not ideal for a keto diet where many are restricting carb intake to between 20-50g per day. A splash in your coffee? Sure. But a glass to drink with a meal? Nope! And remember, all those carbs and not a gram is fiber, so that’s 12g net.
Whole milk, 2%, 1%, and nonfat all have a similar amount of carbohydrate, but those with more fat content do have slightly less carbs. Even lactose-free milk has around 12g per cup because it simply contains added lactase, an enzyme that helps to break down lactose. Easier to digest, sure, but it still contains the same carbohydrates.
Why can I eat other dairy products if I can’t drink cow milk on keto?
This is a common question for keto dieters, because if we’re allowed to indulge in as much butter and cheese as we like – relatively, at least – shouldn’t it follow that we can also drink milk?
The reasoning is simply because foods like butter and cheese, have far fewer carbs than milk but lots of fat and protein. A tablespoon of butter just has 0.1g of carbohydrate, and heavy cream only contains .4g carb per tablespoon. When considering cheese, during manufacturing cheese curds are separated from whey which is where most of the lactose is concentrated so most of the carbs disappear with the whey. Hard and aged cheeses (like Parmesan, Swiss, Cheddar) have lower lactose/carbs which is whey most lactose-intolerant people rarely encounter problems when consuming those types of cheeses.
Can I drink goat’s milk or sheep’s milk instead on keto?
Neither goat’s milk nor sheep’s milk is any better in terms of carbs compared to the milk of a cow. They may have different purported health benefits, but none are really keto-friendly due to carb content. Essentially, if it was designed to help a tiny baby animal grow, it’s not going to help you stay in ketosis.
Is Non-Dairy Milk Allowed On A Keto Diet?
There are a lot of keto-friendly non-dairy “milk” options out there, so don’t worry your milk-consuming days aren’t completely over. Some dairy-free milks are perfect for a keto diet, though others less so.
What is true for all, is that you always want to choose the unsweetened versions. Anything sweetened has added sugars and unnecessary carbs which can kick you out of ketosis, so avoid those options entirely. Anything not labeled unsweetened should be looked at carefully, as some are surprisingly full of sugar.
There are some great plant-based milk substitutes available that are low-carb, lactose-free, and contain fat and dietary fiber making them ideal for those on the keto diet. If you have the time and desire, many can even be made at home, which further reduces the chance of additives. Almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk, flax, and others are (relatively) simple to make in your own kitchen. Keep reading and we will tell you all about each option!
What Non-Dairy Milk To Avoid On Keto
Some milks are made with grains like oats and rice, and so should be steered clear of as they have carb content similar to dairy. A rule of thumb, for keto dieters, should be that if you can’t eat the ingredient it’s made out of, you can’t drink it.
Can you eat oatmeal on keto? No, so you can’t drink oat milk. Can you eat rice on keto? No, so you can’t drink rice milk. Simple!
Oat milk may be good for you, as it is nutrient-dense, but just one cup of oat milk contains 16 grams of carbohydrates (including just 2g of dietary fiber), so that is more than whole milk! If you are trying to max at under, say, 40g of carbs per day that’s just too many.
Rice milk knocks oat milk out of the park – and not in a good way! 22g of carbs in one cup? Nope, definitely not keto-friendly.
Another non-dairy milk to minimize on keto is hazelnut milk. Although it has a creamy hazelnut taste (yum), it is low in fat and higher than most others in carbs at 8g per cup. Not as high as dairy but significantly more than the other options, so it’s not usually worth consuming.
Also, as said before but is a point worth reiterating, avoid anything not labeled “unsweetened”. For example, unsweetened almond milk has no carbs at all, regular has 6g of carbs per cup, half that of cow’s milk but still a sizeable amount for a keto diet.
Is Milk OK on a Low Carb Diet?
Not dairy milk, no. However nutrient-rich dairy milk may be, whole, reduced-fat and lactose-free dairy milk doesn’t really fit in a super low-carb diet because the 12g of carbs you find in one cup is simply too many. There are plenty of alternatives available, some that have little or no carbohydrate but still have vital nutrients.
What Milk Is Best For Keto?
Unsweetened almond milk and unsweetened coconut milk are both good choices for keto, at least from a carbohydrate angle (both contain 1g or less of carbs), but they both offer little in the way of added nutritional content. There are traces of fat, minute quantities of fiber and a few vitamins. Most manufacturers add calcium so they score on that point. Unsweetened soy milk is similarly great for keto, with many brands containing no carbs whatsoever, and are a little better nutrient-wise than almond and coconut with a little more fat and more fiber.
However, some people are put off because of the phytoestrogen content in soy. Phytoestrogens occur naturally in plants, including fruits, vegetables and legumes and they mimic estrogen. While phytoestrogens may be of benefit to pre- and post-menopausal women, and contain some benefits for boosting health, some researchers are worried that phytoestrogens may disrupt the hormonal balance in the body if taken in sufficient quantity. While nothing definitive has been proven either way, it is fair to point out that most scientists and nutritionists agree that moderate use of soy is perfectly safe.
Hemp milk has an earthy, nutty flavor and has more fat and protein than almond, coconut, and soy without being too high on the carb counts, only 1.3g to a cup. Though as with the others, with hemp milk you do need to check that no sugar has been added. Flax milk is another non-dairy keto-friendly option with almost no carbs. Flax seeds naturally contain plant-based omega fatty acids, plus flax milk is also fortified with calcium, but like the others it has little in terms of other added nutritional benefits.
What Is The Lowest Carb Milk?
In their unsweetened form, most non-dairy milk alternatives are very low carb. The exceptions are oat, rice, and hazelnut milk – and they are best left to those not on a keto diet. Unsweetened is the keyword if you want as few carbs in your milk as possible, and stick to almond and coconut for nearly negligible carbs.
Is Whole Milk Keto-Friendly?
While whole milk has a lot going for it nutritionally, 8g of protein, vitamin D, calcium etc., it’s not suitable for keto because of the carb content. You can put a splash in your coffee, but a glass of whole milk is out as it provides 12g of carbs per cup.
Whole milk is natural, nutrient-rich and tastes good, while one cup won’t kick you out of ketosis it’s a little higher in carbs than those on a keto or low-carb diet should choose.
Nutrients and Carbs In Milk
Vitamins and Nutrients in Whole Milk
Whole milk is naturally rich in vitamins, amino acids, and minerals, here is a look at the key nutrients provided:
- Calcium: It is well known that calcium is important for bones, but did you also know that it helps blood to clot, muscles to contract and the heart to beat? Vitamin D: The body produces vitamin D as a response to exposure to the sun but we can also get it from certain foods, particularly milk. It is this vitamin that plays a major role in regulating the amount of calcium and phosphorus in the body, vital for maintaining healthy bones and teeth. A lack of vitamin D can lead to rickets in children and osteomalacia, a condition that causes bone pain, in adults. Vitamin D also helps to support the immune system and regulate insulin levels.
- Phosphorus: Phosphorus is essential to the body’s well-being and another key component of bone health. In addition, phosphorus also plays an important part in the structure of nucleic acids and cell membranes and plays a role in how we process carbohydrates.
- Potassium: Another vital mineral, potassium helps regulate fluid balance, muscle contractions, and nerve signals. It also has a part to play in counteracting the effects of sodium and helping your blood pressure to remain constant. Vitamin A: Vitamin A, a generic term for a number of fat-soluble compounds, is essential in supporting your eye health and plays a vital part in maintaining your body’s immune system. It is also important for bone health and promotes growth and reproductive health.
- Vitamin B12: This vitamin plays a role in making red blood cells and keeping the nervous system healthy. It also helps in the release of energy from the food we consume and in the use of folic acid by the body.
How many carbs in whole milk?
Well, we’ve said it a few times and we will say it again...There are a whopping 12g of carbs in each cup of whole milk so it isn’t the best choice if you’re on a keto diet that restricts carbs.
How much fat in whole milk?
If you are a keto dieter, you will know that fat is not the enemy as it is your body’s fuel source. Not all fat is equal, however, and it is still a fact that you should limit your saturated fat intake even on keto.
Too much saturated fat can increase your risk of heart problems. How you “spend” your fat allowance depends on you ,but the bottom line is that you should choose a variety of healthy foods that provide fats from the three groups – monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat and saturated fat with the emphasis being on the first two.
Whole milk has 8g of fat per cup, 4.6g of those are saturated fat and 2.5g are unsaturated fats.
How much protein is in whole milk?
Whole milk is a good source of protein with 8g per cup. Milk contains all nine of the essential amino acids needed to make a complete protein. There are two main types of protein found in milk, casein which accounts for around 80% of the protein and whey protein, 20%.
Milk consumption has been linked with a lower risk of age-related muscle loss and a boost in muscle repair in athletes, but you can receive many of these benefits on milk alternatives and through the other dairy products you eat on keto, so you don’t need to worry.
Other Dairy Milk (Including Lactose-Free Milk)
Other dairy milks contain many of the same health benefits and all of the carbs. The different percentages and types (nonfat ) refer to the fat content, so there is around 12g of carbs in all forms of cow’s milk, and other milks are very similar. 1% fat milk drops the fat content to 2.4g overall, just under 1g unsaturated, and nonfat aka skim milk is, as the name suggests, virtually fat-free. Again, low-fat milks should contain the same protein content as whole milk, its just the fat percentage that is different.
Almond Milk contains very little or no carbs at all if it is unsweetened. It is usually fortified with similar amounts of calcium as whole milk (refer to whole milk to see the health benefits of calcium) and is naturally rich in several vitamins, especially vitamin E. Almond milk is a great choice for a keto-friendly alternative to cow’s milk, but always check to make sure it is unsweetened.
How many carbs in almond milk?
There are 0-1g of carbs in all unsweetened forms of almond milk, so just double-check the carton before you buy.
How much fat is in almond milk?
Almond milk has just 2.6g of fat per cup, nearly all of which is unsaturated fat.
How much protein in almond milk?
Almond milk has just 1g of protein per cup, which is a lot less than a handful of almonds.
Coconut Milk is very similar in terms of carbs and nutrients to almond milk in its unsweetened form. Like almond milk, you do have to study the nutrition facts as some brands are just as carb-rich as whole milk.
How many carbs in coconut milk?
Like almond milk, there are 0g of carbs in most unsweetened versions, but check the label.
How much fat is in coconut milk?
Unsweetened coconut milk has a mere 2.9g of fat per cup, but almost all is saturated fat.
How much protein is in coconut milk?
Coconut milk is great for being low carb, protein content varies per brand but it generally contains little to no protein.
Soy Milk is another milk alternative that, in its unsweetened form, is very keto-friendly but where some varieties may pack in those carbohydrates. Like all plant-based milks, soy milk is naturally free of cholesterol plus it is a great source of calcium and potassium.
How many carbs in soy milk?
Most unsweetened soy milks hover around the 1-2g range, but be sure to check the label.
How much fat is in soy milk?
Soy milk contains 4.3g of fat per cup, most of which is unsaturated fat.
How much protein is in soy milk?
Soy milk is the only milk that competes with whole milk on protein content, as it also generally contains 8g of protein per cup.
Oat Milk is carb-heavy and even in unsweetened form has more carbohydrates than whole milk. If the carbohydrates don’t matter and you are lactose intolerant or vegan, oat milk is an option but for keto dieters, there’s no point considering it.
How many carbs in oat milk?
Most oat milk brands contain around 16g of carbs, so definitely not keto-friendly.
How much fat is in oat milk?
Oat milk contains 3.6g of fat which is almost entirely unsaturated fat.
How much protein is in oat milk?
Oat milk is better than some other milk alternatives, at about 3g of protein per cup.
Flax seeds are a great superfood, and flax milk is naturally cholesterol-free, lactose-free, plus it is full of omega-3 fatty acids, minerals like calcium, and vitamins, including vitamin A, B12, and D. It’s also low calorie (25 calories per cup).
How many carbs in flax milk?
There is just between 0-1g of carbs per cup of unsweetened flax milk, which makes it a good option for those on keto.
How much fat is in flax milk?
Flax milk contains 2g of fat per cup, none of which is saturated.
How much protein is in flax milk?
Flax milk contains little to no protein, but you can find brands that fortify it with plant-based proteins such as that from peas.
Hemp milk is full of vitamins and minerals, including omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids, calcium, potassium, phosphorous, and vitamins A, B12, and D. While hemp milk may be a little more difficult to find on the supermarket shelf, it’s a great nutrient-dense keto-friendly option if you can get your hands on it.
How many carbs in hemp milk?
1 cup of unsweetened hemp milk contains 1.3g of carbs and approximately 86 calories.
How much fat is in hemp milk?
Hemp milk is higher in fat than some of the other options on this list, at 7.3g.
How much protein is in hemp milk?
Hemp milk contains 4.7g of protein, which puts it as the second-best milk alternative on protein content behind soy milk.
Fats In Milk
Fat is essential to good health, and even more essential when you’re on the keto diet as you need it to convert into energy. While high-fat foods are encouraged for keto dieters, you should still try to minimize saturated fats as consuming excess can potentially lead to health problems down the line. You can find the fat content for each milk type outlined in the sections above.
Protein In Milk
Proteins are crucial to many normal body functions, assisting with growth and development, cellular repair and maintaining a healthy immune system. Protein helps your body to maintain the pH of your blood and other bodily fluids and maintain the balance between blood and the surrounding tissues.
Enzymes are proteins that are involved in digestion, energy production, blood clotting, and muscle contraction. Some hormones are another type of protein, they are the chemical messengers that communicate between your cells, tissues, and organs. Other proteins provide cells with rigidity, like keratin which is found in your skin, hair, and nails. Protein will even act as an energy source but only if you are in a fasting situation or after exhaustive exercise. You can’t live without proteins.
The keto diet encourages a moderate amount of protein. As far as dairy milk, it is rich in protein, but has a significant amount of carbs. As a keto dieter, you’re better off getting your protein content elsewhere than in either dairy or plant-based milk, as most low-carb milk alternatives also contain little-to-no protein.
Health Benefits Of Milk
Cow’s milk is one of the most consumed beverages in the United States and Europe. It is a tremendous package of protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and essential minerals.
Many milk alternatives also offer a great range of health benefits, which you can read about in the individual sections above, including many vital vitamins and minerals.
When You Should Avoid Having Milk On Keto
There are three problems with cow’s milk and a keto diet: carbohydrates, saturated fat and, to a lesser extent, lactose.
In every cup there are 12g of carbs in whole milk and if you are on keto or another low-carb diet 12g is a heck of a lot, too many in one hit for most people. Sure, you are allowed some carbs on a keto diet but taking perhaps a third of your daily allowance in one cup of milk? You may be better off getting your carbohydrates from other sources like fresh veggies and seeds. The carbs in milk are the main reason a lot of people on keto diets leave it on the shelf.
It’s also worth avoiding oat milk and rice milk, since both have even more carbohydrates per cup, at 16g and 22g respectively.
Milk and Keto
So, is milk keto? Can you drink milk on keto? Of course, you can incorporate cow’s milk into your keto diet, so long as you are aware of the problems, particularly the high carb content of milk.
There are lots of healthy aspects to cow’s milk, vitamins, minerals, and protein but these are available in the plant-based milk alternatives and in the meats and cheeses you’ll eat as part of your keto diet.
Can you drink milk on keto? You can if you want, but make it a cup of a milk alternative such as almond, soy, coconut or any of the others we discussed above. Many milk substitutes have the calcium and some of the nutrients with few or none of the carbs. You might be better off ignoring cow’s milk if you are on a keto diet and getting what carbs you want from better sources.