There's a melee of cow's milk brands out there.
There's a melee of cow's milk brands out there.

Simone Egger

Cow's

For most of us, cow's milk is a must-have. It's a great source of  dairy and provides more than 10 essential nutrients. But there's a melee of milk types, so what's behind the brands? All milk is pasteurised (heated to kill any harmful bacteria). Most milks are homogenised – sieved to disperse fat globules more evenly and produce a uniformly smooth milk (no cream on top) – and standardised for fat and protein levels (by adding permeates derived from milk). Then there are full-fat, low-fat and no-fat (skim) varieties. According to Nutrition Australia, children up to age two  should drink full-fat, and adults fat-reduced milk. NA also says most people with lactose intolerances can drink a cup of milk a day — two if drunk in small amounts and with other foods.
One-litre carton, $1.25-$3.

Goat's

Goat's milk is tricky to track down.
Goat's milk is tricky to track down.

Some people swear by its fresh, smooth taste, others say it's easier to digest than cow's milk. Goat's milk generally has a mild taste and is pure white – due to goats' ability to convert carotene more effectively than cows, apparently. The fat globules in goat's milk are smaller than in cow's milk, too, giving it a naturally smooth texture that doesn't require mechanical homogenisation, and making it easier for some people to digest. The Goat Industry Council of Australia says the increased digestibility of goat’s milk is particularly relevant to infant and convalescent diets. Goat’s milk is high in protein and calcium and can be successfully substituted for cow's milk. But in Australia, it’s harder to find and costs more to buy.
1L carton, $4.30-$4.60.

Soy

Not being made by mammary glands means soy milk is not technically a milk; it also makes it preferable to cow's or goat's milk for those eliminating animal products from their diet. Soy "milk" is nutritionally sound, containing more protein than other milk alternatives. It’s not naturally high in calcium but is often fortified to the same levels as dairy milk – be sure to shake the carton, as supplements can sink to the bottom. Soy milk is lactose free but often sweetened, and those made from whole soy beans are said to be more nutritious. Research by consumer watchdog Choice found  "soy milk can be beneficial to cardiovascular and overall health because of its high polyunsaturated fat content and low saturated fat content".
1L carton, $2.15-$2.90.

Soy milk.
Soy milk.

Nut

There is such a thing as too much of a good thing, so vary your milk intake  by using nut milk   occasionally as an alternative to soy or dairy. It’s easy to make at home by soaking one cup of quality raw nuts (usually almonds, butyou can use brazil, cashew nuts and walnuts) overnight. Drain and blend with three cups of water, then strain through muslin or a fine mesh strainer to separate the "milk" from the grits. While almond milk is low in kilojoules and saturated fat, commercial nut milks can be heavily sweetened. If you are buying nut milk, look for one fortified with calcium and other vitamins and minerals. Almond milk has a thin, wholemeal flavour – and makes a great banana smoothie.
1L carton long-life, $3.55-$4.10.

Rice

Almond milk.
Almond milk.

Rice milk may be the most hypoallergenic of all milks, but it's also the least nutritional. You can make it at home by rinsing one cup of uncooked brown rice, then blending it with two cups of water and straining it (as with nut milk). Buying rice milk from the supermarket is generally the more nutritious option, as it's often fortified with nutrients. Rice milk is low in protein, low in calcium and low in fat, and it's lactose free. Choice reviewed 15 rice milk products and found that 12 of those were calcium fortified to levels similar to dairy milk. None of the 15 products reviewed was  sweetened but, Choice says, "rice milk is naturally high in sugars – it's twice as sugary as soy milk on average".
1L carton, $2.55-$2.70.