If you grew up in the US, you were probably admonished to drink cow's milk for its bone-building calcium. But do you still follow that advice?

As adults, many people give up cow's milk because they don't like its taste...don't like the way cows are raised (on "factory farms")...or have difficulty digesting lactose (the primary sugar in cow's milk and other dairy products).

Good news: There are more good-tasting milk options available than most people realize.

Milk From Animal Sources

Milk is a good source of calcium-one eight-ounce cup contains about 300 mg of the mineral (nearly one-third of the daily recommended intake for adults age 50 and under and about one-quarter of the daily recommended intake for adults over age 50). Milk also contains vitamin D (needed to absorb calcium) and protein, an important nutrient that helps us maintain strength and muscle tone as we age.

However, about 5% of infants are allergic to cow's milk. Symptoms include diarrhea, runny nose and hives. Most children outgrow the allergy by age two or three.

Because whole cow's milk contains saturated fat, which can contribute to obesity and heart disease, it's usually best to drink nonfat or 1% milk. Milk options…

  • Lactose-free cow's milk. About one out of every four American adults has lactose intolerance. This condition, which is different from a milk allergy, causes stomach pain, diarrhea, bloating and/or gas after milk or other dairy products that contain lactose are consumed. But lactose can be removed from milk.

Examples: Lactaid and Land O Lakes Dairy Ease.

  • Cow's milk (with meals). Studies show that many people who believe they are lactose intolerant can drink milk without suffering any symptoms as long as it's consumed with a meal, which helps slow the digestion of lactose.

If you've stopped drinking cow's milk due to lactose intolerance and would like to try reintroducing it: Drink one-quarter to one-half cup of milk with a meal twice daily. Within a few days, try drinking a full cup of milk with a meal. Most people who have identified themselves as being lactose intolerant can adapt to this level of milk consumption within two weeks—the length of time that it usually takes intestinal bacteria to activate the body's lactases (enzymes that break down lactose).

If you have gas or loose stools, reduce your milk intake to one-quarter cup daily until the symptoms subside. If this does not work, see a doctor. You may have another condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome, which causes cramping, abdominal pain, constipation and diarrhea.

  • Kefir. Kefir is a slightly sour fermented milk drink produced by "friendly" probiotic bacteria and yeasts found in kefir grains. Kefir, which has a milkshake-like consistency, is an option for some people who are lactose intolerant.

Example: Lifeway Lowfat Kefir. .Goat's milk. Like cow's milk, goat's milk contains lactose and is a good source of calcium, vitamin D and protein.

  • Goat's milk has a refreshingly tart, almost sour taste.

Example: Meyenberg Goat Milk.

Kefir and goat's milk are available at health food stores and some supermarkets.

Plant-Based Milks

Plant-based milks are lactose-free and offer health benefits of their own. Most of these milks contain only small amounts of calcium and vitamin D, so they are usually fortified with these nutrients. Some plant-based milks are flavored (vanilla and chocolate, for example), but these varieties can contain up to 20 g of sugar per cup. Check the label for the sugar content to avoid unnecessary calories. Choose a low-fat plant-based milk whenever possible. Plantbased milks, which can be used in baking and cooking, are available at health-food stores and most supermarkets. Choices include...

  • Soymilk. This milk has a mild, bean-like flavor and contains heart healthy soy protein. In addition, some studies, though inconclusive, suggest that the phytoestrogens (naturally occurring compounds with estrogen-like effects) in soy may help reduce the risk for breast and prostate cancer.

Example: Silk Organic Soymilk.

Caution: Anyone who has had breast or prostate cancer or who is at high risk (due to family history, for example) should consult a doctor before consuming soy-in some cases, phytoestrogens are believed to stimulate the growth of certain hormone-dependent malignancies.

  • Nut milks. People who don't like the taste of soy milk often prefer almond or hazelnut milk

Examples: Blue Diamond Almond Breeze and Pacific Foods Hazelnut Milk.

  • Oat milk. The fiber in this milk, which has a mild, sweet taste, may help lower cholesterol levels.

Example: Pacific Foods Oat Milk.

  • Hemp milk. Derived from shelled hempseeds, this creamy, nutty milk contains a balance of fatty acids that are believed to fight heart disease and arthritis.

Example: Living Harvest Hempmilk.

  • Rice milk. For many people, rice milk, among all the plant-based milks, tastes the most like cow's milk. Rice milk has less protein than Cow's milk and soymilk, but it can be consumed by some people who are allergic to cow's milk.

Example: Rice Dream.

Want to Keep Reading?

Continue reading with a Health Confidential membership.

Sign up now Already have an account? Sign in