Cow Milk vs. Goat Milk vs. Sheep Milk—Which is Healthier?
Cow’s milk has been around for thousands of years, but many people either have a lactose intolerance, dairy allergy, or may be following a special diet and avoid dairy cow products entirely. Because of this, there is an explosion of alternative milks available, many of them not so nutritious and high in sugar and fillers. There’s a milk war going on out there.
Alternative milks are made from almonds, cashews, hemp seeds, coconut oil, macadamia nuts, rice, oat, and soy. The bad news is these milks are not that healthy and contain relatively little of the primary ingredient. Many of these so-called ‘healthy’ plant milks could be classified more as a processed food than a ‘natural’ food. Most non-dairy milks are poor copies of milk from an animal. Most plant based milk is full of water, fillers like guar gum and carrageenan which can be irritating to the digestive tract, and often, sugar.
However, there are some other types of ‘real’ alternative milk now more available in grocery and health food stores, that come from goats and sheep. Given that these types of milk come from real animals, they do tend to have more nutrition than any of the plant-based choices—especially in terms of protein, healthy fats and vitamins and minerals. If you happen to have a dairy allergy or lactose intolerance, these other types of milk may work better for you. Let’s investigate, shall we?
I’ve had a dairy allergy for years and years. It used to make me congested, have dark circles, cause acne, have a cough, and become extremely depressed and anxious. Cow dairy allergies are very common, and dairy is often the culprit behind a myriad of health issues. Allergies, sinusitis, colds, chest congestion, eczema, skin rashes, SIBO, joint aches, inflammation, tummy troubles, diarrhea, and more are often tied to dairy allergies.
Cow’s milk has long been promoted as a health food, although there are a number of problems with commercial (nonorganic) pasteurized dairy products. You may be surprised to learn that many studies show commercial pasteurized milk can play a role in a variety of health problems, including: breast cancer, diabetes, prostate cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, atherosclerosis, anemia, MS, leukemia, other autoimmune diseases and ovarian cancer. Commercially processed and pasteurized dairy has also been linked to health problems in children including colic, juvenile diabetes, ear infections, asthma and bedwetting.
Also, if you happen to be sensitive to gluten, you are very likely to have a dairy sensitivity as well. Casein is the primary protein found in milk, and is often the basis for dairy allergies. The casein molecule is very similar to gluten, the protein found in wheat. A large proportion of people who react to gluten also react to cow’s milk products, and vice versa.
Then there is the whole issue of the inhumane treatment of factory farmed dairy cows, the poor health of the cows, and milk contaminated with blood and white blood cells (pus). There are hormones given to keep the cows lactating, antibiotics to fight off infections and increase growth, and pesticides from the grass, feed/grain they are eating.
Virtually all of the milk sold commercially in the US has been pasteurized and homogenized, and is generally from grain-fed, feedlot cows who have been raised in unhealthy, inhumane, crowded conditions.
On the good side, if you have access to grassfed milk, you can get far better nutrition, and grassfed and unpasteurized raw milk is far, far, healthier.
Grass fed dairy has some of the highest amounts of Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) of any foods. CLA is a special type of healthy fat that has many benefits including: helping you burn more fat, boosting muscle growth, strengthening the immune system, and lowering food allergy reactions. And grassfed raw dairy milk contains around 5 times more CLA than the commercial, pasteurized milk you buy at your local grocery store.
Grassfed dairy also contains high amounts of anti-inflammatory omega 3 fats and a better ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids. Omega 6 fatty acids are often higher in animals on a grain fed diet. Omega 6 fats are more inflammatory, and our diets should contain low amounts of omega 6 fats and higher amounts of omega 3 fats.
Grassfed dairy also contains a vitamin called K2. Vitamin K2 is a unique vitamin that helps escort calcium into the bones and teeth, rather than the bloodstream where calcium deposits can accumulate in the blood vessels and kidneys.
Raw milk is an even better version of a healthy milk to drink. Raw and grassfed milk is probably the healthiest version of milk you can get from a cow. Raw milk has even more healthy vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and protein, than pasteurized milk. These nutrients are destroyed in the pasteurization process.
Unpasteurized raw milk also contains lactoferrin, which is an effective antioxidant, anti-fungal, antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer agent and immune-boosting powerhouse. Because of its powerful antimicrobial activity, its presence in raw milk helps to prevent dangerous pathogens from multiplying. Pasteurization kills this protein molecule.
Raw milk also contains a couple of valuable enzymes: lysozyme, and lactoperoxidase. These immune-enhancing substances, along with immunoglubulins, help your body fight off viruses, bacteria, and toxins.
Raw milk contains a broad selection of vitamins and minerals, ranging from calcium and phosphorus to vitamins A and D, and magnesium, in perfect balance. Raw, grass fed dairy also contains plenty of vitamin K2, which is so valuable in helping the body absorb calcium. Only grass-fed milk, cheese and butter contains this important nutrient.
There are also more than 60 functioning enzymes in raw milk, not present in pasteurized milk, that perform an amazing amount of work. These enzymes in milk assist in the digestion process and help the body break down and use all the healthy nutrients that milk contains.
About Dairy Allergies
Cows’ milk can contain either one of two types of casein protein molecules, named A1 or A2. Regular milk from cows can contain both A1 and A2 casein proteins, but most commercial dairy products contain just A1. Some cows—usually heritage breeds, have milk that only contains A2 protein.
Milk with the A1 type of casein is the type that often causes allergic or sensitivity reactions. When these proteins are digested, these proteins are what is often associated with health issues, such as cardiovascular and autoimmune disease.
The science on A1 vs A2 types of milk suggests that A2 milk may not cause allergic reactions, digestive issues, increases in inflammation, risk of heart disease or other health issues in many people. Due to the better tolerance of A2 milk, many dairy farmers are beginning to bring this type of milk back.
Commercial, pasteurized milk is highly allergenic, short on nutrition, absent of important enzymes, and can increase the risk of certain diseases. It’s also full of hormones, antibiotics and other toxic byproducts.
The absolute healthiest choice for cow’s milk is raw, unpasteurized milk from A2 cows that are grassfed. This type of milk is high in usable protein, healthy fats, enzymes, and easily tolerated by those who are sensitive.
Goat milk has been around probably longer than milk and milk products from cows. In the Middle East, goats were considered the first domesticated species around 8000 BC. Goat milk is one of the most popular and commonly consumed types of dairy in the world. Nearly three quarters of the world’s population consume goat milk in some form.
Goats are far easier to keep, can graze in rocky and mountainous areas with steep slopes where cattle cannot go, and require less grazing space per goat. Goats can adapt well to a variety of climatic conditions. In addition, goats can consume many types of forage and grass that cattle cannot.
Goats need less water per gallon of milk produces over cows. And goats are far easier on the environment producing nearly 20 times less methane per kilogram of body weight than cows. In many underdeveloped countries, goat milk is a primary food source of calories, vitamins, minerals, protein, and fats.
Goat’s milk is an excellent source of several essential nutrients, including calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin B12. This 2022 review published in the Journal Dairy, found that goat’s milk was similar to cow’s milk in terms of nutrient composition, and contains several additional bioactive compounds that also contained health benefits.
A 2019 study published in the Journal Nutrients, found that goat’s milk had a higher calcium bioavailability compared to cow’s milk, which could potentially improve bone health. Another study showed that consuming goat’s milk was associated with improved bone density in postmenopausal women, and better iron uptake in anemic persons.
Goat’s milk may be easier to digest than cow’s milk, although goat’s milk does contain A1 casein, similar to the casein in cow’s milk. This 2020 study found that goat’s milk was less inflammatory and more easily tolerated than that of cow’s milk. Goat’s milk contains several compounds including, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and oligosaccharides that help to reduce inflammation, especially in situations of gut inflammation.
And remember the discussion about A1 casein and A2 casein? While most cow’s milk products contain primarily A1 casein, thought to be responsible for many allergic reactions, goat’s milk contains mostly A2 casein which is far more easily tolerated and therefor easier to digest—without the negative health risks. However, goat milk does contain some A1 casein as well.
Goat milk contains more healthy, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated fatty acids, along with short chain and medium chain triglycerides, all of which are known to be beneficial for human health. And unlike cow’s milk, goat milk does not separate if left to settle. Goat milk does not need to be homogenized, unlike cow’s milk. Homogenized milk has been thought to be a contributing factor in heart disease.
The downside of goat milk is that many people who have a reaction to cow’s milk may also react to goat’s milk, whether from the lactose or perhaps the A1 casein.
Goat milk does have a ‘goat-y’ flavor that is usually strong and distinct, and unless you are familiar with the taste of goat milk and goat milk products, it may be an unpleasant flavor.
Many goats are raised under similar inhumane conditions as cows, where the babies are separated from their mothers shortly after birth, they are crowded together in unsanitary factory farms, undergo painful procedures to stop their horns from growing and never get to graze on grass.
Goat milk may be more readily available in some parts of the world, and can be a sustainable primary food source of healthy calories, vitamins, minerals, protein, and fats. Goat milk may be an alternative for babies who cannot handle cow dairy or formula made from cow’s milk, and may be suitable for those with allergies to cow dairy. Goat milk also contains more healthy fats and nutrients than cow’s milk. Goat milk has a strong flavor and may not be palatable to everyone. Goat milk is generally slightly more expensive than cow’s milk.
Sheep milk is a nutritious and valuable food source that has been consumed thousands of years. The extraordinarily long lives of Bulgarian shepherds are often thought to be attributed in part to the healthy benefits of sheep milk.
Sheep milk is rich source of high-quality protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. Sheep’s milk has a smooth, creamy texture and mild flavor, making it preferable to many people. Sheep milk is used in the production of several very popular cheeses including Roquefort, feta, and pecorino.
Sheep milk is the highest in nutrients compared to cow and goat cheese. When you compare sheep milk to cow and goat milk, it contains higher amounts of protein, more calcium, more iron, magnesium, zinc, thiamin, riboflavin, folate, vitamins B6, B12, and vitamin D. It also contains more fat including medium chain fatty acids, linoleic acid, and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, along with omega 3’s.
Sheep milk contains twice the amount of fat compared to goat and cow milk. The fat globules in sheep milk are also smaller, making the milk is creamy and homogeneous. The smaller fat globules are also more easily digested and are less likely to cause high cholesterol.
Sheep milk is very high in protein, making it an impressive source of protein (sheep 5.4 gms per 100gms of milk; cow milk 3.2gms, and goat milk 3.1 gms).
Sheep milk nutrients make it a valuable and nutritious food to fight cancer, boost the immune system, fight birth defects, boost brain health, and reduce the risk of heart disease.
As with many varieties of milk, sheep milk contains an impressive variety of minerals, including zinc, phosphorous, magnesium, and calcium, all important for boosting bone mineral density. In fact, sheep milk contains approximately 36% more calcium than cow milk and 31% more than goat milk. and its generous amount of vitamin K2 helps to get the calcium into bones and teeth, which it should be.
Sheep milk is also more easily tolerated by many people who may be sensitive or allergic to goat or cow milk, due to the fact that sheep milk only contains A2 casein, and none of the A1 casein that people often react to.
In addition, sheep milk has been shown to be easier to digest than cow’s milk due to its unique protein and fat structure, according to a study published in the Journal of Dairy Science, people with lactose intolerance were able to tolerate sheep’s milk better than cow’s milk
The Downside of Sheep’s Milk
Due to the limited time of the year that most sheep produce milk, which is generally around 6 months a year, constant cultivation is more difficult, which is why sheep milk and related products are typically more expensive and harder to find. Sheep also produce smaller amounts of milk than either goats or cows. Because sheep’s milk is less commonly consumed than cow’s milk, it may be harder to find, and more expensive to purchase.
Overall, both sheep’s milk and goat’s milk have greater health benefits than cow’s milk, especially commercially raised dairy cows. Both sheep and goat’s milk may be a good option for individuals who have difficulty tolerating cow’s milk.
While sheep’s milk is a bit more expensive, sheep’s milk wins for better nutrition, better fat content, higher protein and more tolerable to those who may be allergic to cow’s milk and/or goat’s milk—both of which contain A1 casein. Sheep’s milk also wins for the amazing, smooth, creamy, mild taste. Give it a try if you see it in your local grocery store. It’s well worth it!