Alternatives to Formula Milk (Updated 6 May 17)

This entry has been revised with additional materials (Sheep’s Milk) and which are marked in red.

This objective of this post is to provide a comparison of the nutritional values of Alternative Follow up milk other than Formula Milk…

I classify follow up milk beyond 12 months of age to be a “comfort” food for our babies, i.e. not a necessity, probably something they would like out of habit. (See original post here). Having taken a look at the components of commercial formula milk (see original post here) , we might wonder the alternatives available to formula milk.

Popular alternatives include

  1. Fresh milk
  2. Plant based milk
  3. Healthier powdered alternatives.

When selecting any product, my guiding principles are as such:

  1. Contains ingredients that I can understand,
  2. Contains less (to none) of the following: added sugars/ salt/ fats, and
  3. No synthetic vitamins and minerals.

Below, I offer my suggestion on various “healthier” alternatives.

#1 Chilled Animal based Fresh Milk

(Australian cow’s milk/ Australian Goat’s milk/ Organic Cow’s milk).

The difference between Cow’s milk and Goat’s milk

Goat’s milk contains about 50% less lactose than cow’s milk, Hence, someone who has low lactose tolerance might be able to take goat’s milk. As it is closer to human milk than cow’s milk, it is more easily digested.

Why it is a better alternative to formula milk? 

  • Simple to understand ingredients: 100% fresh milk. Pure, natural. Nothing added. Note: It is not the same as “100% From Fresh Milk”.
  • Note: I would choose fresh whole milk over fresh skimmed milk, as precious nutrients such as omega 3 is also lost when the fat layer is removed.

What is the nutritional difference between fresh milk and formula milk?

fresh milk side by side_1Milk powder compare2Both types of milk have similar fat and protein proportion. However, the sugar content in formula milk can be about 100-400% higher than fresh milk! Fresh milkis also free of added synthetic vitamins & minerals.

The fat contentin fresh milk might not be betteroff than the formula milk however. It depends on the animal feed. Just as we are what we eat, the same applies to animals too. If cows are fed their traditional diet, which is grass/ pastures, the omega 6: omega 3 ratio is likely to be more balanced as opposed to cow’s that are fed corn. Get milk from cattle raised without usingantibiotics and growth hormones. The overall nutrients and antioxidant level in the milk is higher. For this reason, Australian milk is popular due to the stricter regulationsconcerning the diary industry. (note: Australian Imported Milkand Milk from Australian cows are not the same).

Conclusion: Chilled milk is superior to formula milk due to no added sugar, and no fortification. Choose grass fed, and free range and ensure milk is free of antibiotics and hormones for better fats and nutrition.

Read more here: Cow’s milk, grass-fed

Note: I would limit the intake of animal based milk to no more than 1-2 servings for the following concerns:

  1. Animal based milk is an added source of animal proteins. Studies suggest that excessive intakes of animal proteins are correlated to calcium lossfrom the human body.
  2. The evidence for milk intake in building bones are inconclusive, and on the contrary, some studies reported a increase in bone fracture rates with high milk intake.
  3. Studies show some links between high D-galactose milk sugar intake to increased risk of ovarian and prostrate cancers. This milk sugar reportedly increases oxidative stress and inflammation.

More research is required to conclude milk and its safety. And it should take some time, given the scale of the diary industry.

Read more here. Harvard, School of Public Health;- Calcium: What’s Best for Your Bones and Health?  

#2 Plant based milk

People who do not take animal based milk might opt for plant based milk. There are many reasons why this is so. It could be due to lactose intolerance, milk protein intolerance, diet practices (vegan) or simply choosing another alternative due to the concerns associated with animal based milk as listed above.

As we would expect, not all plant milk are created the same. It thus helps to pay attention to the ingredient listed to decide if we are comfortable with what that product can offer.

Is plant based milk a healthier alternative? 

It depends.

The below is a useful sense check:

  1. Do I understand all the ingredients? 
  2. Are all the ingredients natural or are they extracts? 
  3. Is it low in added sugar/ oil/ salt?

Almond Milk label:

Almond milk_modified

The above shows the make up of Almond milk. Bulk of the calories come from sugar (cane syrup) and carrageenan (seaweed extracts). And it is also fortified. I would choose to get my nutrients from whole almonds (un-sulphured, un-fumigated), get my sugars from eating whole grains and obtain my vitamins and minerals from whole food.

Q: What do you think of the Oat milk below?

Oat milk_modified

What about available Superfood mixes in the market?

With the recent focus on eating wholesome, superfood mixes are also becoming increasingly common in the mass market. The same sense checks applies in deciding whether or not we are comfortable with the product we are getting:

  1. Do I understand all the ingredients? 
  2. Are all the ingredients natural or are they extracts? 
  3. Is it low in added sugar/ oil/ salt?

Kinohimitsu superfood for kids_modified

Dr oatcare ingredients_modified

I personally would not take soy protein isolates for a very simple reason. Their main purpose is to add protein bulk, however these industrially created compounds have been stripped from the whole soybean during extraction and would have lost a significant amount of their natural, whole food value.

In fact, soy protein isolates are very prevalent in consumer soy mixes, soy shakes that it is very rare to find a well balanced mix that is made from whole soy + wholesome fruits and vegetables. 

Read about: Is there a type of soy milk that we recommend?


My personal recommendation for soy mixes that is suitable for our growing young should be at least something like below.

Nutrifresh_cropped modified

  1. Ingredients are easy to understand.
  2. Naturally rich in vitamins and minerals from fruits and vegetables- Not extracts.
  3. Sugar as the last few ingredients.
  4. No added Oil/ Salt.

#3 (Healthier) Powdered milk

For parents who prefer whole cow/ goat’s milk, but would like portability or avoid having to heat up chilled fresh milk, another option would be to look for a simple formulated powdered milk, such as the one below: Full cream Goat/ Sheep milk powder (100%). Pure, natural  milk minus the water content.

  • Healthier Goat’s Milk

Is there a difference in nutritional content compared to fresh goat’s milk? 

They should not vary too much. I have normalized the fresh milk into 150 ml portions and compared the basic nutritional value. As expected, the proteins, fats, and sugar are comparable.

The same principles apply for selecting fresh animal based milk. Choose grass fed, and free range and ensure milk is free of antibiotics and hormones for better fats and nutrition.

Goats milk powder and fresh milk1

  • Healthier Sheep’s Milk (Added 6 May)

I came across a forum where a mother recommended Sheep’s milk as a alternative. A look at the label on the Sheep Milk formula looks very simple and straightfoward.

Better Sheep's Milk_modified

Compared to Cow’s milk/ Goat’s milk, Sheep’s milk contains slightly more lactose than cow’s milk, and therefore might not suit people who are lactose intolerant. The fats and protein levels of sheep’s milk are higher and hence it is a richer source of milk. The type of fat molecules in Sheep’s milk are more easily digested compared to Cow’s milk. 

Sheep Milk: Physicochemical Characteristics and Relevance for Functional Food Development

Summing Up

I hope that the above gives a clear guideline to choosing a good alternative to formula milk, or even any products for good health. Remember these guiding questions:

  1. Do I understand all the ingredients? 
  2. Are all the ingredients natural or are they extracts? 
  3. Is it low in added sugar/ oil/ salt?

You are welcome to provide any snapshots of ingredient labels for discussion.

Do let me know if you have any thoughts or comments.

Cheers to a larger life!



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