For most of us, our childhood started with milk. At a very young age, it provided the bulk of the nutrition we needed to survive... After that, it was touted by our parents as a necessity to grow strong bones. But lately, milk has been receiving a lot of bad press — especially with low-carb diets like the ketogenic diet. Is milk keto? And if not, which milk is best for keto and other low-carb diets? Let’s get to the bottom of this.
An Overview of Milk and Dairy
Any beverage or food that is produced from a mammal’s milk is considered a dairy product. In the United States, cow’s milk is the most common type of dairy, with sheep and goat dairy products rising in popularity.
The elements found in dairy products include:
Milk contains hundreds of varied types of fatty acids, with most of them in saturated form. Though the breakdown of fats in cow’s milk varies on the type of milk (1%, 2%, skim, etc.), the fat content in milk is approximately: 
- 65% saturated fats, with short-chain fatty acids such as caproic and butyrate amounting to 11%
- 30% monounsaturated fatty acids
- 5% polyunsaturated fatty acids, along with natural trans fatty acids amounting to 2.5%
Casein is the primary protein in cow’s milk. In fact, 80% of the total protein amount in milk is casein. It contains nine essential amino acids but is harder to digest compared to other proteins.
The remaining 20% protein in milk consists of whey. Making cheese removes most of it; although, a small portion will remain. The essential amino acids are also found in whey and are more easily digested compared to casein.
Is Milk Keto-Approved?
A variety of dairy products fit into and even highly augment a healthy keto diet. One favorite dairy product included in a number of keto recipes is butter. Cheese and cream are also common on keto shopping lists. That means that milk is keto-friendly too, right?
Unfortunately, milk doesn’t fit as well into the ketogenic diet as the products derived from it. Why?
Milk contains too much sugar
Generally, the carbohydrate intake on a keto diet is limited to below 30 grams of carbs per day. That’s why carb-heavy foods like pasta, pizza, and bread aren’t allowed on the keto diet, while foods containing less than 10 grams of carbs are in. In the case of milk, net carbs are about 12 grams per one cup serving.  You could potentially work a cup of milk into your 30 grams of carbs per day, but most people will find it difficult and limiting on the types of food they can eat for the rest of the day. For that reason, if you’re trying to get or stay in ketosis, it’s probably best just to pass on the glass of milk with your meal.
Milk causes gastric issues
While the number of net carbs in milk (which comes from its lactose content) is the biggest inhibitor in enjoying milk on a keto diet, the risk of digestive problems may also be a reason people hold off. That mildly-sweet taste in milk is brought about by its lactose. Lactose is one of the primary types of sugar found in milk.
The digestive enzyme called lactase in a person’s body determines your ability to tolerate lactose. In fact, it can only be broken down by lactase. This enzyme reaches peak production right after birth and slowly declines over time. So, while milk is probably off-limits on your keto diet, you can enjoy not having to worry about lactose-induced discomfort while steering clear of cow’s milk as well.
Also, it’s important to note that lactose-free milk often isn’t keto-friendly either, with approximately 12 grams of carbohydrates per cup (the same amount as regular cow’s milk). This is also true for goat’s or sheep’s milk, at 11 grams and 13 grams of carbs per cup, respectively.
Why Are Other Dairy Products Approved?
Dairy products that have a high fat content also contain less lactose than low-fat dairy and milk. For instance, heavy cream products contain half the lactose content compared to milk. Full-fat yogurt also contains a low amount of lactose; however, low-fat yogurt isn’t keto diet-friendly because of its milk powder content that acts as a thickening agent and is packed full of lactose. As a general rule of thumb, always opt for full-fat options when looking at dairy products for your keto diet.
4 Low-Carb Milk Substitutes for Keto
Luckily, there are a number of low-carb milk options to replace your traditional cow’s milk on the ketogenic diet. Here are some must-try milk substitutes:
The high calorie content of 230 calories per 100 grams of coconut milk means you’ll probably want to use it sparingly. However, 25% of the calories come from the fat content of coconut milk, which contributes to its appeal for keto dieters. Coconut milk’s fat content also means it’s ultra creamy, making it the perfect addition to a frothy latte, pudding, etc.
Unsweetened Almond milk contains only three grams of fat and one gram carbs. As an added bonus, the milk offers an excellent source of vitamins A and E. Compared to coconut milk, almond milk is much lower in total calories, which is helpful for anyone looking to lose weight on a keto deit and enjoy their “milk” in larger quantities. Just be sure to get the unsweetened almond milk. The flavored kinds can have quite a high sugar count and defeat the purpose of avoiding regular milk on the keto diet.
Pea milk may not sound like the most delicious plant-based milk alternative, but it offers a whole lot that other dairy substitutes can’t. For example, the protein and calcium content in pea milk rivals that of cow’s milk. Also, don’t worry... it doesn’t taste like peas or look green in color at all. It’s definitely worth a try in our opinion!
If you’re not worried about avoiding dairy, heavy cream offers a high-fat, lower-carb alternative to regular cow’s milk. Heavy cream is very high in calories, however, so be sure to use it in moderation. Consider using heavy cream similarly to coconut milk or adding water to make it more like drinking regular milk but without reduced sugar content. It also makes an excellent milk substitute in your tea or coffee.
So in summary, if used sparingly, you may be able to fit cow’s milk into your keto diet, but more likely than not, it would make eating difficult for the rest of the day given you would have used up a good portion of your total carb count on the glass of milk. With that being said, your carbs are probably better used elsewhere. Instead, give coconut milk, almond milk, pea milk, or heavy cream a try depending on what you need a keto milk substitute for — whether it be to splash in your tea or bake your favorite keto pie with. Whichever alternative you opt for, just be sure to choose the unsweetened version.