A Guide To Non-Dairy Milk

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Shorter Version


Est. Reading Time: 1 Minute

Drink up

Got milk!

Or should I say “milk”?

Most of us have seen a dramatic increase in consumers choosing non-dairy milk. Business Insider states that between 2012 and 2018, the non-dairy market grew 62% for purchasing non-dairy milk.

From the longstanding soy, popular almond, and trending oat milk, non-dairy kinds of milk are made from a variety of plant sources. These can be a healthy part of one’s diet for those who are allergic to dairy, are dairy or lactose intolerant, choose a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, or simply want to be more plant-based.

Traditionally, cow’s milk has been preached as a nutritional powerhouse due to its excellent combination of protein, carbohydrates, and fat with naturally occurring calcium, phosphorus, and B vitamins – all essential nutrients for bone, muscular tissue, and heart health.

While some non-dairy varieties of milk are superior in other ways, most cannot be considered an exact nutritional replacement for cow’s milk. Thus, the main concern in choosing to go dairy-free is ensuring that those nutrients are still part of the diet in other ways.




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Longer Version


Est. Reading Time: 2 Minutes

The popular suspects

Cow’s milk, low-fat (as a comparison): The classic animal-based milk and original founder of the milk mustache.

  • Flavor/texture: Creamy, smooth, and naturally sweetened by lactose
    • Calories: 100 calories
    • Macronutrients (grams): 2.5g total fat, 1.5g saturated fat**, 8g protein, 13g carbs, 0g fiber
    • Micronutrients (Daily Value or milligrams): 30% calcium, 25% vitamin D, 370mg potassium

Soy milk, unsweetened original: As seen on milk carton ads as cow’s milk’s greatest rival in being a protein powerhouse.

  • Flavor/texture: Rich and creamy, voted the best taste for drinking straight
    • Calories: 80 calories
    • Macronutrients (grams): 4g total fat, 0.5g saturated fat, 7g protein, 3g carbs, 2g fiber
    • Micronutrients (Daily Value or milligrams): 45% calcium, 30% vitamin D, 287mg potassium, about 50% vitamin B12

Almond milk, unsweetened original: Voted Miss Popular most years in a row due to its low-carb and low-calorie nature.

  • Flavor/texture: Creamy with a slightly nutty flavor
    • Calories: 30 calories
    • Macronutrients (grams): 2.5g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 1g protein, 1g carbs, <1g fiber
    • Micronutrients: Most brands fortify with calcium, potassium, and vitamins A, D, and E.

Oat milk, unsweetened original: Voted Emerging Plant-based Milk of the Year in 2019 and known as the milk rebel for going against the grain when grain-free was the hype. 

  • Flavor/texture: Still creamy but naturally sweet because of its higher carbohydrate content; very cost-effective for making at home
    • Calories: 130 calories
    • Macronutrients (grams): 2g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 4g protein, 25g carbs, 2g fiber
    • Micronutrients: Naturally contains B vitamins, magnesium, and phosphorus. Most brands also enrich with calcium, potassium, and vitamins A and D.
    • Note: Although oats are technically gluten-free, they are often at risk for cross-contamination with wheat. If you are severely gluten-intolerant or have Celiac Disease, opt for certified gluten-free oat milk, make your own, or go with another type of milk.

Coconut milk, unsweetened original: Closest imposter to cow’s milk for its fat content of mainly saturated fat, but superior to other non-dairy milk for greater feelings of satiety.

  • Flavor/texture: Fresh, smooth, and potent in that tropical aroma; consistent to the texture of skim milk
    • Calories: 45 calories
    • Macronutrients (grams): 4g total fat, 3.5g saturated fat, <1g protein, 1g carbs, 2g fiber
    • Micronutrients: Fortified with calcium, vitamin B12, and vitamins A and D.

Hemp milk, unsweetened original: Out ranks nut-based milk in protein and trumps all non-dairy milk for its essential omega-3 fatty acid content.

  • Flavor/texture: Moderately creamy with a slightly nutty flavor
    • Calories: 70 calories
    • Macronutrients (grams): 5g total fat, 0.5g saturated fat, 3g protein, 1g carbs, 2g fiber
    • Micronutrients: Fortified with calcium, vitamin B12, and vitamins A and D.

Rice milk, unsweetened original: Best Choice for allergies, free from lactose, soy, nuts, and gluten, but Runner-Up to oat milk due to rice’s lower protein and fiber content.

  • Flavor/texture: The thinnest and most watery consistency of all milk; slightly sweet because of its carbohydrate content
    • Calories: 120 calories
    • Macronutrients (grams): 2.5g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 1g protein, 23g carbs, 0g fiber
    • Micronutrients: Commonly enriched with B vitamins, vitamin D, and calcium.

*All nutritional content is an average based on popular milk alternative brands. Refer to each nutrition label for exact content.

**Saturated fat: It is recommended that less than 10 percent of daily calories come from saturated fat. 

The milk list doesn’t stop there! Cashews, flax seeds, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, and peas are also made into milk. Experiment with different flavors, textures, and nutrients paying careful attention to your overall dietary pattern to ensure optimal nutrition.

Let’s take a deeper look at the nutritional content in one cup of popular milk alternatives.*

Cheers to finding your new “milk” mustache!

Actionable Steps


1

Do you need non-dairy milk?

Plant-based milks might be taking over grocery store shelves, but that doesn’t mean you necessarily need to make the switch from cow’s milk. Read our tips on eating dairy to determine if you need a milk alternative.

2

Determine which plant-based milk is best for you

Based on your need for non-dairy milk or particular health goal, pick a milk that best meets those needs.

Look at the nutritional content including the amount of protein, carbohydrate, and fat. Pay careful attention to any vitamins and minerals naturally abundant in the milk, making sure to supplement any lacking nutrients with other foods in your diet.

You’ll find most brands help supplement essential nutrients by adding them into the milk through fortification or enrichment.

3

Shop for the best nutrition label

Get in the habit of always checking the nutrition facts and ingredient list before purchasing ANY food or beverage. Added vitamins and minerals are considered fortified nutrients which may be essential to prevent certain nutrient deficiencies.

Avoid milks that have extra fillers, oils, gums, and carrageenan. These additives can cause gastrointestinal discomfort.

Choose unsweetened varieties. Americans live a pretty sweet life already, so save that added sugar for an indulgent treat (you’ll thank me later).

Dietitian Tip: Adjust the sweetness yourself by pureeing part of a banana or a pitted date into the milk or stirring in some honey or maple syrup (these options both sweeten and add extra vitamins and minerals).

4

…Or make your own dairy-free milk!

The best way to stay away from unwanted additives, sweeteners, and expensive price tags is to make your own milk.

The Minimalist Baker has recipes for milks made from almonds, coconut, hemp, oats, rice, macadamia nuts, and a blend of these ingredients.

Here is a video on making oat milk and almond milk.

Start with your favorite, then try mixing it up each week to get a variety of flavors and nutrients.

Note: You’ll want to have a high-speed blender and nut milk bag or cheesecloth for the best results.

5

Read more on this topic

Read Going Nuts About Milk by the American Society of Nutrition. Learn more about the non-dairy lifestyle from Make Your Own Plant and Nut Milk. Today’s Dietitian reviews What’s New in the Dairy-Free Aisle starting with plant-based milks (2015). Watch the video in this article where Registered Dietitian Marion Groetch explains which non-dairy milk is best for you.

Still need help? Ask the coaches!

About the Author


shannon costello

Shannon Costello

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)

Shannon is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Health Coach, Certified Personal Trainer, and Group Fitness Instructor with over 5 years of experience working in Corporate Wellness specializing in overall health, nutrition, and fitness. Throughout her journey to becoming an RDN, she grew her passion for culinary nutrition by teaching and developing hands-on cooking classes for all ages in the community.
Full Bio | LinkedIn


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