Dairy Milk Alternatives
With so many different milk alternatives making their way onto the grocery store shelves, it is hard to know which one to buy. Are you looking for a low-calorie alternative? Lactose-intolerant alternative? Soy alternative? Below is a description of the popular milk-alternatives and their proposed health benefits compared to regular milk. *Most alternatives are fortified with calcium; this fortified form is not as good as the form found in dairy products.
Dairy milk comes from cows and comes in many different varieties: whole, skim, and non-fat. The difference between variations is the fat content; during production, fat is removed from skim and non-fat milks. Nutritionally, milk contains 80-120 calories per serving, 0-8g of fat, and 13g of carbohydrates. It is a great source of protein, calcium, and is fortified with vitamin D. Those with a lactose intolerance lack the lactase enzyme responsible for digesting the lactose protein in milk, and therefore should drink plant-based or lactose-free alternatives to prevent gut discomfort.
Soy is the oldest, and most well-known milk alternative made from soybeans. Soy milk is rich in protein, fat and isoflavones—known for anti-cancer benefits. Soy milk contains 8g of protein, the same as regular milk, making it a great source of protein for vegetarians and vegans. Per serving, soy milk contains 80-120 calories, <8g carbohydrates, and 4.5g fat. Soy milk is fortified with calcium, and vitamin D in comparable quantities to regular milk and other alternatives.
Almond milk is the lowest calorie alternative and is found in many different unsweetened and sweetened forms. It is made using almonds and water and is fortified with calcium and vitamin D. It is an effective alternative for those with a cow’s milk allergy or a lactose intolerance. Almond milk contains a higher content of mono-unsaturated fatty acids, shown to aid in weight loss and LDL reduction. Unsweetened Almond milk contains 30-50 calories per serving, with 2.5g fat and 1g carbohydrates, and <2g protein.
Coconut milk is typically found in Southeast Asian cuisines and is made using the white meat of a coconut and water. The nutritional breakdown of coconut milk is quite different from other milk alternatives because it has zero protein and a high content of saturated fat (4-5g/serving). Coconut milk has a low-calorie profile, 45-60 calories per serving, and is fortified with calcium and vitamin E.
This dairy alternative is one of the latest to hit the shelf in grocery stores. It is made from oats and water and has a thicker consistency than almond milk. Oat milk contains a high fiber content, which helps slow gastric emptying, and reduces LDL cholesterol. Nutritionally, it is similar to skim milk, providing 120 calories/cup and 5g fat, 2g protein, and 16g carbohydrates. Oat milk also has 7g of fiber, the highest of any milk/milk alternatives and is fortified with more vitamin D than regular milk.
Overall, when it comes to choosing an alternative to milk there are many options depending on your health needs. For example, those looking to increase or maintain their protein intake, choosing an option with higher protein, like soy, might be a good option. However, if you’re choosing based on flavor, it is best to try out different options to see what you like best. Luckily, all alternatives are fortified with vitamins and calcium in similar amounts to milk, so switching won’t change the micronutrient composition of your diet much. Don’t forget to read the label to pick an option that works best for achieving your health goal!
1 Sethi S, Tyagi SK, Anurag RK. Plant based milk alternatives an emerging segment of functional beverages: a review. J Food Sci Technol. 2016;53(9):3408-3423. doi:10.1007/s13197-016-2328-3
2 Vanga SK, Raghavan V. How well do plant based alternatives fare nutritionally compared to cow’s milk? J Food Sci Technol. 2018;55(1):10-20. doi: 10.1007/s13197-017-2915-y