Integrative Nutrition Blog

Your Guide to Milk Alternatives

August 22, 2017

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Lactose intolerance and veganism are no reasons to deprive yourself of tasty desserts and lattes, as long as you have the perfect milk substitute on hand. But how do you choose the best non-dairy alternative? How do they stack up when it comes to nutrients and taste? 

First, keep in mind that some of these milk alternatives may be processed with ingredients such as carrageenan, a thickening agent that’s been linked to stomach problems. Non-dairy milks may also have added sugar, so look for unsweetened versions. And although many non-dairy milks boast a ton of calcium, it’s not naturally occurring and is added in processing. The same goes for some of the vitamins. Here’s the scoop on popular non-dairy milks:  

Almond milk 
Almond milk naturally contains vitamin E, but it’s low in protein compared with cow’s milk (1 gram of protein in almond milk compared with 8 grams in 1% milk.) If you like almond milk, Eat This Not That suggests choosing one without emulsifiers, or one that uses sunflower lecithin and gums instead. To avoid the processing, you can make your own by blending almonds with water and then straining it. Or you can add water to almond butter, says Medical News Today

Soy milk
Soy milk is a common non-dairy staple, but its health has been questioned in recent years because of its possible effects on hormones. But soy milk does have some nutritional perks that measure up to cow’s milk, such as high protein (one cup of soy milk has seven to 10 grams). Fortified soy milk has lots of vitamin B12. 

Coconut milk 
If you’ve never tried coconut milk as a beverage, keep in mind that it’s different than the one you find in the canned goods aisle. (The canned version has tons of saturated fat, like coconut oil.) The coconut milk you’ll find in the refrigerated section, however, is diluted with water that lowers the saturated fat count, explains Cooking Light. Even though coconut milk is made with lots of water, it still has a pleasant taste that makes it particularly great in your coffee. Coconut milk also has lots of B vitamins.

Cashew milk 
Cashew milk’s creaminess makes it a great choice for coffee, thick pasta sauces and desserts. Some cashew milk varieties contain almost 50% of your daily value of calcium per cup.  But, like almond milk and many other non-dairy substitutes, cashew milk is low in protein and the store-bought version could come with added sugar.

Rice milk 
Rice milk is a good fit for people with nut or soy allergies. According to Healthline, rice milk is high in carbohydrates and low in protein. But concerns remain about inorganic arsenic in rice products. Because of this potential risk, infants, kids and pregnant women should consume it only in moderation. Like the other milk alternatives, fortified rice milk can contain a substantial amount of calcium. 

Hazelnut milk 
Hazelnut milk may not be your first thought for a non-dairy milk choice, but its taste might entice you. How about hazelnut milk with a twist, like this caramel vanilla bean hazelnut variety from Oh She Glows? The downside: Hazelnut milk is low in protein. 

What’s your favorite non-dairy milk? Share your thoughts below. 

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