5 Plant – Based Milk Alternatives to Try
What Popular Non-Dairy Options Mean for Your Health and Wallet
by Chelsea Vincent
From milk and cookies to ice cream on a hot summer’s day, dairy has been woven into the fabric of classic Americana, defining much of what it means to grow up stateside. However, over the past few decades, the general population has opted more and more for milk substitutes, due to health, environmental, and/ or animal rights reasons.
It’s inspiring to see more Americans caring about these noble causes. Yet walking into your local grocery store or farmers’ market, to literally dozens of dairy-free alternatives, can be downright overwhelming. How can you know which is the best milk alternative?
Don’t worry – we’ve got your back. Here’s a comparison of how our favorite plant-based milk alternatives stack up, based on the original, plain flavor in each category:
Approximate Nutrition per Serving (1 cup): 100 calories, 7g protein, 8g carbohydrate, 4g fat
Price: ~$1.79 (32 fluid ounces)
For a long time, soy milk was the only dairy-free option available to those dealing with lactose intolerance or milk allergies. Although non-dairy milk offerings have expanded since soy milk came to mainstream US markets, it remains a popular choice, due to its creamy texture and slightly sweet taste. Supplementation with soy milk after resistance training also offers benefits for gym-goers, as it has been shown to produce the same increases in lean body mass as whey protein (derived from cow’s milk).
Approximate Nutrition per Serving (1 cup): 60 calories, 1g protein, 6g carbohydrate, 4g fat
Price: ~$3.00 (32 fluid ounces)
Almond milk has come under some fire in recent years, due to the fact that they have one of the highest water footprints of commercial crops. For this reason, if almond milk is something you simply can’t do without, perhaps try rotating between almond milk and other dairy-free alternatives, to reduce your environmental impact. On a positive note, almonds have been shown to lower the risk of heart disease, by reducing LDL (bad) cholesterol in the body, and they also contain Alpha-tocopherol, a powerful antioxidant.
Approximate Nutrition per Serving (1 cup): 70 calories, <1g protein, 8g carbohydrate, 4.5g fat
Price: ~$2.29 (32 fluid ounces)
While coconut milk does not contain much protein (even less than almond or rice milk), this option is relatively low in carbohydrates, making it an attractive option for those who choose to go low-carb. It does have a distinct coconut flavor, when used as-is for drinks or for cooking. However, coconut milk serves as a fantastic baking substitute for dairy milk, when it comes to items like cookies and cakes, as the flavor is greatly reduced during baking.
Approximate Nutrition per Serving (1 cup): 130 calories, 4g protein, 24g carbohydrate, 2.5g fat
Price: ~$2.59 (32 fluid ounces)
Oat milk is a non-dairy beverage which provides a good source of iron, which is important for those who might be prone to iron deficiencies, including vegans and vegetarians. This option can also provide a nice fiber-rich alternative for those who are gluten-free (check with each brand, to be sure there isn’t cross-contamination from other crops).
Approximate Nutrition per Serving (1 cup): 120 calories, 1g protein, 23g carbohydrate, 0g fat
Price: ~$4.23 (32 fluid ounces)
With zero fat, rice milk is an appealing milk substitute for those who need to limit their fat intake. Rice milk is also higher in B vitamins (especially fortified options) and magnesium, which reduces blood pressure and is important for metabolic functions.
While the plethora of non-dairy milk alternatives may initially seem like overkill, having so many options gives you the opportunity to find which tastes and consistencies you enjoy. Opt for those in the refrigerated section, as they tend to have less artificial ingredients than those on grocery store shelves, or go even further, by making your own non-dairy milks at home. Explore how you can incorporate these tasty milk substitutes, and discover which dairy replacements work best for you.