Cow milk substitutes made from plants have been popular for some time, and this trend has the advantage of offering options for everyone. Grocery stores contain something for everyone, whether you’re lactose intolerant, vegan, or have an allergy. But how should you get through the expanding non-dairy aisle? And how much healthier are these milk substitutes compared to cow’s milk?
Since they’re manufactured by mixing the main ingredient with water, commercially available varieties of nut, seed, and legume-based milk have varying levels of protein and fiber (often 1-4g each per 1-cup serving) when it comes to nutrition. Depending on the ratio, they may have 100 calories or fewer.
If you’re chugging iced coffee with unsweetened almond milk all day, consuming fewer calories can be a good thing. However, it might not be as desired if you’re searching for a healthy complement to your morning bowl of steel-cut oats. Many of these alternative milk is more expensive than dairy milk, but depending on how and where you use them, they might be worthwhile.
What Qualities Should Alternative Milk Have?
- 7-8g of protein minimum per serving
- The least amount of components possible
- “Unsweetened” is used along with “0g added sugar.”
- Very little saturated fat (especially in ones made with coconut or added protein)
- Less than 140mg of sodium per cup
- Vitamin D and calcium supplementation
- Your own concern-related nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids
Unsweetened soy or pea-based blends—you read that correctly—supplemented with calcium and vitamin D are the most passable milk substitutes. Together, these two nutrients are more easily absorbed and support healthy bones, hormone balance, and overall immunity, especially in children.
If you’re vegan diet, look for mixes that also contain vitamin B12, A, and DHA/EPA omega-3 fatty acids. Avoid “barista mix” milk substitutes at all costs. They work better for foaming but frequently have a ton of sugar added. Instead, add vanilla, a clove, or a cinnamon stick to a hot beverage to flavor it.
By the way, there is a persistent debate about how plant-based milk should be labeled. In essence, the dairy sector believes that only items derived from cows should be referred to as “milk,” whereas the businesses that make these products disagree. For instance, according to the Plant-Based Food Association, consumers are not perplexed, prefer the word “milk” over “beverage” or “drink,” and are aware that, for instance, almond milk originates from almonds, not from a cow.
A group of senators from the dairy industry urged the FDA to forbid labeling plant-based goods as milk, yogurt, or cheese in January 2020. But the FDA is still unsure of the situation for the time being. And businesses can still refer to these drinks as “milk.”
Learn more about the top cow milk substitutes in the following paragraphs:
Unsweetened soy, which may have been the first milk substitute and is the most nutritionally comparable to dairy milk, has 8 grams of plant-based protein from soybeans per cup and roughly 80 calories per serving. These tiny beans are soaked, blended, and strained to create soy milk, which is then consumed. Soy alternatives are frequently quite nutritious and offer essential polyunsaturated fats. They are generally packed with antioxidants and fiber.
Pea milk, a recent addition to the plant-based milk family, is prepared from pea protein isolate, water, and several emulsifiers, including algal oil, sunflower oil, guar, and gellan gums. For 70 calories per cup, it has the same creamy texture as soy but a slightly less nutty flavor. DHA, a crucial omega-3 fatty acid associated with immunity, heart health, and cognition, is provided via algal oil. The unsweetened varieties contain up to 8g of protein from an abundant supply of nutrients.
Compared to other plant-based milk, coconut milk has a more tropical flavor because it is prepared from water and coconut cream (VitaCoco also uses coconut water). Compared to milk made from nuts or grains, coconut milk has a higher fat and lower carbohydrate content.
One cup can contain 4g of saturated fat, which is 20% of your daily value, making up most calories. However, since it has a creamy consistency and is high in fat, you may use less of it—especially if you mix it with your coffee or tea.
Oat milk, the most popular blend of the group, adds a creamy, mildly flavored element to coffee, tea, cereal, or a homemade smoothie. A preliminary study shows it has extra fiber, making it more satisfying than other replacement milk.
However, oat milk has less protein than non-fat cow’s milk or variants made from soy (2-4g versus 8g per cup). Additionally, it has a few more calories than unsweetened almond milk, which can mount up if consumed frequently.
There are many blends and unsweetened varieties, and most commercial almond milk has between 35 and 90 calories per cup. They primarily consist of almonds, water, and other emulsifiers and nutrient fortifiers. Although Elmhurst’s blend contains roughly 5g of protein, the lower-calorie variants only provide about 1g of protein and fiber per serving.
You may wish to boost the protein by adding nut butter or chopped nuts. Remember that it has a low protein content if you’re using almond milk as a dairy substitute in homemade smoothies.
When used in tea or homemade tea lattes, cashew milk is delightful. Try it with matcha for a quick burst of L-theanine in the middle of the day, a matcha substance connected to focus and cognition. Similar to almond milk, cashew milk is created by soaking cashews, mixing them with water, then filtering the mixture. Each cup of cashew milk contains about 40 to 50 calories.
The nutrients zinc, copper, and magnesium found in cashews enhance your immune system. What actually distinguishes cashew milk from almond milk? The taste! Choose whatever you like; just make sure it’s an unsweetened variety.
Given their benefits to you and the environment, peanuts are like the culinary equivalent of the crown gem. These legumes resemble tree nuts in terms of flavor and nutritional content (almonds, walnuts, cashews, and hazelnuts), but they grow underground and require much less water.
The best thing about products made from peanuts is that they are frequently more affordable and higher in protein than other dairy substitutes (plus, they have a creamy taste and texture). Although it’s challenging to locate, many recipes are online if you want to make your own.
Flax Seeds Milk
Flax milk includes a little more than first, at 70 calories per cup. Most commercially available varieties are nutritionally comparable to pea milk since they include a similar ratio of water, flaxseed oil, and pea protein. Flax contains alpha-linolenic acid, which lowers the risk of heart disease and supports immunity.
From a nutritional standpoint, hemp milk is the best option out of all the hemp products available on the market. Depending on fortification, it contains magnesium, calcium, and vitamin D and is created by blending hulled hemp seeds with water. Additionally, you’ll receive roughly 3g of protein at 60 calories per cup along with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, nutrients that are crucial for your immune system and cognitive function.
In contrast to milk prepared from other seeds, hemp milk contains remarkably little fiber. The flavor of hemp milk is the most significant criticism: Some people may find its intensely nutty flavor harsh, especially if you’re used to the sweeter notes of other plant-based substitutes.
Rice and water are blended to create rice milk. In its unsweetened form, it frequently has fewer calories than other milk substitutes, but since the flavor is so mild, most varieties also come with sugar. Unless you must avoid nuts, seeds, or legumes due to an allergy, you may be better off using a different grain blend.
If you want to increase your intake of plant-based omega-3s, walnut milk is a top choice (though bear in mind that you won’t get as much as you would by actually nibbling on the nuts themselves). It has a somewhat earthier flavor than other milk and has 3g of plant protein per 120 calories. Use it in your morning brew to spice things up, or add it to smoothies to counterbalance fruit with a sweet flavor.
Pistachio milk could be more challenging to locate than other plant-based varieties. Its smoothness and the ability to be frothed for lattes are two things fans of this nut milk appreciate. One brand, produced by Three Trees (which also uses almonds), has more calories and fat per cup (100 calories and 8g fat) but also more protein (4g) and fiber than many other nut milk (2g). A cup provides 1g of sugar and 50mg of salt. Tache, a type of pistachio milk (without almonds), provides 50 calories and 3.5g of fat per cup.
Hazelnuts naturally contain antioxidants and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids; however, milk naturally dilutes these benefits. Hazelnut milk without added sugar has 30 calories per cup, 3g of fat, 90mg of salt, and 1g of fiber and protein. It has an unusual flavor that is slightly sweet and nutty.
Hiiii! My name is Ruth and I am an experienced chef with a passion for food and cooking. My love of baking began when I was nine, and I have since been refining my skills in the kitchen ever since.