Which “Milk” is the Right Milk for You?

One of our most popular Facebook Live episodes was about alternative milk. Just walk down that aisle in the grocery store and you’ll see quite the variety of options: almond milk, hemp milk, oat milk, soy milk, etc. With so many options, it may be hard to decide which milk is the healthiest option for you. So, we decided to help you with this!

It’s Not Really Milk

Ok, let’s start with this because there was a lot of reaction around this during our Facebook Live episode. We get it, you can’t milk rice, nuts or grains. It’s true that these are milk alternatives. Ok, let’s move on!

How They Are Made

Here’s a little bit about how these plant-based kinds of milk are made.

  • Soak nuts, seeds, or grains in water with a pinch of salt; soaking times vary. Soaking helps improve bioavailability.
  • Rinse thoroughly and drain.
  • Blend with filtered water; 1:3 ratio of nuts to water.
  • Strain to remove fibrous leftovers.
  • Sweeten with a choice of sweetener like stevia, honey, sugar, etc. or none at all. Other flavor additives like vanilla extract are common.

When Do They Expire?

If you’re buying an alternative milk from the refrigerated section, it should have a sell by or use by date. If you’re buying the kind that is not refrigerated, it will typically expire within 7 to 10 days after opening. The best way to determine the freshness is to smell it. If it still smells good, it’s probably still safe to drink.

How to Choose the Best Milk for You

Read the label.This rule applies to everything you put in your shopping cart. Look at for anything you’re trying to watch for your health, such as sugars, ingredients that you don’t recognize, protein, etc. Here’s what The Little Clinic recommends looking out for when reviewing the labels of plant-based milks:

  • Serving size
    • 1 cup (this is the serving size for all milks)
  • Fortification
    • If avoiding all dairy, consider other vitamin D and calcium sources within the diet
    • B12
  • Sugar Content
    • Many plant-based milks are heavily sweetened
    • Most plant-based milks are fortified, but there are still a few that aren’t
    • Look for added sugars in the ingredient list or choose unsweetened varieties
  • Protein
    • Most have 0-1 gram of protein per serving including almond milk unless otherwise fortified
  • Added or extra ingredients
    • Some dairy-free milks are full of additives, a variety of stabilizers and thickening agents, including sugar, gums, inulin, and carrageenan
    • Look for limited ingredient lists or consider making your own milk at home

Milk Breakdown

Here’s a great overview of the most popular milks, again from our friends at The Little Clinic

Cow’s Milk

  • 1 cup 2% milk = 122 calories, 8 grams protein, 4.8 grams fat, 100 mg sodium, 12g carb

Soy Milk

  • 6-10 grams of protein per serving – the most protein of all nondairy alternatives
  • Complete protein source vs. other grain or nut milks
  • 50% more calcium than cow’s milk and a good source of vitamins A, D and B12; good source of manganese and magnesium.
  • 1-2 grams of fiber per cup.

Almond Milk

  • Most popular alternative
  • Fortified with additional vitamins and minerals; offers 50% more calcium than dairy milk and is an excellent source of vitamin D.
  • Made from ground almonds, water, and a small amount of sweetener
  • A third of the calories of 2% cow’s milk
  • Very little protein, 1 gram/cup
  • Contains 20% – 50% of the Daily Value for vitamin E depending on brand

Coconut Milk

  • Used primarily in southeast Asian cooking, coconut milk has been around for a long time
  • Available in vanilla, original, and unsweetened varieties
  • 50% more calcium than dairy milk and a good source of vitamin D due to fortification
  • Coconut milk in the carton has fewer calories and fat than canned coconut milk

Cashew Milk

  • 40-60 calories per serving and no saturated fat or cholesterol
  • Creamier than skim milk
  • 50% more calcium than dairy milk, and provides an excellent source of vitamin D.

Hemp Milk

  • Less popular than others
  • Option for those with nut, soy or gluten allergies
  • Typically made from hulled hemp seeds, water, and a sweetener
  • Source of omega-3 essential fatty acids. ALA form vs. EPA and DHA found in cold-water fish; good source for vegetarians or vegans (same goes for flax milk – not all stores carry this)
  • Other nutrients include magnesium, phytosterols, calcium, fiber, iron, and potassium, as well as 10 essential amino acids, making it a good vegetarian protein source

Oat Milk

  • Oat milk, which is made from hulled oat groats (or berries), water, and potentially other grains and beans, such as triticale, barley, brown rice, and soybeans
  • Mild flavor and is slightly sweet
  • No cholesterol, and saturated fat, it’s high in fiber (2 grams/serving) and iron (10% DV)
  • Might contain gluten unless the label says otherwise

Rice Milk

  • Made from boiled rice, brown rice syrup, and brown rice starch
  • Rice milk generally tastes sweeter than cow’s milk, owing to the addition of sweeteners and vanilla in order to make it taste more like cow’s milk
  • 1 gram protein and a very small amount of natural calcium, though most brands are calcium fortified and enriched with vitamins A, D, and B12
  • High in carbohydrates

Nutrition Comparison Chart for Plant-based Milks (general reference)

We’ll leave you with this handy comparison chart provided by The Little Clinic. In it, we’ve put in bold a few kinds of milk that may be of interest for you if you’re particularly keeping an eye on calories, fat, protein or sugars.

Plant-Based Dairy Alternative Serving Size Calories Protein Fat/Sat Fat Sugar Flavor
 
7-Grain Milk (from oats, rice, wheat, barley, triticale, spelt, millet), Original 1 cup 140 3 g 2 g/0 g 16 g Mild, sweet
Almond Milk, Chocolate 1 cup 100–120 1 g 3 g/0 g 16–20 g Mild, sweet, nutty, chocolate
Almond Milk, Plain or Original 1 cup 50–60 1 g 2.5 g/0 g 5–7 g Mild, sweet, nutty
Almond Milk, Unsweetened 1 cup 35–50 1 g 2.5–3.5 g/ 0 g 0 g Mildly sweet, nutty
Almond Milk, Vanilla 1 cup 70–90 1 g 2.5 g/0 g 9–15 g Mild, sweet, nutty, vanilla
Coconut Milk, Unsweetened 1 cup 50 1 g 5 g/5 g 0 g Mild, sweet, coconut, thick
Hazelnut Milk, original 1 cup 110 2 g 3.5 g/0 g 14 g Mild, sweet, nutty
Hemp Milk, Original 1 cup 100 2 g 6 g/.5 g 6 g Mildly sweet
Oat Milk, Original 1 cup 130 4 g 2.5 g/0 g 19 g Mild, sweet
Rice Milk, Chocolate 1 cup 160 2 g 3 g/ 0 g 28 g Mild, sweet, watery, chocolate
Rice Milk, Plain or Original 1 cup 120–130 1 g 2–2.5 g/ 0 g 10–14 g Mild, sweet, watery
Rice Milk, Vanilla 1 cup 130 1 g 2–2.5 g/ 0 g 12–14 g Mild, sweet, watery, vanilla
Soy Milk, Chocolate 1 cup 130–180 5–8 g 2.5–3.5 g/ .5–1 g 14–19 g Sweet, nutty, chocolate
Soy Milk, Light 1 cup 60 4 g 2 g/0 g 5 g Mild, sweet, nutty
Soy Milk, Low-fat 1 cup 90 4 g 1.5 g/0 g 7 g Mild, sweet, nutty
Soy Milk, Non-fat 1 cup 70 6 g 0 g/0 g 9 g Mild, sweet, nutty
Soy Milk, Plain or Original 1 cup 80–110 5–7 g 3–4 g/ 0–.5 g 6–7 g Mild, sweet, nutty
Soy Milk, Unsweetened 1 cup 80–90 7–9 g 4–4.5 g/ 0–.5 g 1 g Mildly sweet, nutty
Soy Milk, Vanilla 1 cup 80–110 5–6 g 2.5 g/ 0–.5 g 8–10 g Sweet, nutty, vanilla
Sunflower Milk, Original 1 cup 80 2 g 3.5 g/.5 g 6 g Mild, sweet, nutty