Have you ever thought about which is the healthiest plant-based milk alternative? Are they even nutritionally comparable to cow’s milk? What are all those food additives on the ingredients list? If the elaborate selection of plant-based kinds of milk has left you bewildered, you’re not alone.
There are umpteen reasons why you want to choose to take an alternative beverage to milk. These can include ethical objections to consuming milk, lactose intolerance, a milk allergy, or simply a preference for the taste of these yummy beverages .
Fortified Milk Alternatives
1. Soy Milk Nutrition
From all the plant-based milk alternatives, soy milk is the only milk that comes close to protein content to cow’s milk.
Soy milk is prepared from soybeans, a legume type with a high-quality plant-based protein and filtered water. They have been part of regular South Asian diets for hundreds of years and are reputed to improve health through the presence of isoflavones, which provide anti-cancer properties .
From a nutrition standpoint, unsweetened soy milk:
- Provides an average of 95 calories, 8g of protein, 5g of carbohydrates, and 4.5g of fat in a 1-cup serving
- It contains primarily polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are believed to be heart-healthy and are often fortified with vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, vitamin D, and B12 (amounts will vary depending on the brand).
- Soy milk can be an excellent alternative to cow’s milk and comes close to it in nutrition. Unfortunately, soy protein allergy is also prevalent, and thus, it may not be suitable for everyone.
- From a health standpoint, soy is a highly controversial food. However, whole food sources of soy (tempeh, tofu, soy milk) can be very nutritious.
Research suggests that soy may improve heart health, cholesterol levels, fertility, menopause symptoms, and minimize cancer risk. Issues of the estrogen-like properties of soy and its impact on thyroid function are not backed by current epidemiological and clinical research.
As long as you don’t have an allergy, incorporating a moderate amount of whole food sources of soy is possibly beneficial.
[Read: Benefits of Soy Milk]
2. Almond Milk Nutrition
Almond milk, made from filtered water and ground almonds, has become one of the most popular plant-based kinds of milk in Europe, North America, and Australia.
While whole almonds may be an excellent protein source, almond milk is not – 1 cup only offers 1 gram of protein (compared to 8 grams in cow’s milk). Besides, unsweetened almond milk is:
- Lower in calories (40 cal per cup), fat (3g), and carbohydrates (1g), than cow’s milk, a good source of vitamins E and A, and commercial versions are often fortified with other minerals and vitamins.
- For people who don’t have a nut allergy, almond milk can be a great choice. It shouldn’t, however, be regarded as a nutritional equivalent to milk. It is significantly lower in calories, protein, and carbs – other foods should be included in the diet/meal to make up for this!
[Read: Benefits of Almond Milk]
3. Oat Milk Nutrition
Because of its foaming ability, creamy consistency, and naturally sweet flavor, oat milk has become hugely popular in coffee shops over the last few years. Prepared from rolled oats, oat milk can be an excellent alternative to other plant-based milk if you’re allergic to nuts or soy.
If you’re gluten-free, be sure to opt oat milk to prepare from certified GF oats.
From a nutrition standpoint, unsweetened oat milk:
- Is usually higher in calories (120 cal per cup) and carbohydrates (16g) than other plant-based milk provides 5g of fat, 3g of protein (lower than soy and cow milk), and notably 2g of dietary fiber in a 1-cup serving
- Because the oats are strained, oat milk doesn’t have the same nutritional value as a bowl of oatmeal. However, many commercial varieties are fortified with minerals and vitamins.
Similar to almond milk, oat milk is not nutritionally equivalent to soy or cow’s milk and is not a good protein source. Again, this does not make it “less healthy” – it merely provides a different nutrient makeup.
[Read: Benefits of Oat Milk]
4. Rice Milk Nutrition
This grain milk is made by mixing water with milled rice.
- Because rice is high in carbohydrates, rice milk is greater in both carbohydrate (22g) and sugar (13g per cup) content than cow’s milk, which also makes it naturally sweeter.
- Also, rice milk is relatively low in fat (2.3g, mostly monounsaturated) and a poor source of protein (< 1g).
- Like oat milk, rice milk can be the right choice for individuals who are allergic to nuts, soy, and gluten. Moreover, rice milk is the least likely of all milk products to cause an allergic reaction.
- Like almond and oat milk, rice milk is not a good protein source like soy or cow’s milk.
5. Coconut Milk Nutrition
Coconut milk is prepared by extracting the liquid from grated white coconut meat rich in saturated fats.
Despite its high saturated fat content, studies have found that coconut may help to increase HDL (good) cholesterol. More studies are required in this domain, but coconut products are fine to include in a healthy diet in moderation.
- Coconut milk has an extremely different nutrition profile to the other milk alternatives, offering 45 calories per cup, minimal carbs (<1g), very little protein (<1g), and higher amounts of fat (4-5g).
- While it is a healthy choice and rich in flavor, it also is not a nutritional equivalent to cows or soy milk.
6. Hemp Milk Nutrition
Made by blending water with hemp seeds, hemp milk offers a nuttier and earthier flavor than many other plant-based milk kinds.
- Hemp milk is slightly higher in fat (7g, including omega-3s) and protein (4g) and compared to other plant-based milk and is lower in calories (80 per cup) and carbohydrates (1g).
- Similar to other milk alternatives, commercial varieties are often fortified with minerals and vitamins.
- Because hemp seeds are richly nutritious, hemp milk possibly has similar nutrition benefits (especially if homemade without straining), although there is little evidence to support this.
Both fortified milk alternatives and milk can be included in a healthy diet. Individuals with specific medical conditions, allergies, or specific beliefs about food can be confident that any of the milk alternatives they choose to consume are nutritionally advantageous.
The foundation of any healthy diet is consuming a variety of nutrient-rich foods, so give any or all the milk choices a try!