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Non-Dairy Milk: How to Choose the Right One for You

glass of milk with almonds
Katherine Brooking, RD - Blogs
By Katherine Brooking, MS, RDRegistered dietitianJanuary 26, 2018
From the WebMD Archives

Does the dairy aisle leave you feeling dizzy? If so, it’s probably because there’s been an explosion in non-dairy milks recent years. With so many new choices, it’s hard to know what’s right for you. From almond, soy, and rice milk to hemp and pea milk, here’s what to look for – and what to avoid – in non-dairy options.

Almond Milk

The good: With fewer calories and 50% more calcium per serving than cow’s milk, almond milk has a lot to offer.  It’s unique in that it has vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant shown to help support your heart and brain. A one cup serving of unsweetened almond milk has 30 calories, 2.5g fat, 0g saturated fat, 1 g protein, 45% DV calcium, 25% DV vitamin D and 20% DV of vitamin E.  Almond milk also provides riboflavin, vitamin B12 and zinc.

Sour stat:  Almonds are a tree nut and therefore not appropriate for some people with nut allergies. Also a one-cup serving has just 1g protein vs. 8g per cup of cow’s milk.

Hemp Milk

The good: No, it won’t get you high, but hemp milk is made from the seeds of the same plant used to make marijuana. It offers omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and provides 10 essential amino acids, making it a good vegetarian source of healthy fat. A one cup serving has 100 calories, 6 g fat, 0.5 g saturated fat, 2 g of protein, 30% DV calcium, 25% vitamin D, 25% DV riboflavin, 25% vitamin B12. Hemp milk also provides phosphorus and magnesium.

Sour stat: Providing only 2 grams of protein per cup, hemp milk is on the lower end of the protein spectrum.

Soy Milk

The good: Rich in protein, soy milk can be a good plant-based milk choice for many.  A one-cup serving has 110 calories, 4.5 g fat, 0.5 g saturated fat, 8 g protein, 45% DV calcium and 30% DV vitamin D. It’s taste and texture makes it ideal for smoothies, cereals, and many recipes that call for dairy milk.

Sour stat: Some flavored varieties can cost you over 130 calories and 17g sugar per cup serving.

Pea Milk

The good: A more recent addition to the growing list of non dairy options, pea milk has the same protein content of cow’s milk (8 grams per serving), but packs in more calcium, vitamin D, iron and DHA omega-3 fatty acid, mostly due to fortification. In addition, some preliminary studies with pea protein-based beverages show that they may enhance feelings of fullness. Another study reported that pea protein may provide similar muscle-building properties as whey (dairy) protein.

Sour stat: Some sweetened versions can have up to 150 calories and 17g sugar per cup serving.

Rice Milk

The good: Rice milk is dairy and nut free so it’s a great option for anyone with these specific allergies. A one-cup serving provides 120 calories, 2 g fat, 0g saturated fat, 1 g of protein, 30% DV calcium, 25% vitamin D, 25% DV vitamin B12. Rice milk also provides phosphorus.

Sour stat: At just 1g per serving, rice milk is low on protein.

The Bottom line: Non-dairy milks can be good alternatives to dairy milk, but don’t assume that all varieties are healthy. Choose those that are lowest in added sugars and saturated fat and provide the nutrients dairy foods do— protein, calcium and vitamin D.

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About the Author
Katherine Brooking, MS, RD

Katherine Brooking is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in nutrition education from Columbia University. She is dedicated to helping people have better health and live richer lives through sound nutrition and good lifestyle choices.

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