Best Dairy Milk Alternatives

By Florencia Tagliavini, the NutraMilk Nutritionist

If you are looking for a non-dairy milk, you are in luck! There are many nutritious options from a variety of plant sources. The plant-based milk market is growing and more dairy milk alternatives are constantly becoming available.

What's the problem with commercial milks?

These alternative milks are full of sugar, sodium, additives, and preservatives. But not only that, you'll notice that these milks are lower in calories than the homemade versions and than cow's milk. For example, unsweetened almond milk has between 30-50 Kcal and 90 kcal for the sweetened version while if you make almond milk at home, it has approximately 184 kcal (depending on the ratio of solids to water). We don't know exactly how many almonds are used in commercial milks but we know it has to be a minimal amount due to its low caloric value. They are watered down and filled with additives to obtain an acceptable taste and texture. Unfortunately, you are loosing out on all the great nutrients that almond milk offers.

Our recipe for the basic almond milk contains 30 almonds and all its nutrition per glass. If you want a watered-down, low-calorie version like the commercial milk you can also make it at home- just add more water and you get a low-calorie almond milk without all the additives. That's one of the beauties of the NutraMilk - you can customize your milk, make it as full-bodied as you want or less-bodied and lower in calories, plus, you can combine ingredients and flavor as you wish. It opens a whole new world - you can make a variety of different nut and seed milks that are hard to find in the supermarket or health food store or that are simply not commercialized yet.

Each type of milk has its advantages and disadvantages. You have to find the one you like the best and suits your needs depending on your preferences in taste, texture, and nutrition. You may even find several you like and find different uses for each one. For example, I like to use pecan milk with my coffee, almond milk to pour over oats or granola, coconut milk for cooking and baking and I love pumpkin seed milk to drink on its own.

If you are looking to replace cow's milk as a staple food, keep in mind that the nutritional profile of some of these plant-based milks differ quite a bit and you may need to get the nutrients that cow's milk provides from other foods. Cow's milk is a good source of animal protein, calcium and vitamin D. On the other hand, the fat profile is not the healthiest containing mostly saturated fat & cholesterol. Many people are lactose intolerant or may experience digestives issues or other sensitivities when consuming dairy, so plant-based milks are a good option.

Some of these milks are high in plant-protein but it's not the same as animal protein which is considered to be a complete protein due to the fact that it contains all essential amino acids. However, plant protein can be combined and consumed throughout the day so you are getting all those essential amino acids in your diet. So, no problem there! Dairy is also a good source of natural calcium. A good alternative option is sesame seed milk which actually has more calcium than dairy milk! But there is no need to get your calcium from milk, there are other sources such as collard greens, tofu and other soy products, fortified juices and other foods.

Vitamin D in cow's milk is not naturally occurring but added to the milk to be a good source. In today's market, there are quite a bit of dairy-free options that are fortified with calcium and vitamin D to match what you would get from dairy milk. You may also choose to fortify your own homemade milks to make them good sources of calcium, vitamin D and A.

Here is a brief overview of different plant-based milk options and their distinct characteristics:

See chart below for basic nutritional composition of these milk beverages.

** All nut & seed milks are naturally gluten free, cholesterol free and contain heart-healthy fats (unsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids), various vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other healthy compounds. The nutrition information for these milks is based on our simple recipes but can be modified to your liking by adding more water, nuts and seeds or any other ingredient.

Almond Milk

  • High in protein - unlike the commercial milk which is actually low in protein providing only 1 gram of protein per serving, our recipe provides 11g per serving- that's more than in dairy milk.
  • Rich in vitamin E.
  • Good source of many vitamins &; minerals: Riboflavin (25%*), magnesium (25%), phosphorus (18%) and also contains calcium, iron, potassium.

Walnut Milk

  • One of the best plant sources of the anti-inflammatory omega-3s (ALA).
  • Among highest antioxidant content of all nut milks.
  • Good source of B-complex vitamins (thiamin 14%, vitamin B6 17%, folate 6%), plus, zinc (13%), magnesium (25%), iron (10%).
  • Low in protein (1.5 g per serving).

Cashew Milk

  • Especially rich in monounsaturated fats - the same heart-healthy fats found in olive oil.
  • Higher in carbohydrates than most nut milks.
  • Good amount of plant-protein (7g per serving).
  • Good source of many vitamins and minerals including iron (14%), zinc (15%), magnesium (27%), phosphorus (22%), thiamin (11%).

Hazelnut Milk

  • Highest proanthocyanidin (antioxidant) content of any tree nut.
  • Good source of B-complex vitamins (folate 10%, thiamin 12%, vitamin B6 10%), vitamin E (17%), phosphorus (98%), magnesium (14%).

Peanut Milk

  • High concentrations of antioxidant polyphenols (especially p-coumaric acid).
  • High protein content (9 g per serving).
  • Good source of many vitamins & minerals including: B-complex vitamins (thiamin 15%; niacin 21%, folate 20%), phosphorus 13% and magnesium 14%).
  • Common allergen.

Macadamia Nut Milk

  • Great source of monounsaturated fat, phytosterols & phytochemicals which benefit heart health.
  • Good source of magnesium (11%), phosphorus (10%), thiamin (27%).
  • These nuts tend to be on the more expensive side.
  • Highest in calories (260kcal per serving).

Brazil Nut Milk

  • Good source of magnesium (32%), phosphorus (25%), thiamin (14%).
  • Contains too much selenium to use as a staple milk which could be toxic. Use sparingly to benefit from the selenium content.

Sesame Seed Milk

  • Good amount of plant-protein (7.3g per serving).
  • Excellent source of calcium (40% DV) - That´s almost double the amount that's in cow's milk!
  • Excellent source of non-heme iron (33% DV) & zinc (21% DV).
  • Good source of many other vital vitamins and minerals: B-complex (thiamin 22%, folate 10%, niacin 10%, vitamin B6 16%), phosphorus (26%), manganese (38%).
  • Contains health benefiting phytosterols, lignans, plus unique substances such as Sesamin & Sesamolin.

Pumpkin Seed Milk

  • Lowest in calories from this list.
  • Good amount of protein (7 g per serving).
  • Good source of vitamins & minerals such as: iron (11%), zinc (12%), magnesium (33%) and phosphorus (28%).
  • Contains a wide array of beneficial plant compounds known as phytosterols and antioxidants.

Sunflower Seed Milk

  • Good amount of protein (7 g per serving).
  • Rich source of vitamin E (40%).
  • Good source of many other vitamins and minerals: B-complex vitamins (thiamin-33%, folate- 19%, vitamin B6-22%, niacin-14%), selenium (26%) plus iron (10%), magnesium (27%), phosphorus (22%).
  • Contains health benefiting polyphenol compounds that act as natural antioxidants

Hemp Seed Milk

  • Provides 2g of plant-based omega-3s (ALA) - that's twice as much as commercial milks.
  • Provides protein (6.6 g per serving).
  • Low carb option.
  • 125 Kcal per serving which is comparable to cow's milk.
  • Good source of: Thiamin (18%), niacin (10%), magnesium (37%), zinc (14%), phosphorus (35%) and contains iron (9%).

Oat Milk

  • Good alternative for those with a nut and/or seed allergy.
  • Decent amount of protein (approx. 4g per serving).
  • High carbohydrate choice (naturally occurring sugars).

Rice Milk

  • The least allergenic of milk alternatives.
  • Low in fat.
  • High in carbs and sugars. Least desirable choice for diabetics.
  • Lowest in protein. Not a good source.
  • Least favorable nutrition profile.
  • The homemade version has 50% fewer calories than the commercial rice milk.

Coconut Milk

  • Good source of fats including the beneficial MCT's (medium-chain triglycerides) that are beneficial for health.
  • Option to make milk from dried coconut or fresh coconut - both are more nutritious and have better taste and consistency than the commercial version.
  • Coconut milk is very high in calories: 472 Kcal per cup and used for cooking- you can make a lower calorie milk beverage by changing the ratio of water to solids (same as can be done for any other milk).
  • Rarely causes allergies.

Soy Milk

  • Provides 8g of protein (same as cow's milk).
  • Soy is one of the top three GMO crops in the U.S., choose organic soy milk if you buy commercially.
  • Soy is a very common allergen.
  • There are concerns about the presence of isoflavones in soy products and the possibility that they could disrupt the hormonal development especially in young children but these same isoflavones can also have beneficial effects such as reducing the risk of certain cancers.

You don't have to be lactose-intolerant to enjoy these plant-based milks. There are many reasons people choose to consume non-dairy milks, including those interested in trying new foods and mixing up their diet. It's always a good idea to diversify your diet to get a wide variety of nutrients. With the NutraMilk, all of these milks (except soy milk, which requires heat) are easy to make! There is not necessarily an alternative that is best. Just make sure that if you are not consuming dairy to get your protein, calcium and vitamin D from other sources. And why not get the best of all worlds by using a couple of non-dairy milks instead of just one!

*All the percentages reference the daily values of each nutrient: how much a certain nutrient contributes to one serving of food in relation to the daily requirement.



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