ILLUSTRATION BY FERDINAND VAN ALPHEN
It used to be if you were looking for an alternative to cow’s milk, your only option was soy milk. It was the first non-dairy milk to go mainstream, popping up in grocery stores and soy lattes everywhere. Soy milk fell out of favor, however, for the digestive and allergen issues it caused some people, and rice milk became the popular alternative. Almond milk soon took its place, and has held court as the nut milk of choice for a few years.
Walk into a health food store or your local hipster coffee house these days, and you’ll find a plethora of plant-based milk alternatives, from cashew to coconut, oat to hemp, and more – each claiming to be the best alternative to the alternatives, and leaving us to wonder which one we should drinking.
Plant-based nut and grain milks vary in their macronutrient composition (protein, carbohydrate and fat), and also in the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) they contain. Each have their pros and cons, and for many it comes down to personal preferences – taste, consistency, and dietary needs. For me, it’s which one makes my coffee the creamiest, and is the color closest to cow’s milk. The good news is on that front there are a number of options available in a barista or coffee creamer blend.
One thing to note are the additives some brands use to fortify the nutritional value, sweeten the taste, and thicken the consistency. This affects the calorie, carbohydrate, fat, and protein values per glass. Here’s how the milk alternatives stack up. Nutritional values are shown per cup for unsweetened varieties.
Calories 110; Protein 8g; Carbs 9g; Sugars 6g; Fat 4.5g
Let’s start with the original non-dairy milk alternative. Nutrient speaking, soy is the closest to cow’s milk of all the plant-based milks, while lower in calories and saturated fat. Soy milk ranks highest in protein at around 8g per glass, and is rich in vitamin A, vitamin B-12, potassium, and isoflavones as well. Soy is a common allergen, however, and drinking soy milk can cause severe reactions for those affected. Soybeans also contain high levels of phytic acid, an anti-nutrient compound that inhibits the body’s absorption of essential minerals and can also cause digestive problems for some.
Calories 40; Protein 1g; Carbs 1g; Sugars 0g; Fat 2.5g
With a creamy texture similar to dairy milk, but with far fewer calories and no saturated fat, almond milk boasts the highest levels of calcium out of all the nut milks at 100g per cup. We know how good almonds are for you, high in vitamin E, and minerals like magnesium, potassium, zinc, iron, and selenium. Almond milk has far less protein than dairy milk or soy milk, just about 1g per glass. For my creamy coffee lovers, check out Califia Creamers & Barista Blends
Calories 50; Protein 1g; Carbs 2g; Sugars 0g; Fat 4.5 g
If you’re a fan of whole milk, you’ll love coconut milk’s naturally sweet flavor and creamy texture, which is often added to other nut milk blends for its yummy taste and thickness. Coconut milk is loaded with potassium (630 mg per glass), as well anti-oxidants, vitamins B-12, C and E. Though somewhat high in saturated fat (about 5g per cup), it is also rich in medium-chain triglycerides, which helps ustilize fat as a fuel source and is an added benefit for athletes.
Calories 25; Protein 1g; Carbs 0g; Sugars 1g; Fat 2g
Move over almond.. cashew milk is new darling of the nut based milks. Relatively similar in calories and nutrition to almond milk, cashew milk is less nutty than almond, however, and a little sweeter. A good source of fiber, antioxidants, iron, copper and magnesium, like almond milk cashew has 50% more calcium than dairy milk, but is also low in protein. Creamy and thicker than many of the plant based milks, cashew milk is one of the tastier alternatives for those who like milk in their coffee – brands like Forager in particular.
Calories 120; Protein 0g; Carbs 22g; Sugars 10g; Fat 2g
Though sweet and tasty, as far as dairy-free milks go, rice milk comes in last in regard to nutritional value. Made from boiled rice, brown rice syrup and brown rice starch, rice milk is higher in sugar than its legume and nut based counterparts, and thus higher in carbohydrate. Rice milk, however, is the most hypoallergenic of the milk alternatives and a good option for those with food sensitivities to dairy, nuts, or soy.
Calories 130; Protein 4g; Carbs 15g; Sugars 9g; Fat 4g
Another new favorite at the coffee bar, oat milk is a good all-rounder nutritionally, containing more protein than almond and cashew milk (about 5g per cup) and fewer carbs than rice milk (around 15g per cup). Oat milk also contains the unique soluble fiber beta-glucan, which is clinically-proven to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. One of the yummier brands is Oatly, which comes in assorted flavors and the all important Barista blend
Calories 70; Protein 8g; Carbs 0g; Sugars 0g; Fat 4.5g
Another entry in the legume category, pea milk is becoming a favorite alternative for its high protein (8g per glass) and calcium (about 450g per glass) content! Naturally low in sugar, its also loaded with Omega-3s, Vitamin D and Iron. Ripple is the brand of choice, offering a variety of flavors, and Half & Half for my coffee drinkers!
Calories 60; Protein 3g; Carbs 0g; Sugars 0g; Fat 4.5g
Despite what the cow up top and a few others might wishfully think, no you can’t get stoned drinking hemp milk. You can, however, get nutritionally high on the heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids with which its loaded. Naturally rich in iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc and other bone building minerals, hemp also carries 10 essential amino acids, making it a good source of vegan protein. Hemp milk has a distinctive earthy-nutty flavor not everybody loves, while others find delicious! You can find hemp, and basically every other nut and grain milk blend at Pacific Foods.