Ask the Nutritionist: Deciphering Dairy-Free Milks

By Emmy Bawden

The popularity of plant-based milks is evident in the numerous options lining grocery store shelves. And with such a vast variety, it’s hard to avoid getting totally over- whelmed while shopping. So, if you’re looking for a cow’s milk alternative because of dietary needs, or, to try something new, here is your go-to guide to find the best dairy-free fit for you.

THE MOST VERSATILE: ALMOND MILK

With a creamy texture and slightly nutty flavor, almond milk is fantastic for replacing dairy in creamy soups and sauces. It lacks protein (it has 1 gram per cup versus about 8 grams in cow’s milk) and doesn’t offer much micronutrient-wise unless it’s fortified with vitamins D, E and calcium. This makes it a good choice if you already consume a varied, non-restrictive diet.

THE MOST NUTRIENT-DENSE: SOY MILK

Soy is the closest cow’s milk substitute with its complete protein content (8 grams per cup) that includes all of your essential amino acids. It’s also a great source of antioxidants; calcium; and vitamins D, A and B. Its thick texture and neutral flavor make it great for everyday drinking, and it’s one of the most budget-friendly choices (along with almond milk) at $2 to $4 per half gallon.

THE HEART-HEALTHY CHOICE: HEMP MILK

If soy is a no-go for you, hemp is a good alternative, because it also provides magnesium; complete protein (4 grams per cup); and heart-healthy, essential unsaturated fatty acids. Its creamy texture and slightly nutty flavor work nicely in homemade ice cream (how fun!). However, it is the second most expensive on this list at $8 to $10 per half gallon.

THE VEGAN GO-TO: PEA MILK

Pea milk is great for vegan diets because it’s fortified with 50% more calcium than cow’s milk and has 100% of your vitamin B12 needs. It also has added DHA omega-3s and similar protein to soy milk. It has a smooth texture and a mild taste, so it works wonderfully in smoothies.

THE WORKOUT FUEL: RICE MILK

Rice milk has the highest carbohydrate content and the thinnest texture, so it’s a great addition to a quick post-workout protein shake. It typically has less calcium than other milks, so it’s not the best pick for vegan diets, but it is on the more affordable side at $4 per half gallon.

THE ENVIRONMENTALLY-FRIENDLY ONE: OAT MILK

Oat milk requires less water to grow and produces less emissions, so it’s considered more eco-friendly. It’s a popular choice for coffee drinks as it froths well and has a slightly sweet taste, as well as for those with nut or soy allergies. Unlike other milks, it has 1-2 grams of gut-healthy fiber, and it’s higher in protein than almond milk.

THE BEST TASTING: COCONUT MILK

Although coconut milk is the lowest sodium choice, it also has the highest saturated fat content. This gives it a creamy texture that, along with its sweet coconut flavor, works well in chia seed pudding and overnight oats.

THE NEWEST TREND: PISTACHIO MILK

This new product is great if you love trying food trends and are willing to shell out the cash ($14 per half gallon). Its light, nutty flavor works well in matcha lattes. Unfortunately, it offers little nutritional value, but it does have a smaller environmental footprint than almond milk.

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