What is the best non-dairy milk for you?

Whether it’s because you’re vegan, sensitive to dairy or trying to lose weight, more and more Americans are shying away from dairy products.

man shopping for non-dairy milk substitute

You will find soy, almond, rice, coconut and cashew milks are vying for your attention as you walk down any grocery store aisle for a non-dairy milk substitute.

So how do you choose the right milk replacement?

Try a few different types and see which ones you enjoy the most. If you don’t like soy milk, that’s fine. Try almond, cashew or oat milk. Buy a couple different brands and see if you prefer sweetened or unsweetened varieties.

Soy milk

Soy milk has been the most popular non-dairy substitute for decades because its nutrition profile closely resembles that of cow’s milk. It is made with soybeans and it has a mild flavor and a creamier texture than cow’s milk.

Soy milk offers about 7 grams of protein per cup, compared to cow milk’s 8 grams per cup. Most, but not all, brands are fortified with calcium and vitamin D, so be sure to look at the nutrition label to find these nutrient values.

Soy milk comes in flavored varieties, such as vanilla, and also comes in lighter and lower-calorie versions.

Almond milk

woman holding almond milk container

It’s made with either whole almonds or almond butter and water. It has a light texture and slightly sweet, nutty flavor.

You can find it in grocery stores and coffee shops everywhere. It is usually fortified with calcium, and you can typically get about half your daily calcium needs in just one cup.

It is great for everyday use in things like coffee, tea, cereal and cooking.

Almond milk comes in conventional and organic varieties, in cardboard boxes, some refrigerated, some shelf-stable, all of them with too many questionable ingredients.  

Oat milk

Oat milk is starting to take over from almond milk in popularity. Oat milks are made from the liquid leftover when oats are soaked in water.

They tend to be quite mild and neutral in flavor, like oatmeal. It can be used to replace cows’ milk in cooking (they thicken when cooked with) and taste great with cereal or in smoothies.

Although, oats have been found to lower cholesterol levels the benefit has not been proven true for the milk. Unfortunately, oat milks are naturally low in protein, vitamins and minerals. It’s also not gluten free.

Cashew milk

Cashew milk is made from a mixture of cashew nuts or cashew butter and water. It’s smooth with a hint of cashew flavor and could work well in tea as it’s not too sweet. It’s great for thickening smoothies, as a creamer in coffee and as a substitute for cows’ milk in desserts. 

Cashew milk contains fewer than one third of the calories of cows’ milk, half the fat and significantly less carbohydrates. Because the nut pulp is strained from the milk, a lot of the fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals found in whole cashews are lost in the milk.

Coconut milk

Coconut milk is made from water and the white flesh from brown coconuts. It has a thick consistency with a rich, creamy texture. A sweet milk naturally found in the heart of the coconut. It is used in certain cuisines, such as Thai food and some desserts

Like most milk alternatives, you can keep coconut milk at room temperature while it’s unopened. However, once you open it, you need to keep it in the fridge and enjoy it within a week.

Rice milk

Rice milk is made from milled white or brown rice and water. As with other non-dairy milks, it often contains thickeners to improve the texture.

White rice milk is mild in taste and naturally sweet in flavour, much like rice pudding. It has a slightly watery consistency but works well in smoothies, desserts and oatmeal. Brown rice milk is darker in color, as you would imagine, and tastes distinctly of brown rice.

What to look for when buying a non-dairy milk substitute

Here are a few important things to consider:

  1. Additives. Choose a plant milk with fewer ingredients or can make your own to avoid additives and preservatives. You can make almond, cashew, oat, and rice in your kitchen.
  2. Vitamin B12. In order to replace the nutrients, you used to get from cow’s milk, check out the nutrition facts when you’re choosing a non-dairy alternative. Pick one fortified with calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12.
  3. Added sugar. If you like sweetened varieties better, just be mindful of the sugar content. A little sweetener in your plain or vanilla non-dairy milk is nothing to worry about. However, chocolate flavored plant milks can contain a lot of sugar and artificial flavors, so I wouldn’t recommend drinking them on a daily basis. It’s basically like dessert in a glass.
  4. Calcium content: Cow’s milk is rich in calcium, which is vital for healthy bones and preventing osteoporosis. Most non-dairy milks are fortified with it, so choose one that contains at least 120 mg of calcium per 3.4 ounces (100 ml).
  5. Dietary needs: Some people have allergies or intolerances to certain ingredients used in plant-based milks, such as gluten, nuts and soy. Be sure to check labels if you have an allergy or intolerance.

Choose your non-dairy milk based on your needs. If you’re looking to replace your coffee creamer, try oat, soy or cashew milk. For cereal, soy or almond milk is a good alternative. If you’re baking, check to see if the recipe calls for a specific substitute, and if not, try almond, cashew or oat milk.

As far as my personal preferences, I use unsweetened almond milk. I don’t drink it by the glass.

I use it in cream of wheat, protein drinks and whenever I might need to add milk in a recipe. I am not lactose intolerant. I just prefer almond milk unless I am having a peanut butter and jelly sandwich after a long run. After a run or race, I will buy a small bottle of 2% milk to wash the sandwich down.

There is no one milk that’s ideal for everyone. The taste, nutrition and cost of these alternatives can vary, so it might take a while to find the one that’s best for you.

Which kind of non-dairy milk do you use?

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