When you head into the grocery store (or place an online order), you may have noticed an increase in non-dairy milk filling the fridges. Many people are deciding to consume plant-based milk instead of dairy for a variety of reasons. Some of these reasons include allergies to dairy products, lifestyle changes, or concern about the treatment of animals.
Some people also have concerns about the health risks of drinking cow’s milk. However, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that we should consume servings of dairy daily to reap the nutritional benefits. So, when you search for other milk options, you may start to wonder: which nut milk has the most vitamins and minerals?
Nutritional Value of Nut Milk
Whether you are vegan, carnivorous, or have a mostly plant-based diet, it's important to make sure you get all the nutrients you need. According to Nutrition Support Specialist Dr. Meagan Bridges, "While non-dairy alternatives do not offer exact nutritional equivalency to cow's milk, they can be fortified with certain nutrients - especially calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 - to make them more comparable."
However, some brands of alternative milk may add cane sugar and sweeteners to improve the taste of these products. They also add thickeners and guar gum as a way to mimic the texture of dairy milk. (1) When you consider your nut milk choices, watch out for additives, preservatives, flavoring, and sugars, and make sure you're maintaining a balanced diet.
Even if you aren't giving up cow’s milk completely, it can be nice to switch it up every once in a while. Here are the health benefits of the most popular nut milks:
For years, almond milk has been one of the most popular choices for plant-based milk in North America and abroad. For people who have lactose intolerance, the milk is a perfect substitute with not as much saturated fat. Almond milk:
The protein and calcium content is not as high as in cow’s milk, so you want to consume other sources of these nutrients as well. However, it's possible that almond milk can help with weight loss. According to an article in Journal of Food Science and Technology, "Almonds have a high content of monounsaturated fatty acids that are considered helpful in weight loss and management." (2)
Almond milks come in different flavors such as vanilla, plain, and chocolate. Some of these options have added sugar for improved texture and longer shelf life. If you're cutting back on sugar, choose the unsweetened almond milks when you can.
Coconut milk is another great milk choice. The milk contains approximately a gram of protein per serving and 50 calories in a cup. Coconut milk is also nice and fatty, so it can be a healthy source of saturated fat in your diet.
People love coconut milk because it is one of the creamiest non-dairy milks. A small serving a day could help lower your blood pressure and keep your heart healthy. (3) If you like a subtle taste of coconuts, this could be the best choice for you.
Another popular pick, soy milk was the first alternative plant milk to pop up in the United States. Soy has the highest amount of protein grams per serving than other milks, and it's a great source of potassium. Many manufacturers also add vitamins and calcium.
Soy milk is also known for containing isoflavones, which may have positive effects on preventing cancer. However, some consumers are moving away from soy milk after concerns of soy impacting thyroid function, hormones, and increasing the risk of breast cancer. (4) However, research on human subjects does not back up these negative claims.
Like most nut milks, soy milks have fewer calories than whole milk. The texture of soy milk makes it great for cooking or adding to your morning coffee because it is thick and smooth.
While it doesn't have the level of calcium that cow’s milk does, cashew milk is full of iron, magnesium, vitamin K, vitamin E, and other minerals. To make cashew milk, companies use a thickener to give it its creamy texture.
One cup of cashew milk (unsweetened) has 2 grams of fat, a gram of protein, a gram of carbohydrates, and 25 calories. It's a fun nut milk to add to oatmeal, smoothies, or to drink with breakfast. It's also super easy to make at home since it's a soft nut that doesn't require a lot of soaking.
Hazlenut and Macadamia Nut Milk
If it's a nut, it can be nut milk. People often use hazelnut milk for baking or to put a new taste in their mouths. The nut milk has added vitamins and minerals, but it does have a higher fat content than other nut milks.
Macadamia nuts will put you in the same boat. Some brands fortify these milks with pea protein to boost their protein levels. Either way, they make healthy additions to coffee drinks such as lattes. Other nut milks include walnut milk and peanut milk, and those are all about personal preference.
Other Milk Alternatives
If you have a tree nut allergy, then you should obviously limit your nut consumption. Fortunately, there are other options for milks not made from tree nuts. These other varieties are still from plants and have their own nutritional properties.
Hemp milk contains healthy fats much like almond milk. It's low in protein and calories and it's a source of the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid. (5) It's a good decision for men and women who cannot consume nuts or soy products.
Some adults worry about the taste of hemp, but in reality, it tastes subtlety sweet. The consistency is not as chalky as you might expect, and many companies add other ingredients to cover the taste.
Oat milk is becoming increasingly popular with people who want to give nut milks a break. Through a simple process of blending and straining oats, you get a creamy, beautiful, nutritious beverage. It's perfect for drinking iced, hot, or adding it to cereals.
Oat milk out-performs cow milk in riboflavin and vitamin B-2 content. It's also higher in carbs and calories than all other milks in the alternative milk category. Many brands add even more vitamins to raise the milk's nutrient profile. However, stay away from these types of beverages if you have a gluten intolerance.
Rice milk is full of antioxidants and gives your beverages the benefits and creamy flavor of rice. It's a good option for people who cannot have soy, casein, or nut milks. A cup of rice milk contains two grams of fat, 22 grams of carbohydrates, and 120 calories.
The grams of protein content is negligible, so you'll need another protein source in your diet. Like other milk options, manufactures can add calcium and vitamins to rice milks. On its own, it can be a good source of magnesium and it's cholesterol-free.
Which Dairy Alternative is Best?
One reason that alternative milk sales have increased is that these nut milks are fun and so delicious. When it comes to choosing the healthiest, the fact is that it depends on the person. Everyone's diet and goals are different, of course, so you'll need to pick the milk and brand that best suits you.
Overall, almond milk and cashew milk are two of the healthiest nut milks. They are low-cal, and they both have a solid dose of vitamins E and D. You can also get a good bit of calcium, making them good non-dairy replacements for someone who is lactose intolerant.
If you need more protein in your milk, you make want to opt for a different one. With any one you choose, make sure you check the ingredient list on the carton and look at the amounts of added sugars.
Everyone has their favorite non-dairy milk. But, to give your body the most benefits, it can be helpful to incorporate more than one into your diet. Consider switching your nut milks once a month for variety.
Concerned about your diet? Check out our list of the top meal programs with healthy meals.
Making Your Own Milk Alternative
While nut milks are tasty and healthy, getting non-dairy drinks at coffee shops and grocery stores can get expensive. If you're curious to try one that you can't find in your area (or you want to save money), consider making it at home. Many of them are surprisingly easy to make in your kitchen.
Another perk of finding DIY recipes is that you can control what's in your food. To make your own milk, you'll need plenty of water, a container, a blender (or food processor), and cheesecloth. Take a look at this standard almond milk recipe:
You now have something to drink that's your own version of Almond Breeze with no thickening agents. Add the sorts of sweeteners you want and pour yourself a glass!
The process is similar for making many types of milk. You can use peanuts, cashews, or even try to make pea milk. However, make sure you look at information and tips for the product you want to make to make sure they come out tasty.
Try meal delivery on a vegan diet to make things easier on yourself!
There are a number of non-dairy milks, and each one has its pros and cons. Hemp, oat, and almond are at the top of our list for their overall qualities. With hemp, you get omega-3 fatty acids, unsaturated fats, and nutrients such as iron, magnesium, and calcium.
Many milk alternatives come with added proteins and minerals. If you drink one every day, just watch out for additives and fillers and opt for natural compounds.
A short answer to the question is that the main difference between the two is their taste. They are close to each other nutritionally, both having low calories and a variety of nutrients. Cashew milk has about five fewer calories.
They have approximately equal amounts of vitamins A, E, and D as well as calcium. If you're trying to decide between them, the difference may come down to availability. It's easier to find a company that sells almond milk than one that sells cashews. However, cashew milk does have more of a sweetness to it.
Try both and pick the one that tastes best to you. Or, switch it up depending on what kind of dish you're eating.
One problem with almond milk comes from the processing. According to researchers, the milk may have negative effects on the environment due to the number of pesticides used as well as the water needed for the crops. Additionally, many natural lands in California had become ones devoted to almond farming.
The pesticides used for almond growth purposes cause problems when they contaminate water sources. Some studies also show that the thickening agent carrageenan could cause digestive issues.
If you are on a weight loss program, it's always best to ask a nutritionist about the type of foods you should consume. A dietitian can base a suggestion on your fitness needs and your lifestyle. The milk types with the lowest calories are coconut milk (not the canned versions) and almond milk.
If you need low carb milk, you won't find success drinking milk from cows. Unsweetened coconut milk is low in carbohydrates and high in fat, which is why its popularity is increasing with keto and other low-carb diets. It's made of meat from coconuts, and you want to find a brand that's close to coconut cream.
For protein, pea milk may be the thing you need. Peas have the lowest carbs and highest protein in comparison to other plant milks. Regardless, you want to pair your beverage with a balance of nutrition and exercise for the best results.
Final Thoughts - Benefits of Nut Milk
These days, there is an array of selections for all milk drinkers. If you're lactose intolerant especially, you may find yourself overwhelmed with non-dairy options, which isn't the worst experience.
When it comes to health, there is no clear winner. The breakdown of ingredient lists for all of these milks highlights that they all have some positive and negative traits. At the end of the day, your personal preferences will tell you which to go to.
Anyone can make or consume nut milk in addition to or in place of dairy. Browse the shelves of a supermarket near you and give it a try. Or, start small and just try your hand at a cafe.
Imeson, A. (Ed.). (2011). Food stabilisers, thickeners and gelling agents. John Wiley & Sons.
Vanga, S. K., & Raghavan, V. (2018). How well do plant based alternatives fare nutritionally compared to cow’s milk?. Journal of food science and technology, 55(1), 10-20.
Pehowich, D. J., Gomes, A. V., & Barnes, J. A. (2000). Fatty acid composition and possible health effects of coconut constituents. West Indian Medical Journal, 49(2), 128-133.
Fritz, H., Seely, D., Flower, G., Skidmore, B., Fernandes, R., Vadeboncoeur, S., ... & Sabri, E. (2013). Soy, red clover, and isoflavones and breast cancer: a systematic review. PloS one, 8(11), e81968.
Bridges, M. (2018). Moo-ove Over, Cow’s Milk: The Rise of Plant-Based Dairy Alternatives. Practical Gastroenterology, 21.