Contrary to what you might have heard, you don’t really need dairy to strengthen your bones and enhance health. In fact, there are so many options that are similar or even better to cow’s milk. It can actually be overwhelming to walk into a grocery store and see all the vegan milk options, so what is the best vegan milk?
Different studies on dairy have confirmed that consuming dairy can lead to health issues, including digestive problems due to lactulose intolerance, increased risk for ovarian, breast, and prostate cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.1, 2, 3,
These findings have led to various plant milk flooding the market and more people moving to plant-based alternatives made from nuts, legumes, and even hemp. But not all these non-dairy varieties are as nutritious as you may think.
What Is the Best Vegan Milk?
Some plant-based kinds of milk contain similar nutrients to dairy milk, such as vitamin D and calcium, and some have different nutrients. Some just taste good and are very low-calorie.
Even personally, I find myself with multiple milk options for different purposes, such as cooking vs baking vs drinking. Also, my husband, daughter, and I all have different favorites, so sometimes we are simultaneously drinking three different types. Within the world of plant-based milk, the sky is the limit!
There’s always an overwhelming range of options, from almond, rice, soy, oats, cashew, and even pea milk. This may leave you wondering and even confused at what plant-based milk is best for you.
This article will help you clear things up in making the right choice on the best non-dairy milk to consume.
1. Almond milk
Almond milk is simply made by mixing ground almonds with water.
It has higher levels of calcium than other plant-derived milk but low in protein and calories.
It’s also high in nutrients such as zinc, iron, potassium, manganese, vitamin E, and fiber.
Almond milk is the top-selling alternative in the US, but there is only about 2 percent of the almonds in the milk. The rest is water, oils, gums, and emulsifiers. So when you pour a cup of almond milk, there are only like seven or eight almonds in that one cup.
I recommend going for organic milk options, as almond trees are usually heavily sprayed with roundup weed killer at the base of the tree. This is to kill any grass or weed so that when they shake the trees and almonds fall, picking them becomes easier. They sprayed pesticides leach into the tree, including the almonds.
Also, when you buy almond milk, always go for unsweetened versions as sweetened ones contain up to 16 grams (4 tablespoons) of sugar per serving. You can then add sweeteners to taste if you choose, and you could use sweeteners such as stevia or monk fruit.
2. Soy milk
Soy is the most comparable to dairy, with glass providing 7 grams of protein and 220 milligrams of calcium.
It is low in cholesterol and contains isoflavones, antioxidants that may have anti-cancer effects and prevent inflammation in the body.
It also contains nutrients, including riboflavin, vitamin A and D, magnesium, potassium, sodium, phosphorus, and iron.
Unfortunately, most soy is GMO, so you may want to go for organic.
In addition, nutrients in soy milk may differ from brand to brand, as they may have added salt, sugar, or preservatives.
So remember to go through the ingredients carefully to find a brand suitable for you.
3. Oat milk
Oat milk is quickly becoming the most popular plant-based milk. It has rocketed to popularity, and in the last year or two has become a popular choice for plant-based creamers, vegan ice creams, and vegan yogurt.
It is perfectly creamy, with a pleasantly neutral flavor with a touch of sweetness.
What’s important for oat milk is to buy organic because some oats are highly sprayed with pesticides.
Oat milk is high in carbohydrates with up to 16 grams of carbs, so this may not be the best option if on a low-carb diet.
It’s also high in sugar (almost 7 grams per cup), low in protein but highly fortified with calcium.
4. Rice milk
Next to soy and almond milk, rice milk is another plant-based milk alternative. The best hypoallergenic option, especially for those individuals with soy and nut allergies.
It’s high in B vitamins and low in cholesterol and saturated fat. It’s also a great source of magnesium, copper, and iron.
Rice milk also contains selenium and manganese. They are powerful antioxidants that can give you an immune boost.
However, rice milk is low in calcium, unless you buy a fortified version where a calcium supplement is added. Homemade rice milk contains about 20 milligrams of calcium which caters for only 1% of your daily requirements, while fortified store-bought may contain 20%-30% of your daily requirement.
Since rice milk is always sweet, from the natural carbohydrates in rice, it may not be an excellent alternative for someone with diabetes.
A cup of rice milk may contain up to 33 grams of carbohydrates which is 3-4 times the amount found in soy milk.
Another downfall of rice milk is its low levels of protein, with less than 2 grams per serving.
So if you still want to enjoy rice milk, make sure you supplement your protein and calcium with other foods.
5. Pea protein milk
Pea protein milk is low in saturated fats and a protein bomb with 10 grams of protein per serving.
It has 50% more calcium than other plant-based alternatives.
However, pea milk contains sunflower oil for its smooth and creamy texture. Sunflower oil is highly inflammatory when consumed in excess due to its high omega-6 fatty acids.
Some brands have gone a step further to include omega-3 fatty acids to balance the two, so I’d recommend looking out for versions like this.
I love pea protein milk for workout smoothies, since it is a powerhouse on its own, never mind any other ingredients.
6. Coconut milk
If you enjoy whole milk or cream, coconut milk is for you.
It’s naturally creamy and sweet.
Coconut milk is high in calories, with 93% of its calories coming from saturated fat, including medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs).
A cup of coconut milk provides up to 20% of the day’s saturated fat intake. It’s also a good source of potassium, and it’s often fortified with other important vitamins.
Always go for unsweetened options to help control your calorie and carbohydrate content.
In my opinion, coconut milk has the most distinct flavor, which most people either strongly love or hate. It’s no surprise that as a Jamaican, coconut milk is my daughter and I’s favorite for drinking and desserts. Also, I add it to most of my curries.
Coconut milk is also the preferred choice for plant-based creamers, vegan heavy cream, vegan whipped cream, and anything else that requires a creamy decadent base.
7. Cashew milk
Cashew milk is made by blending water-soaked cashews and water. It’s an excellent source of antioxidants, fiber, magnesium, and copper.
It’s subtle and smooth in texture which makes it suitable for coffee, pudding, and cereal.
And just like almond and rice milk, cashew milk is low in protein. You may have to incorporate other protein sources into your diet to ensure your needs are being met.
Cashew milk is an excellent alternative for anyone allergic to soy.
It has a neutral flavor, but isn’t very watery, making it one of my daughter’s favorites for drinks and cooking that requires a neutral flavor base.
8. Hemp milk
Hemp milk is creamy with a nutty flavor.
It is a good source of protein and rich in omega 3 fatty acids and ten essential amino acids.
Its mild flavor makes it a suitable baking and cooking alternative to try.
However, hemp milk is costly, and unless fortified, it’s deficient in calcium.
Ditching dairy is a great decision, but if you opt for plant-based alternatives, it’s good to understand that all plant-based milk is not created equal. Some may be healthier than others in terms of nutrients but also in processing.
To enjoy the benefits, always choose organic, read your labels carefully, and avoid sweetened versions or those containing unnecessary or excessive amounts of unhealthy ingredients. And if you can, the absolute best version will be what you prepare at home.
Other Vegan Milks To Try
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