Your Guide to Milk Alternatives

Dark Chocolate AlmondmilkIf you asked me when I was little where milk came from my only answer would be “a cow.” Now it seems there are a million answers to that question! Cow, goat, almond, coconut, hazelnut, soy, rice, hemp, multigrain, oat, even potato! With so many options, it gets a little confusing to decide which is the optimal choice. How do each of these milk alternatives compare nutritionally to cow’s milk? Why you might choose a milk product not made from a cow? I’ll lay out the information needed to make the best decision for you and compare the more popular milk alternatives.

Lactose intolerance
This happens when the body doesn’t make enough of the enzyme lactase that helps break down the naturally-occurring sugar in milk, lactose. This leads to bloating, cramping, diarrhea or gas soon after drinking milk.


AllergiesVanilla Soymilk
An allergy is different from an intolerance in that an allergy causes an immune response. The two types of protein sources in cow’s milk that cause allergic reactions are casein (found in the solid part of milk that curdles) and whey (the liquid part of milk that remains after milk curdles). Symptoms can occur within minutes or hours of consuming milk because the body perceives the protein as a foreign invader. These symptoms may include wheezing, vomiting, hives and digestive problems. Rarely, milk allergy can cause a severe, life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis.

Vegan diet

Dairy comes from cows, honey comes from bees, eggs come from birds, etc. A vegan diet omits all products that come from an animal and would therefore use a plant-based source of milk.

Taste preference

Some people prefer the taste of one type of milk over another. For example, I particularly think almond milk adds a unique flavor when I use it to make muesli (oats, dried fruit, nuts, cinnamon, etc. soaked overnight with milk).

A few points to consider when determining which milk source to choose:

Cow’s milk: 8 grams of protein
Soy milk: 5-10 grams of protein
Almond milk: 1 gram of protein
Rice milk: 0.28 grams to 1 gram

Cow’s milk: 30% Daily Value
Soy milk: 4-30% Daily Value
Almond milk: 20-45% Daily Value
Rice milk: 2-25% Daily Value

(per cup/ 8 fluid ounces)
Plain Cow’s milk:
80 (skim), 100 (1%), 120 (2%) 150 (whole)
Plain Soy milk:
Plain Almond milk:
Plain Rice milk:

Keep in mind that the sweetened versions of milk (chocolate, vanilla, etc) contain more calories and grams of sugar compared to the plain version. Aside from nutritional content, the flavor does play a big role in the choice. I’ve only tried the four compared above and I think the plain versions are pretty nasty. There are unsweetened flavored options

What milk alternatives have you tried? Which did you like or dislike and why?

P.S. I’m not personally endorsing the Silk brand; I simply used the pictures to give examples. Pick whichever brand floats your boat.

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Author: budgetforhealth

Jessica is a Registered Dietitian and shares practical, useful tips on food, fitness and finance. Be sure to subscribe to her blog, Budget for Health!

7 thoughts on “Your Guide to Milk Alternatives”

  1. Thanks for mentioning that it can be whey that causes reactions! That’s me and so many people get a confused look when I say it’s not lactose, it’s something in the liquid part.
    It took me a long time to get used to the taste of soy. It is much easier to access milk alternatives now than it used to be, especially in terms of cost. I like soy in coffee, it’s one of the only ones that works and changes the taste the same sort of way milk does. Rice and almond are like adding water to coffee. I used to like rice the most, now almond, especially as the cost has come down. Chocolate hemp is definitely my fav, but is harder to find and very expensive. Last I recall it was $6 for one of those 1L tetra boxes, like juice can come in. SoNice is my fav brand of soy.
    PS- you should mention that fortified soy is one of the easiest ways for vegetarians to get B12.
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    1. I’ve never tried raw milk before, ill be sure to check out your review of it. Are you just trying it for taste or are you considering making the switch to raw? In my opinion it’s very expensive and isn’t nutritionally superior than pasteurized milk.

    1. I’ve never heard of Pearl Brand. I’d compare milk alternatives with milk like I compare burgers with veggie burgers. They cannot be compared side by side but should be compared as a separate type of food. For example: Boca burgers are good. Beef burgers are good. Boca burgers do NOT taste like beef burgers, but they are still good.

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