Shopping for milk just got a whole lot more complicated. It used to be that the only thing to decide was whether to buy no-fat, low-fat, two percent or whole. But there are plenty of milk alternatives available these days for folks who can’t stomach cow’s milk or who want to take advantage of the unique benefits these beverages offer.
But how do these new-school milks measure up to the traditional chocolate-chip cookie chaser? The truth is that few of them match milk nutrient-for-nutrient. While cow’s milk is a significant source of protein, calcium and vitamins D, A and riboflavin, some alternatives have added calcium and vitamin D, but not much else. If you want your milk alternative to substitute for cow’s milk, make sure it has at least 6 grams of protein per one cup serving, and about 25 percent of the RDA for vitamin D and calcium.
Check out this guide to milk alternatives before your next visit to the dairy aisle.
Soy milk: The most popular milk alternative, and the only one that comes near to cow’s milk in protein, with 6 to 7 grams per cup (milk has 8 grams per cup). One cup of plain soy milk has 100 calories and 4 grams of fat (0.5 saturated). Made from soy beans and water, soy milk—unsurprisingly—tastes beany, which is why flavored, sweetened soy milk is more popular than plain. Made from genetically modified (GMO) soybeans unless specifically states that it is not. Contains phytoestrogens, which some experts believe should be limited in children.
Almond milk: Made from soaked, raw, ground almonds and water. Good choice for people with milk or soy allergies. Has a sweet, pleasant, nutty taste and thin texture, but only one gram of protein per cup. With only 60 calories per cup and 2.5 grams of fat (0 grams of saturated fat), plain almond milk is a good choice when fat and calories are important.
Rice milk: Made with white or brown rice and water. Thin, sweet, bland, extremely low-allergenic. Offers 1 gram of protein and 120 calories per cup of plain rice drink. Higher in carbohydrates and lower in fat than other milks. In addition to calcium and vitamin D, Rice Dream brand is fortified with iron, B12 and vitamin A.
Hemp milk: A newcomer to the milk substitute line, hemp milk is made from hemp seeds, which have high-quality protein (5 grams per cup) and essential omega 3-and 6- fatty acids (7 grams per cup.) Hemp milk is extremely low-allergenic, so it’s good for people with milk, soy or nut allergies. It has a nutty taste. Note: Don’t count on a mind-altering experience. It contains no THC, the substance that creates the marijuana high.
Coconut milk:The saturated fats in coconut milk may have some immune-stimulating and GI-tract nourishing properties. It is sweet, nutty and filling, and less processed than other milk alternatives, with 1 gram of protein, 5 grams of saturated fat, 10 grams of carbohydrates and 80 calories per one cup serving of plain coconut milk.