Milk substitutes are everywhere these days. You may choose between multiple brands of soy milk in the dairy aisle of your grocery store or notice an oat milk latte on the menu at your local coffee shop. These dairy-free products can be a great part of a healthy diet for people who can’t or don’t want to drink cow’s milk.
Which Milk Alternatives Are Best?
Many dairy-free products can be part of a healthy diet. Each type of milk alternative may offer different benefits, and the choice that works best for you may depend on your goals.
Furthermore, you should compare different brands of the same type of product to compare their characteristics. For example, one type of non-milk substitute may contain different amounts of sugar, protein, added nutrients, oils or chemical additives depending on the brand and the particular product in their offering. Always check the product’s nutrition label to learn more.
One of the big advantages of soy milk is that it contains more protein than most other non-dairy alternatives. The higher the protein content of a meal, the more full you’re likely to feel. Choosing soy milk at breakfast time, for example, could help you reach lunch without needing a morning snack.
Soy milk also contains other valuable nutrients, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats —healthy fats that support heart health and help keep your blood sugar levels under control. It also has a lot of calcium and is often fortified with vitamin D and vitamin B12. Studies have found that soy milk can lower blood pressure levels and reduce inflammation throughout the body due to its antioxidant content.
Soy milk is easy to cook with, allowing you to use it as a cow’s milk replacement in recipes.
On the other hand, soy milk can contain nearly as many calories as cow’s milk, especially if you go for sweetened options.
Almond milk doesn’t contain much protein, but it does tend to be a lower-calorie nondairy option, making it a good choice for those who are trying to slim down.
This option contains even more calcium than cow’s milk, which helps support bone health, especially as you get older. Including almonds in your diet can also have multiple positive health effects, including reduced blood pressure and better gut health.
Almond milk generally doesn’t taste like much, making it easy to add to recipes, cereal, or coffee without leading to big flavor changes.
Of course, this substitute may not be a good choice for you if you have nut allergies.
Unsweetened oat milk can be a fairly low-calorie option, although sweetened oat milk products may contain a lot of calories and sugar. Oat milk generally also contains a lot of carbohydrates.
This milk alternative has a lot of bone-strengthening calcium and often added nutrients like vitamin B2 and vitamin D. Its fiber content may also make you feel more full and reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Oat milk has a creamy texture and foams up nicely, making it a great choice for baking as well as your morning latte.
Oats contain beta-glucans, which can cause gastrointestinal symptoms like bloating, cramping, or diarrhea for some people.
If you’re looking to cut calories, coconut milk generally contains one of the lowest calorie counts available when it comes to milk substitutes. It also doesn’t contain any carbohydrates (as long as you go for an unsweetened variety), making it a good choice for people following low-carb diets or watching blood sugar levels.
However, one cup of coconut milk contains about 4 grams of saturated fat — about the same amount you’d find in a cup of whole milk. While a little saturated fat is okay, including too much in your diet makes you more likely to gain weight as well as experience a heart attack or stroke.
Some brands of coconut milk come with a strong coconut flavor. While this might taste great in a morning smoothie, it could make a savory dish taste odd if you’re using it for cooking.
Is Regular Milk Bad for You?
For many people, there’s no harm in drinking cow’s milk. It’s a good source of protein and contains a lot of helpful vitamins such as calcium, B vitamins, and phosphorus, although it does also provide several grams of saturated fat.
However, some people feel better when they stay away from dairy products. Over one-third of people in the U.S. may be lactose intolerant — their bodies can’t fully break down the sugar in milk, leading to digestive problems like bloating, gas, and diarrhea.
Some people may also avoid cow’s milk because they have an allergy or a condition like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that’s aggravated by dairy. Other folks, including vegans, use milk alternatives because of ethical or environmental concerns (after all, it takes more than 12 times more land to produce cow’s milk than it does to make an equivalent amount of soy milk).
Ultimately, there’s no right or wrong choice when it comes to various dairy or dairy-free options. What works best for you is based on your needs and values.