Ranking Milk Alternatives from Best to Worst
Would you like a good replacement for milk? From the healthiest milk alternatives to the unhealthiest, we compare the most popular options.
Soy milk is packed with protein, offering between seven to 12 grams per cup, depending on how it's made; some brands use whole soybeans and some use more protein-rich processed beans. In terms of calories and protein, soy is close to cow's milk, and soy milk has magnesium, potassium, and B vitamins.
Soy milk ranks at the top with the one caveat that comes with all things soy: the debate on how healthy soy is in general. The unsettled dispute among researchers hinges, in part, on the phytic acid in soybeans, which some say could lead to a host of negative health effects.
Nope, it isn't green like pea soup. Rather, pea milk is similar to soy with a high protein content—protein that's equal to cow's milk, though with fewer calories than both soy and cow's milk. Pea milk has healthy omega-3 fatty acids and 50% more calcium than cow's milk, with a creamy consistency and taste that's not far from its dairy counterpart. Though the taste of pea milk is somewhat neutral, certainly less flavorful than some nut milks.
While hemp plants are a cannabis species, you don't get any deleterious effects from the ground hemp seeds used to make hemp milk. Lots of folks like the buttery flavor of hemp milk, and it is a good source of calcium. It’s got omega-3, which helps to maintain low cholesterol and keep blood pressure under control, as well as phosphorus, which is good for healthy teeth and bones. Plus, hemp has protein and the healthy unsaturated fats omega-6 and omega-3. On the one downside, hemp milk doesn't have much calcium.
While it has less protein than soy milk, almond milk is rich in calcium: 50% more calcium than cow's milk. With almond milk, you also get vitamin E, which has antioxidant properties that promote healthy skin, blood, and brain. Add in magnesium, potassium, zinc, and fiber and you've got a healthy powerhouse! And almond milk scores points for taste. With a smooth nutty flavor, almond milk is enjoyed on its own and makes a nice accompaniment for coffee. The main downside of almond milk is that it’s relatively low in protein; cow's milk has eight times the protein of almond milk.
The unsaturated fats in cashew milk offer benefits for the heart and may have cancer-fighting properties. Plus, cashew milk has zeaxanthin and lutein, both of which help with eye health. Cashew milk has fiber, antioxidants, and magnesium. It's similar to almond milk in two ways: cashew milk is low in protein and has a nutty flavor some people like in their coffee. Though the cashew taste has something of a sour side, drawing both fans and critics of the unique flavor.
Slightly sweet with a nutty flavor that's not far from hemp milk, quinoa milk is a powerhouse with fiber, protein, and amino acids, plus zinc, magnesium, and iron. That's the good. The bad is that lots of quinoa milk out there has very little quinoa in it—they’re mostly water—so you get almost none of the benefits of quinoa with many brands. And quinoa milk, no matter the percentages, has very little protein.
While oats are a good source of fiber, lots of brands add lots of sugar, as well as oils and gums, which mitigate the health benefits of oat milk. Though oat milk does have soluble fiber, which has been shown to lower cholesterol levels. It's also got copper, folate, magnesium, thiamin, and zinc. As for flavor, oat milk comes close to cow's milk, making it a good option for cereal and coffee.
You don't have much protein in coconut milk, plus its saturated fats don't offer many health benefits. Canned coconut milk, intended for cooking, is often high in fat content. Some brands are fortified with nutrients, so they can have added vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, folate, copper, iron, potassium, and magnesium. But coconut milk on its own doesn’t have these benefits. The distinct coconut flavor isn't the greatest match for coffee, but those who like coconut do enjoy drinking coconut milk on its own.
It sounds healthy, but rice milk has very little nutritional value and very well could contain arsenic. Many brands are made using brown rice syrup, and also add sugar, giving most rice milk a rather unhealthy level of sugar compared to other dairy alternatives. Plus, rice milk is naturally high in carbs and calories. And even with that sugar, rice milk doesn't score high in the taste department, with a wheat-like flavor that's best described as bland.
From an array of choices for coffee to the best milk alternative for cereal, lots of great milk substitutes are out there and just waiting for you to switch from dairy.
Written by William McCleary for Knockaround.