Which Non-Dairy Milk is Right For You?

From almond to hemp to rice, milk has come a long way.


The variety of non-dairy milks at Whole Foods. Photo by Jamie Ducharme

Take a look at the shelves of your local grocery store and it seems like there are more non-dairy milks than ever before. There’s an entire shelf of coconut milk at Whole Foods; Starbucks patrons order soy lattes en masse; and Trader Joe’s can’t stock enough almond milk. If you’re vegan or have lactose intolerance or sensitivity, making the switch is a no-brainer. But for those of us in the “Got Milk” generation, a world beyond dairy can be confusing.

Elizabeth Jarrard, a Boston-based registered dietitian, says even those who have no problem digesting lactose may be better off with non-dairy options. “If you have a whey or casein allergy, then it is best to avoid dairy,” she says. “If you are counting calories, many non-dairy milks provide great flavor for fewer calories than cow’s milk.” Plus, Jarrard points out that there’s nothing to lose by cutting out traditional milk. “There aren’t any nutrients or health benefits that are exclusive to dairy milk,” she says. “It’s just important to make sure the non-dairy milk you are drinking is fortified and is not sweetened with simple sugars.”

Nutritional values aside, venturing into the non-dairy section at the supermarket can leave a shopper overwhelmed by choice, so we asked Jarrard to break down the options:

Soy milk
Calories per cup: 80
Fat: 4 grams

Alhough you may have heard reports about the negative impact soy can have on your health, especially for men, Jarrard says consumers must simply be careful to choose organic and non-GMO varieties, like Silk. “It has the highest protein of any non-dairy milk,” she adds.

Almond milk
Calories per cup: 30
Fat: 2.5 grams

Made from ground almonds blended with filtered water and vitamins, “almond milk is the lowest calorie [option] and has a smooth, creamy taste,” Jarrard says. “I personally love almond milk and coconut milk.”

Coconut milk
Calories per cup: 45
Fat: 4.5 grams

Though Jarrard says she’s partial to coconut milk—which is made using liquid found in the pulp of the fruit—she adds that it is higher in saturated fat than many non-dairy counterparts. “But, it contains Medium Chain Triglycerides which your body burns like a carbohydrate for energy,” she says.

Rice milk
Calories per cup: 120
Fat: 2 grams

Jarrard admits that rice milk, which is made by running brown rice through a mill stream and filtering out the grain, can taste a bit “watery,” but she says it’s great for people with lots of allergies. But watch out carb-a-phobes, rice milk has nearly three times the carbohydrates of dairy milk.

Hemp milk
Calories per cup: 70
Fat: 6 grams

Yes, you read that right, and no, it’s not just for hippies. Made from shelled hemp seeds, Jarrard says the milk “has some omega-3s which are anti-inflammatory and support healthy hair, skin, and nails.” It also provides plenty of calcium, vitamins B12 and D, riboflavin, and phosphorus.

Flax milk
Calories per cup: 50
Fat: 2.5 grams

Flax milk is one of the newer non-dairy options to hit shelves, which Jarrard says makes it difficult to find unsweetened versions. Nonetheless, like all flax products, it is a good source of omega-3s and vitamins A, D, and B12.