Nutrition

Your Comprehensive Nutrition Guide to Dairy and Non-Dairy Milk

From oat to rice—your options in the milk aisle nowadays span way more than just fat free and two percent.


milk

Photo via iStockphoto.com/vaaseenaa

There’s no doubt that milk is one of the most traditional beverages—our parents gave us a glass with dinner every night, we pour a healthy amount on our Cheerios, and we can always count on it to pair perfectly with a cookie—but the type of milk we consume has changed drastically in the past couple of years.

It’s no longer just dairy milk—in fact, it feels like just about anything these days can be turned into milk. Made out of everything from nuts to grains, new types of non-dairy milks are popping up everyday.

Whether you make your own milk or just can’t decide what to choose on your weekly grocery run, we compiled this comprehensive list of milks and their corresponding nutritional information which was taken from Silk, Lactaid, and other dairy milk substitute brands, so that you know exactly what you’re getting in each one.

Dairy Milks

Dairy milk is the most nutritionally dense out of all milks. An eight ounce glass of milk contains eight grams of protein, 300 mg of calcium, vitamin B12, and potassium. It’s also fortified with vitamin D to help boost calcium absorption.

As for whether you should consume fat-free (83 calories per cup) or whole fat milk (146 calories per cup), the research is constantly changing. In the past, people were encouraged to consume low-fat or fat-free dairy products because of the high levels of fat and cholesterol, especially if you already have existing cardiovascular problems. However, recent studies have shown that full-fat dairy products can induce a neutral or even positive effect on cardiovascular health, and also may help absorb more nutrients. Full fat dairy has also been linked to lower levels of obesity and diabetes.

Lactose-Free Milk 

If you have a lactose sensitivity, this is a good first option. Those who can’t tolerate dairy lack the digestive enzyme (lactase) to break down the sugar in milk.

Lactose-free milk is technically just milk, and has the same nutritional information, except that the enzyme lactase is added. The addition of lactase helps those who can’t drink milk normally digest it without any problems.

Almond Milk

One of the most popular milks in recent years, almond milk contains about 60 calories per cup and 2.5 grams of fat. Keep in mind though, that almond milk has little to no protein in a cup (often less than one gram of protein). If you’re looking to be as health-conscious as possible, you should always choose unsweetened non-dairy milks.

Carrageenan is a controversial ingredient used in a lot of brands of almond milk. Some scientists believe that this red seaweed extract, while natural, is actually toxic for the digestive system and may be responsible for IBS, colitis, and even colon cancer. If you choose to avoid carrageenan, just double check the ingredients list on your brand of choice.

Cashew Milk

Cashew milk is nutritionally very similar to almond milk, containing 25 calories, 2 grams of fat, and 25 calories in one cup.

The biggest difference between almond and cashew milk is the taste. Cashew milk is made by blending cashews with water, whereas almond milk is almond blended with water and then strained. Because of this, cashew milk is a little bit creamier than almond milk.

Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is made using liquid found in the pulp of the fruit and contains about 70 calories, 4.5 grams of fat, and no protein in one cup.

While coconut milk contains more saturated fat than other non-dairy milks, it also contains Medium Chain Triglycerides (a type of fatty acid), which your body can use for energy. If you’re buying canned coconut milk, be aware that the “light” version just has more water added to it.

Soy Milk

Soy milk has the highest protein content (8 grams per cup) of the non-dairy milks and contains 110 calories and 4.5 grams of fat per cup for the original flavor.

Some things to be aware of: soy milk also contains oligosaccharides, which is another type of sugar that people may have trouble digesting. In recent years, soy has also become controversial because it contains estrogen-like compounds, which leads to concern about increased cancer risk. Research has not indicated a strong link between the two, but if you decide to consume soy milk, always opt for organic and non-GMO varieties.

Hemp Milk

Don’t worry—although hemp is derived from the cannabis sativa plant, it will not get you high. Hemp milk contains no THC and is made from shelled hemp seeds blended with water.

Hemp milk contains 60 calories, 4.5 grams of fat, and about 3 grams of protein per cup and is rich in omega-3s to help support hair, skin, and nails. It’s also full of other vitamins and minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, and vitamins B12 and D.

Rice Milk

Rice milk, a great alternative for those with nut and dairy allergies, contains 120 calories, 2 grams of fat, and about 1 gram of protein per cup. This milk is made by running brown rice through a mill stream and filtering out the grain.

If you’re trying to cut carbohydrates, this milk may not be the best choice because it contains about three times the amount of carbs as dairy milk.

Oat Milk

This trendy new milk is made by blending oats with water and straining the mixture. If you have Celiac’s or a gluten-sensitivity, be extra careful to look for versions that are certified gluten-free.

One cup of oat milk contains 130 calories, 2.5 grams of fat, and about 4 grams of protein, which is the highest protein content among the non-dairy milks. It also contains the most fiber out of all the milks, about 2 grams total.

Sesame Milk

The next up and coming non-dairy milk, sesame milk, is just beginning to hit shelves. The protein content varies depending on if you’re using store-bought (which often includes protein from other sources) or making your own. Generally speaking, the Hope & Sesame brand, which launched the first sesame milk, contains 120 calories, 8 grams of protein, and 5 grams of fat.

The milk also contains high levels of magnesium, healthy fats, and vitamin E. As always, be on the lookout for versions with little to no added sugar.

**Nutrition information is dependent on what brand, flavor, and type of milk you purchase. All nutrition information is representative of original flavors.**