Dairy Alternatives

June 30, 2012
Jessica

Jessica, Registered Dietitian

With all of the promotions and talk of dairy products during the month of June for Dairy Month, you may be feeling left out if you do not tolerate dairy or if you follow a vegan diet.  It’s true that milk is a nutrition powerhouse, with high amounts of protein, calcium, and potassium, as well as other important vitamins and minerals.  But there are a variety of nutritious non-dairy options available.  I was actually shocked at the variety as I checked out all of the products we now carry!  Below is a guide to non-dairy alternatives (compared to fat free or low-fat (1%) milk).

Soy Milk

Soy milk is the most common dairy alternative and the most similar nutritionally to milk.  There are many brands available and it comes in unsweetened, vanilla, chocolate, and regular.  Soy milk has a creamy texture similar to dairy milk, and the flavor is somewhat neutral.

Pros

  • Similar protein content to milk (6-7 grams for soy milk vs. 8 grams per cup for milk)
  • Similar in calories to milk (can be slightly higher if not unsweetened)
  • Enriched soy milk is usually higher in calcium and iron than regular milk and similar in vitamin D
  • Contains some fiber (dairy does not contain any fiber)

Cons

  • Often contains added sugar (look for unsweetened soy milk)
  • Un-enriched soy milk is lacking in important vitamins and minerals, like calcium and vitamins A and D

Almond Milk

Almond milk has grown in popularity and is available in different flavors.  It has a great creamy texture and nutty flavor (tastes like almonds, believe it or not!)

Pros

  • Low in calories—one cup of unsweetened almond milk only has 40 calories!
  • Great source of vitamin E, an antioxidant nutrient

Cons

  • Low in protein (only 1 gram per cup)
    • So Delicious makes an Almond+Plus milk that has 5 grams of protein per cup
  • Lower potassium than milk
  • Make sure you choose an almond milk that supplies at least 30% of your daily value for calcium

Rice Milk

Pros

  • Enriched varieties offered (make sure to choose a rice milk with at least 30% daily value for calcium)

Cons

  • Low in protein (less than 1 gram per cup)
  • Often contains added sugar, so choose an unsweetened rice milk

Coconut Milk

Pros

  • Enriched varieties offered (make sure to choose a coconut milk with at least 30% daily value for calcium, some only have 10%)

Cons

  • No protein
  • High in saturated fat

Hemp Milk

Pros

  • Naturally contains omega-3 fatty acids (as ALA, not the more beneficial EPA and DHA found in fish)
  • Enriched varieties offered

Cons

  • Very distinctive taste!  I personally did not enjoy the nutty flavor.
  • Low in protein compared to milk (only 2 grams per cup)

Sunflower Milk

This was a new one for me!  Of course I was curious, so I had to try it.  It’s not my favorite, I’ll leave it at that!  But if you like the strong flavor of Hemp Milk, it’s worth a try.

Pros

  • Enriched with calcium and vitamin D
  • Similar potassium to milk
  • Unsweetened sunflower milk is low in calories (only 45 calories per cup)

Cons

  • Low in protein (only 1 gram per cup)
  • Very distinctive taste!