The Best Milk Alternatives to Pour in Your Coffee, Cereal, and Smoothies, According to a Dietitian
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Plant-based alternatives to cow’s milk have been a thing for a while now, and the benefit of this trend is that there’s something for everyone. Whether you’re lactose-free, vegan, or allergic to tree nuts, soy, or coconut, grocery stores in 2019 definitely have something to suit your needs. But how are you supposed to navigate the growing non-dairy aisle? And are these milk alternatives any healthier than cow’s milk?
When it comes to nutrients, commercially available versions of nut, seed, and legume-based milks contain varying amounts of protein and fiber (usually 1-4g each per 1-cup serving) since they’re made by blending the predominant ingredient with water. They can contain around 100 calories or less depending on the ratio.
Consuming fewer calories can be a good thing if you’re guzzling iced coffee with unsweetened almond milk all day, but may be less desirable if you’re looking for a nutritious addition to your morning bowl of steel-cut oats. Many of these alternative milks also cost more than dairy milk, but they may be worth the spend depending on how often and where you’re using them.
As a registered dietitian, my main piece of advice is this: Don’t be swayed by trendy marketing claims on packaging. Depending on the brand and type, these milk substitutes can be sneaky sources of added sugar, so it’s crucial to check labels before you swap out a dairy-based option for a plant-based one. Here’s everything else you should be scanning the label for.
What to Look for in Alternative Milks
• At least 7-8g protein per serving
• As few ingredients as possible
• The word “unsweetened” and “0g added sugar”
• Limited saturated fat (especially in ones made with coconut or added protein)
• Less than 140mg of sodium per cup
• Fortification with calcium and vitamin D
• Nutrients you’re personally concerned about (like the omega-3’s)
The best milk alternatives are typically unsweetened soy or pea-based blends (yep, you read that right!) that are fortified with calcium and vitamin D. These two nutrients are better absorbed when consumed together and are beneficial for strong bones, hormone regulation, and general immunity — especially for your little ones. If you’re adhering to a vegan diet, you’ll want to look for blends that have vitamin B12, vitamin A, and DHA/EPA omega-3’s, as well. Be sure to skip “barista blend” milk alternatives. They’re better for frothing but often come with loads of added sugar. Instead, spice up a hot beverage with vanilla, clove, or a cinnamon stick.
Keep reading to get the low-down on the best plant-based milks you can buy (and order):