Choose Your Own Plant-Based Milk Adventure

With the ever-expanding plant-based milk options, find out which ones might be right for you.

By Emily Rhodes, MPH, RD, Food and Nutrition Writer, eSavvyHealth 

In a recent eSavvyHealth feature, we investigated almond milk—its production process, nutritional composition, and potential hazards due to additives. But almond milk has lots of company; as the dairy alternative market continues to grow, an abundance of options is available to consumers, each with a unique nutritional profile. Plant-based milks can do almost anything milk can do, from quenching thirst to incorporation into cereal/oatmeal, smoothies, baking, cooking, coffee and tea, desserts; they can even serve as a base for yogurts and cheese. And they carry the benefit of being lactose-free and suitable for those with dairy allergies.  

Today, we’ll compare five other milk alternatives—soy, oat, coconut, rice, and cashew milk—to empower you to make choices based on your own health needs and preferences. 

Almond Milk Recap 

First, let’s briefly revisit almond milk, which boasts a nutty flavor and is a popular choice for those seeking a dairy-free lifestyle who do not have allergies to nuts. However, consumers do need to be wary of additives that might be found in commercial varieties and may alter gut microbiota. Note that such additives are not unique to almond milk; the same careful inspection should be applied to labels of all plant-based milks. 

Almond Milk Nutritional Profile  

  • Protein: ~1g per cup 
  • Calories: ~30-60 per cup 
  • Fat: ~2-3g per cup

Whole Milk Nutritional Profile 

  • Protein: ~8g per cup 
  • Calories: ~150 per cup 
  • Fat: ~8g per cup 

Soy Milk

PROS CONS 
Rich in protein, comparable to cow’s milk Potential allergen 
Good source of healthy fats Contains phytoestrogens that some populations may want to avoid 
Contains essential amino acids Flavor may be an acquired taste for some 

Nutritional Profile 

  • Protein: ~7g per cup 
  • Calories: ~80-100 per cup 
  • Fat: ~4g per cup 

Oat Milk

PROS CONS 
High in fiber May not be suitable for those with gluten intolerance 
Creamy texture akin to dairy milk Lower protein content than soy or cow’s milk 
Good source of healthy fats Many contain refined oils high in omega-6’s 

Nutritional Profile 

  • Protein: ~3g per cup 
  • Calories: ~120-150 per cup 
  • Fat: ~5-7g per cup 

Coconut Milk

PROS CONS 
Rich in healthy fats Low protein content 
Creamy texture with a tropical flavor Distinctive flavor can be overpowering 

Nutritional Profile 

  • Protein: ~0.5g per cup 
  • Calories: ~50-60 per cup 
  • Fat: ~5g per cup 

Rice Milk

PROS CONS 
Hypoallergenic, suitable for those with nut or soy allergies Lower protein content 
Naturally sweet flavor Higher in carbohydrates and sugars 

Nutritional Profile 

  • Protein: ~1g per cup 
  • Calories: ~80-120 per cup 
  • Fat: ~2-3g per cup 

Cashew Milk

PROS CONS 
Creamy texture with a nutty flavor Lower in protein compared to soy or dairy milk 
Good source of healthy fats Potential allergen 
Contains vitamins and minerals 

Nutritional Profile 

  • Protein: ~3g per cup 
  • Calories: ~25-50 per cup 
  • Fat: ~2-4g per cup 

Each of these milk alternatives has distinct attributes. Your choice may hinge on factors such as culinary use, dietary goals, taste preferences, or specific health considerations. But whether you’re seeking protein richness, low carb, or unique flavors, look for foods with fewer ingredients (plant products and water only, please) and which do not have added sugar.  

Emily Rhodes, MPH, RD is a Registered Dietitian and Clinical Nutrition Manager at Keck Medicine of USC in Arcadia, CA. You can find her at the barn or in the grocery aisle reading a label.

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