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Milk Alternatives

Posted on 07/1/2014

Hi, I’m Rene Ficek, the lead registered dietitian for Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating. I wanted to help our clients understand more about the different types of milk and dairy alternatives. So, I compiled this list and thought our blog was the perfect place to share it!

I hope you find it informative, especially if you are unable to consume the 2 or 3 glasses of fat-free (skim) milk with your SSHE meals, depending on your plan. This will allow you to learn about the different choices you can substitute, if you have an intolerance or allergy to milk.

Dairy milk or cow’s milk has been a healthy and popular choice for several reasons. Dairy milk offers a good amount of protein, calcium, and vitamin D. Not all alternative milk choices offer these nutrients, but many do. What to look for in alternative milk:

  • Higher levels of protein
  • Low or no added sugars
  • Added (fortified) vitamins and minerals that you would find in cow’s milk, like 30 percent of DV of calcium and 25 percent of DV of vitamin D 

With the prices of dairy always on the rise, it appears that soy milk may be a cheaper alternative – depending on where you reside and shop. Several other milks will be comparable in price, but prices differ significantly based on product, geographical location, brand and store.

Soymilk : Soymilk has been the most popular dairy alternative for decades because its nutrition profile closely resembles that of cow’s milk. Most brands have calcium and vitamin D fortified into the milk, but some brands do not so be sure to look at the nutrition label to find calcium and vitamin D values. Soymilk comes in flavored varieties such as vanilla, and also comes in lighter and lower calories versions similar to cow’s milk.

Almond Milk : Almond milk is a great alternative when you are looking to cut calories. This nut milk is made from almond base containing filtered water and ground almonds. The bad news about almond milk is that it contains very little protein—just 1 gram per cup. Though most varieties of almond milk are fortified with vitamins and other nutrients, there are others that don’t contain vitamin D or calcium. Almond milk is creamier and thicker than other alternatives since its calories are coming from healthy, unsaturated fats.

Rice Milk : Rice milk is a nice option when you want something with a neutral flavor. Some feel that rice milk is not as creamy as other non-dairy milk alternatives. When fortified, it usually does contain the same amount of calcium and vitamin D as cow’s milk. This alternative also lacks protein, containing only 1 gram per cup.

Coconut Milk : This is one of the newest dairy alternatives out there. Coconut milk is a good alternative when you want something creamy and sweet. Though this milk offers 30 percent of DV of vitamin D and 50 percent of DV of vitamin B12, it contains little added calcium and just 1 gram of protein per cup. If you’re looking to reduce you saturated fat intake, keep in mind that coconut milk is the only non-dairy milk that contains as much saturated fat as whole cow’s milk.

Hemp Milk : Hemp milk is made from hemp nut base (filtered water and shelled hemp seeds) and contains a slew of healthy nutrients including calcium, vitamin D and a moderate amount of protein. As an added bonus, it contains omega-3 fatty acids. On the downside, hemp milk may be for some a taste that you need to get used to.

Here’s a chart of how they stack up nutritionally:

Type of Milk (1 cup)

Calories

Fat

Sat. Fat

Chol.

Protein

Carbs

Sugars

Whole cow's milk

150

8 g

5 g

35 mg

8 g

12 g

12 g

2% cow's milk

130

5 g

3 g

20 mg

8 g

13 g

12 g

1% cow's milk

110

2.5 g

1.5 g

15 mg

8 g

13 g

12 g

Skim cow's milk

90

0 g

0 g

<5 mg

8g

13 g

12 g

Soy, unsweetened

80-90

4-4.5 g

0.5 g

0 mg

7-9 g

4-5 g

1-2 g

Soy, plain/original

70-130

2-4 g

0-0.5 g

0 mg

5-8 g

8-16 g

6-9 g

Almond, unsweetened

30-50

2.5 g

0 g

0 mg

1 g

1-5 g

0-1 g

Almond, original

50-60

2.5 g

0 g

0 mg

1 g

6-8 g

5-6 g

Hemp, unsweetened

70

6 g

0.5 g

0 mg

2 g

1 g

0 g

Hemp, original

100-140

5-6 g

0.5 g

0 mg

2-4 g

8-20 g

6-14 g

Rice, plain

80-130

2-2.5 g

0 g

0 mg

1 g

16-27 g

8-14 g

Oat, original

110-130

1.5-2.5 g

0 g

0 mg

4 g

24 g

19 g

Hazelnut, original

110

3.5 g

0 g

0 mg

2 g

18 g

14 g

Coconut, unsweetened

50

5 g

5 g

0 mg

1 g

1 g

0 g

Coconut, original

80

5 g

5 g

0 mg

1 g

7 g

6 g

post-author

Rene Ficek, RDN, CDE

Grew up in the food industry and took that love of healthy eating to earn her degree in nutrition. She has worked as a registered dietitian for 6 years and has been with SSHE since 2013, providing nutrition analysis and meal planning. Her special interests in weight management and diabetes, helps patients manage their weight and health conditions. She enjoys an active lifestyle, as well as time in the kitchen. Rene’s favorite SSHE meal is the Thai Noodle Salad.

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