Milk is, undeniably, a refrigerator staple. We cook with it, drink it straight from the carton and we, of course, pour it over our cereal in the morning. If it’s not on your grocery list this week, there’s a good chance it will be next week or the week after. But you may have noticed that there are several milk alternatives out there. Some stores have entire sections devoted to them. There are so many that it can be tough to know which ones are right for you and which ones are not as good for you as others.
“A fairly high percentage of the population is lactose intolerant, which is why there are so many milk alternatives out there,” said Blount Memorial Hospital registered dietitian Heather Pierce. “Some people are just looking for alternatives with fewer carbohydrates or less fat than traditional milk. Whatever the reason, if you’re shopping for a milk alternative, it’s important to do your homework, as there are some options that are better for you than others,” she said.
“A cup of milk contains about 120 calories, 8 grams of protein and 12 grams of carbohydrate, which is a pretty good baseline for comparing your alternatives,” Pierce continued. “Cashew milk, for instance, has been around for a few years, and is pretty low on calories by comparison with just 25 calories per cup. It’s also lower in carbohydrates, has no saturated fat and has a decent amount of vitamin E. It’s a good alternative to almond milk, too, if you don’t enjoy the taste of that,” she explained. “On the ‘con’ side, with cashew milk, you lose the protein you would typically find in traditional milk,” she added.
Similarly, coconut milk can be a good alternative for people looking to reduce the number of calories found in traditional milk. “Coconut milk is a little bit higher in saturated fat than cashew milk, but it’s still low on calories and carbs,” Pierce said. “Part of the key with these milk alternatives is to look for the word ‘unsweetened,’ particularly if you’re using them as a way to cut carbs. The sweetened versions of many alternatives carry almost as many carbohydrates as traditional milk,” she explained. “Flax milk, too, has fewer carbs, fewer calories and zero saturated fat than traditional milk, plus it also is high in omega-3s. As with cashew milk, though, flax milk has no protein,” she added.
“At about 19 grams of carbohydrate, oat milk actually is higher in carbs than many traditional types of milk,” Pierce continued. “The upside, though, is that oat milk has about 2 grams of fiber, which can be helpful if you’ve been looking for ways to add more fiber to your diet. It’s around 90 calories per cup, and has zero saturated fat, as well,” she said.
Finally, Pierce says, there’s always goat milk, which does contain lactose, but less than you’ll find in traditional milk. “Goat milk is pretty similar to regular cow’s milk, actually,” she said. “It has higher calories than most milk alternatives with around 140 calories per 8 ounces, and it’s high in saturated fat, as well. However, it’s also high in protein, which can be helpful if you’re just trying to reduce the amount of lactose you’re getting, and not eliminate lactose altogether,” she explained.
“There are several milk alternatives out there, so it’s important to find one that you enjoy and one works for you,” Pierce said. “With so many of them coming up short in the protein department, though, you may want to consider a protein supplement if you are committing to one that’s lower in protein,” she added.