Milk: How Non-Dairy Choices Stack Up

It wasn’t that long ago that a trip to the dairy section of your favorite grocery store was a snoozefest when it came to grabbing a carton of milk. Our choices were basically white or chocolate.


Things changed with a stampede of variations, including skim, 1%, 2% and lactose-free.


Now we’re faced with a herd of “milks” that don’t spawn from cows. We’re talking soy, almond and coconut. We’re led to believe these non-milk milks are healthier – if not costlier – choices.


But, are soy, almond and coconut milks really better for us than dairy milk?


Depends on who you ask.

The dairy folks, as expected, say that for milk lovers no moos is bad news.

“There’s just no substitute for milk. It’s naturally nutrient-rich like no other beverage,” proclaims the website.

“Check your ingredient labels. Real milk is remarkably simple — milk, typically with added vitamin A and D, so you always know what you get when you pour a glass. Other non-dairy milk options often have more than 10 ingredients, including added salt and sugar, and stabilizers and emulsifiers like locust bean gum, sunflower lecithin and gellan gum.

“… non-dairy milks, like almond milk, do not provide the same package of nine essential nutrients for the same price as dairy milk. At just about 25 cents per glass, milk offers more nutritional bang for your buck than just about any other beverage you can buy.”


Not everyone agrees. A quick graze of the internet shows plenty of proponents for non-dairy milks.

“All ‘milks’ are not created equal,” said registered dietitian Lise Gloede. “Nutritional differences are vast. Consider using a plant-based milk [like soy milk] if you have allergies [or a lactose intolerance], but keep in mind that your intake of potassium, protein, riboflavin will be less. These are important nutrients.”


Sales of non-dairy milk have surged by 61 percent since 2012.


According to a Men’s Health feature, “When you break down the nutrition facts, dairy-free milks have a hard time competing with traditional cow’s milk, mainly due to their difference in protein.”

In a comparison of 8-ounce servings of unsweetened soy milk, rice milk, coconut milk, and almond milk, the Journal of Food Science and Technology declared soy milk your best bet for non-dairy milks.

Soy milk packs in the most protein of the non-dairy choices, coming in at 8 grams for only 95 calories. Soy milk also contains isoflavones, a plant compound that’s been touted as a cancer fighter.”


If you’re someone who has gone nuts for almond milk, consider this:  Many brands of almond milk contain just three to four whole almonds in each 8-ounce serving.


It’s important to note that not all non-dairy milks have the same nutrients as the original, so always read the label.  


The pro-dairy crowd notes milk contains just three ingredients — milk and vitamins A and D.

“Dairy milk is a nutrient powerhouse, providing seven other essential nutrients, including calcium, vitamin D and potassium. These nutrients are three of the four nutrients many Americans – including children — fall short of in their diets as described by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” the website notes.


Like life itself, there appears to be pros and cons with your choice of milk. A sampling:


Almond Milk

Pros: Almond milk is low in calories (about 35 calories per average serving), has a great taste, and contains monounsaturated fatty acids, making it a great option if you’re looking to lose weight.

Cons: Almond milk contains very little protein, coming in at just 1 gram per serving.

almond milk benefits


Coconut Milk

Pros: Coconut milk tastes very sweet and offers very few calories at just 45 per average serving.

Cons: Coconut milk contains no protein and most of its calories come from fat.

coconut milk benefits


Rice Milk

Pros: Rice milk is a great option if you’re allergic to soy, dairy, or nuts and has a similar amount of calories compared to cow’s milk.

Cons: Rice milk contains just 1 gram of protein per serving and contains more sugar than cow’s milk.

rice milk benefits


High on hemp milk? You may be surprised that hemp milk has almost nothing to do with marijuana. It’s produced from the seeds of the hemp plant and has zero trace of the THC necessary for a pot-like psychoactive effect.



John McGran has been writing about health and weight loss for several national companies since 2000. He brings his knowledge of diets — and his passion for dropping pounds — to Meal Plan Map because he believes it is the future of smart, stress-free eating and improved health.


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