October 22, 2014

View as List Healthy Alternatives to Cow’s Milk

  • Healthy Alternatives to Cow’s Milk

    Cow’s milk is a good source of protein, calcium, potassium and vitamin D. But you can also drink “milk” made from nuts, rice, soy, even oats and hemp. These beverages are not nutritionally equivalent to dairy milk, but each has something to offer, especially if fortified. And they can be good choices if you are lactose-intolerant or avoid milk for other reasons. Of course, these nondairy beverages are not replacements for infant formula.

  • 1

    Soy Milk

    macro of soybeans on white background

    Made by soaking, crushing, cooking and straining soybeans, some soy milks provide as much protein as cow’s milk, as well as B vitamins, phosphorus, iron, copper, magnesium, potassium and often some fiber (dairy milk has none). Soy milk also contains isoflavones, potentially healthful plant chemicals. Though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows a health claim that soy protein lowers blood cholesterol, studies have found little, if any, effect.

  • 2

    Nut Milk

    nuts and milk (muesli)

    Often made from ground almonds or hazelnuts, nut milks have little protein, but are relatively low in calories and provide the nutrients in nuts—including vitamin E, manganese, magnesium and copper. The small amount of fat in nut milk is unsaturated and thus heart-healthy.

  • 3

    Rice Milk

    brown rice on wooden board

    Consisting mostly of carbohydrates, rice milk is low in protein and fat (some have added vegetable oil). Though usually made from brown rice, the “milk” has no fiber and is thin in consistency. It’s naturally sweeter than other nondairy beverages and least likely to cause allergies.

  • 4

    Oat Milk

    Made from oat groats (oats that have been cleaned, toasted and hulled), oat milk contains about half the protein of cow’s milk. Oat bran may be added as a source of fiber. It’s slightly sweet with a thin consistency, similar to nonfat or low-fat milk.

  • 5

    Hemp Milk

    From the seeds of the industrial hemp plant (varieties of Cannabis sativa grown for food and textile uses), hemp milk supplies protein, omega-3 fats similar to those in flaxseeds, and other healthful unsaturated fats. Unlike the Cannabis plant that produces marijuana, foods made from hemp contain only trace amounts, if any, of the psychoactive compound. The crop is banned in the U.S., but processed hemp foods can be imported legally, mostly from Canada. Hemp is considered ecofriendly because it needs little water and no pesticides. 

  • 6

    Coconut Milk?

    Made from grated and squeezed coconut “meat,” this super-high-calorie, high-fat nondairy beverage is not for drinking straight up or for cereal, but can be used, in small amounts, in cooking. “Light” coconut milk has half the fat and calories.

  • 7

    Read the Labels

    If you drink nondairy beverages in place of cow’s milk, look for beverages with added calcium and vitamin D. Many are also fortified with B12 (an advantage for vegans) and other nutrients. Compare labels carefully: Most nondairy beverages are sweetened with sugar (such as evaporated cane juice, rice syrup or barley malt), which increases calories. Chocolate and other flavored beverages have even more sugar (up to 170 calories per cup versus 35 calories a cup in unsweetened versions). Finally, though the fat in these beverages is heart-healthy unsaturated fat, nonfat or low-fat versions have fewer calories.