Plant-Based Milk Alternatives–Which One Is Healthiest?

Plant Based Milk Alternatives

More and more people are turning their backs on cow’s milk, and for good reason: it isn’t a sustainable product for the environment, it takes a whopping1950 gallons of water to create one gallon of milk, it has been linked to many health problems including prostate cancer, and the poor treatment of animals on some ranches, to name a few. Presented with an ever-growing range of plant-based milk alternatives to cow’s milk, including almond, coconut, hemp, oat, rice or soy milk, which one is nutritionally superior? I hit the nutrition data to find out. Here’s what I found, but first let’s take a look at cow’s milk for comparison’s sake:

Cow’s Milk

One cup of cow’s milk contains approximately:

150 calories

12 grams of carbohydrates—In the case of cow’s milk, these carbs are lactose, or milk sugar, which is hard to digest for anyone lacking sufficient milk-digesting enzymes or lactase).

8 grams of fat

8 grams protein—Whey protein powders are derived from a type of protein found in cow’s milk. Cow’s milk also contains the protein casein, which is a common allergen for many babies, children and some adults. Research shows that children who are allergic to milk also have a higher predisposition to asthma. Additionally, in studies like one published in the journal Nutrition and Cancer, researchers found that casein is linked to prostate cancer.

While it is a source of calcium, it is not easily digestible for many people, which means it may not be absorbed. After all, you can only absorb what you have first digested.

Many people have ethical concerns regarding some dairy farming practices.

Almond Milk

One cup of almond milk contains approximately (there are, of course, variations between brands):

30 to 60 calories

1 gram of carbohydrates (sweetened varieties have higher amounts)

3 grams of fat

1 gram protein

Almond milk is vegan, so naturally, it is lactose-free for those who are lactose intolerant. People with full-blown allergies to cow’s milk can also drink almond milk, It is a source of calcium, magnesium, vitamins A and E, and many other nutrients. Of course, you should avoid drinking almond milk if you have a nut allergy. Additionally, avoid brands that include the food additive carrageenans it is highly inflammatory and can cause pain, inflammation or digestive problems in some people.

Coconut Milk

Not the same as the coconut cream and coconut water found in cans, coconut milk is usually more diluted than the canned coconut cream often referred to as coconut milk. One cup of coconut milk, or coconut beverage as it is also called, contains approximately:

50 calories

2 grams carbohydrates (sweetened varieties have more)

5 grams of fat

0 grams of protein

Coconut milk doesn’t typically have a lot of nutrients naturally present, but some may be added to beverages during their manufacture. It contains medium-chain triglycerides which have been linked to weight loss. Few people have allergies to coconut milk, making it a good option for those with allergies. Some manufacturers add carrageenan and these products are best avoided.

Hemp Milk

As the name suggests, hemp milk is made from hemp and is therefore vegan and lactose-free. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t make people “high.” One cup of hemp milk contains:

110 calories

6 grams carbohydrates (sweetened varieties have more)

7 grams fat (only 1 gram of saturated fat)

5 grams of protein

It is a good source of iron and often contains added calcium. It is naturally high in protein, making it a good choice for those who want muscle-building and blood-sugar-balancing protein in their milk substitute. Few people have allergies to hemp milk.

Oat Milk

Naturally vegan and lactose-free, one cup of oat milk contains:

120 calories

16 grams carbohydrates

5 grams of fat

3 grams of protein

It is frequently fortified with vitamins A, B2, B12, D, calcium, potassium. Oats naturally contain beta-glucans which has been found to boost heart health. While oats don’t contain gluten, they are frequently contaminated with wheat, so if you’re allergic or sensitive to gluten, you’ll want to ensure the oat milk you select is certified gluten-free.

Soy Milk

One cup of soy milk contains approximately (again, there may be variations between brands):

80 to 100 calories

4 grams of carbohydrates (sweetened options have higher amounts)

4 grams of fat

7 grams of protein

It is naturally lactose-free and a good source of vitamins A and B12, calcium, potassium and isoflavones. Soy is also a source of the nutrient coenzyme Q10. Low levels of this critical nutrient have been linked with lung conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It contains around the same amount of protein as cow’s milk.

Soy is frequently genetically-modified so it is best to choose soy milk that is certified GMO-free if you’re drinking it. It is a common allergen and is best avoided by those with common allergies.

Which One is Healthiest?

It differs from person to person. I’ve personally observed many health improvements when I ditched dairy many years ago and observed the same reduction of sinus and ear infections, joint pain, digestive issues and other problems in my clients. After that, you may need to consider your personal health needs: do you have any allergies or sensitivities? Then, almond or soy milk may be best avoided. Are you worried about GMOs? Then, you’ll want to skip the soy. Are you dealing with blood sugar-related health issues? You’ll want to avoid the sweetened varieties of any milk alternative and may find oat milk too high in carbs for you. If you’re celiac or gluten-intolerant then you’ll probably want to stay clear of oat milk unless it is certified gluten-free. Hemp is probably the one I’d pick as the best tolerated by most people, but you’ll want to try it for yourself. Ultimately, you may want to pick the one that tastes best since that is the one you’ll drink the most.

Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook, Ph.D., DNM
shares her food growing, cooking, preserving, and other food self-sufficiency adventures is the publisher of the free e-newsletterWorld’s Healthiest News and an international best-selling and 20-time published book author whose works include her newest book: FOOD FIX: The Most Powerful Healing Foods and How to Use Them to Overcome Disease.

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