Coconut, Almond, Soy or Hemp? Your Guide to Dairy Alternatives

A breakdown of the nutrients present in the various dairy alternatives, and some commentary on the continued increase in popularity of soy-free options like coconut milk.
Coconut Milk

Coconut Milk

Coconut Milk in a glass on dark wooden background (close-up shot)

On February 17, 2015, Starbucks stores began to offer Single Origin Sumatra Coconut Milk for use in their hot and iced bevvies. According to a spokesperson for the coffee giant, there's been high demand for a dairy- and soy-free option. In fact, it's the second most-requested customer idea of all time from the brand’s idea blog page. With more and more people opting for replacements for milk that are dairy- and soy-free, which one should you choose?
Nutrition Breakdown

The various options for dairy alternatives offer great variety but can make it hard for consumers to know exactly what nutrients they are and aren’t getting. The good news is that many of these beverages are fortified to contain the same amount of calcium and vitamin D as a glass of cow’s milk: 300 milligrams and 150 IU, respectively. Despite this consistency across many brands, it's still a good idea to check labels, and when it comes to other nutrients, there are lot more differences in nutrient profiles. Here is a breakdown of what you’ll find in a one-cup serving.

To learn more about the taste profiles and recommended uses, check out this Taste Test: Dairy Alternative

1% Cow’s Milk; Calories: 105; Fat: 2 grams; Protein: 9 grams
Coconut Milk; Calories: 80; Fat: 5 grams; Protein: 0 grams
Rice Milk; Calories: 120; Fat: 2.5 grams; Protein: 1 gram
Soymilk; Calories: 100; Fat: 3.5 grams; Protein: 6 grams
Almond Milk; Calories: 60; Fat: 2.5 grams; Protein: 1 gram
Hemp Milk; Calories: 110; Fat: 7 grams; Protein: 5 grams

There really is no right or wrong when it comes to which dairy-free beverage to choose; ultimately you need to stick with what you like and what you will drink. The key is to pay attention to what’s in your drink of choice and plan the rest of your diet accordingly. Choose one with minimal added sugar, and if you prefer an option that is lower in protein, then be sure to get the protein you need from other healthy foods.

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition.

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