What's the Healthiest Non-Dairy Milk?
Here's a breakdown of the most popular milk alternatives on the market.
Possibly the most confusing question of the last decade: Which non-dairy milk is the healthiest? Rice, hemp, almond, coconut, banana, soy, oat, cashew, the list goes on! Deciding which one is right for you can be daunting. And as far as healthfulness goes, it's hard to say which one is best.
How Is Non-Dairy Milk Made?
Most of these dairy-free milks are made from a blend of the main ingredient (such as almonds, oats or hemp seeds) and water. The blended mixture is strained and adjusted as needed. Flavorings, sweeteners and other thickeners and stabilizers may be added to enhance flavor, texture and to prevent separating. Most store-bought milks are fortified with calcium and vitamin D; some varieties may have additional nutrients added.
So, What's the Difference?
The most obvious discrepancy among non-dairy milks are the way they taste. They also feature very different nutrient profiles. If we are handing out superlatives, soy milk is highest in protein, coconut contains high amounts of fat and oat milk is high in carbs. Banana milk gets its natural sweetness from (yup) banana, and cashew milk boasts a ton of creaminess, but remains low in fat. To keep on top of the nuances of these beverages, check labels and ingredient lists on your favorite brand.
Finally, Which One Is Healthiest?
And the winner is ... whatever you will drink! The best non-dairy milk really comes down to whatever one you like the best. It is worth noting that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans only recognizes soy milk as an acceptable swap for milk (they share the most nutrient similarities), but as mentioned above, there are many factors to consider when choosing what’s right for you. Your best bet? Read labels and ingredient lists, gravitate towards unsweetened varieties to avoid too much added sugar and be mindful of what the different varieties have to offer. The best way to incorporate these drinks into your diet it to know what you are drinking, so you can seek out additional nutrients you need from other foods.
A Breakdown of the Most Popular Non-Dairy Milks
Still trying to decide what milk to choose when ordering your latte? You could choose based on what nutrients you're looking for. We broke down the nutritional benefits of the four non-dairy milks you can find at Starbucks, below.
- Soy Milk: The closest comp to cow’s milk, highest in protein and contains several nutrients including potassium, iron and several B vitamins
- Almond Milk: Low in protein, moderate fat, and far and away highest in vitamin E compared to other milks
- Oat Milk: High in healthy carbs, low in fat with impressive amounts of potassium and vitamin A; also some fiber which you won’t find in most other milks
- Coconut Milk (beverage): Super creamy thanks to the higher fat content, but most of the fat is saturated in nature so use in moderation; often fortified with vitamin B12
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. She is the author of four cookbooks First Bites: Superfoods for Babies and Toddlers, The Healthy Air Fryer Cookbook, The Healthy Instant Pot Cookbook and Healthy Quick and Easy Smoothies.
*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.