What is the Best Milk Alternative?
It really depends on what you're looking for in a milk or alternative milk (I'll lay out the nutritional highlights of cow's milk below so you know what to look for when evaluating milk alternatives). Note that there can be a lot of variation between brands, even for the same “type” of milk. Most kinds of milk also come sweetened or unsweetened. For this comparison, I looked at unsweetened versions of the different milks. Make sure to read the labels carefully.
Low-fat (1%) cow’s milk: Calories: 102; Fat: 2 g; Saturated Fat: 1.5 g; Sodium: 107 mg; Fiber: 0 g; Sugar: 13 g; Protein: 8 g; Calcium: 30% Daily Value (DV)
Cow’s milk delivers plenty of protein for not that many calories (in the low-fat and fat-free versions). One cup gives you 1/3 of the calcium you need each day. It also has lactose — a natural sugar found in milk that gets converted easily into energy in your body. That’s also the sugar that lactose-intolerant people can’t digest, so if you have trouble digesting cow’s milk and are looking for another alternative, read on.
Almond milk: Calories: 35; Fat: 2.5 g; Saturated Fat: 0 g; Sodium: 190 mg; Fiber: 0 g; Sugar: 0 g; Protein: 1 g; Calcium: 2% DV
Almond milk’s super-low calorie count explains its widespread popularity. Although it has a little bit of fat, it doesn’t have much protein and some brands (such as this one I looked at) aren’t fortified with calcium, so it’s not a direct replacement for cow’s milk nutritionwise. But if you’re just looking for a low-cal cereal topper, then almond milk could be a good choice.
Soymilk (fortified): Calories: 80; Fat: 4 g; Saturated Fat: 0.5 g; Sodium: 90 mg; Fiber: 1 g; Sugar: 1 g; Protein: 7 g; Calcium: 30% DV
Nutrient for nutrient, soymilk is most similar to cow’s milk. It’s low in calories and higher in protein than any other alternative milk I looked at.
Coconut milk: Calories: 45; Fat: 4.5 g; Saturated Fat: 4 g; Sodium: 15 mg; Fiber: 1 g; Sugar: 1 g; Protein: 0 g; Calcium: 10% DV
Like almond milk, coconut milk is low in calories, as well as protein and — in this case — calcium. It’s pretty high in saturated fat, which makes it creamier than some of the other alternative milks.
Hemp milk: Calories: 80; Fat: 8 g; Saturated Fat: 0.5 g; Sodium: 125 mg; Fiber: 0 g; Sugar: 0 g; Protein: 2 g; Calcium: 30% DV
Hemp milk has a strong flavor that might take some getting used to. It has the same number of calories as a cup of skim milk and is low in saturated fat.
Oat milk: Calories: 130; Fat: 2.5 g; Saturated Fat: 0 g; Sodium: 115 mg; Fiber: 2 g; Sugar: 19 g; Protein: 4 g; Calcium: 35% DV
Oat milk is higher in protein than many other alternative milks and also has a bit of soluble fiber — the kind that’s linked to heart health.