Cow’s Milk Alternatives


How Do They Compare?

Over the years, the milk section of the grocery store has grown to have more types of “mils”.  Before, the biggest question when approaching the milk section was how much fat do I want?  The options were whole milk, 2%, 1% and skim.

You can even add in a curve ball with buttermilk or chocolate flavored.  Now the milk section is spilling over with even more variety of cow’s milk and milk alternative options.  Whatever the reason people choose these alternatives – whether it is due to cow’s milk allergy, lactose intolerance, vegetarian or veganism, or for any other reason – how do these plant based “milks” compare to the original cow’s milk option?

There are four main choices to milk alternatives: soy, almond, rice and coconut milks.  There are a few more that you can find on the shelf like hemp, flax, and cashew.

Soy milk is a popular choice as an alternative.  Soy milk is made from the soy bean plant by extracting the liquid from the bean after soaking, mashing, and cooking the soy beans.  It can be found in unsweetened, sweetened and favored.  In terms of nutrients, soy is the most comparable to cow’s milk in most categories.  It provides similar calories, protein and a few less carbohydrates than cow’s milk.  It is difficult to compare the amount of fat in any of the milks since cow’s milk can be purchased in all different amounts of fat.

With that being said, soy milk contains about 3.5 – 4.5 grams of fat (per 8 ounces serving), with 1% cow’s milk having about 2.4 grams of fat and 2% containing 4.9 grams per every 8 ounce glass.  Soy milk hits right in the middle of the previous two choices.

Almond milk is made from ground almonds and water.  It is found in unsweetened, sweetened and flavored.  It contains about 50% of the daily amount of vitamin E in an 8 ounce glass.  Almond milk has about half as many calories as low-fat co w’s milk, which is appealing to those watching their calorie consumption.  On the opposite end, almond milk only has an average of 1 gram of protein per serving and cow’s milk generally has about 8 grams.  Almond milk doesn’t have the vitamins and minerals that cow’s milk provides so finding ones that are fortified is a must.

Rice milk is made from boiled rice, brown rice syrup and brown rice starch.  It is the “hypoallergenic” choice for alternative milk when it comes to allergies to cow’s milk, soy, gluten and tree nuts.  Rice milk just like almond milk is low in protein.  However, rice milk is the highest in carbohydrates.  It contains almost double the amount of carbohydrates in cow’s milk.  So if you are watching your carbohydrates, beware!  Rice milk also needs to be fortified with calcium and vitamin D to be comparable to cow’s milk.  Rice milk is very thin and watery in consistency unlike some of the other milk alternatives.

Coconut milk is a close alternative for cow’s milk and is also both soy and gluten free.  Coconut milk has a nutty flavor that is very distinct and is made by extraction of the coconut and water blend.  Coconut milk resembles the texture of whole milk the most and is high in fat.  Coconut milk has about the same amount of fat as 2% cow’s milk but lacks the protein, measuring at less than 1 gram per serving.  Coconut milk naturally has more potassium than cow’s milk but should be fortified with calcium and vitamin D.

Depending on your specific nutritional wants or needs, any of these3 milk alternatives can be a good choice for you.  All of these substitutes can be beneficial to different people who have different needs.  If milk alter natives are the choice for you, make sure you pick the one that best suits your individual needs.

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