Nutrition Articles

Non-Dairy Alternatives to Cow's Milk

How Do They Compare Nutritionally?

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In recent years, many supermarkets have responded to customer demands and now offer a variety of milk options. Whether you are allergic to cow’s milk or simply wish to forgo dairy for other reasons, you can easily find many delicious milk alternatives these days. However, you may find yourself puzzled as you stare at the large selection of non-dairy milk at the store. If you have been wondering which type of milk you should choose based on your dietary and nutritional needs, this chart will help you get in, get out and get on with your busy life.

As you reference the chart, note that the sugars (lactose) found in cow’s milk occur naturally while many dairy-free milk alternatives contain added sugars unless labeled as "unsweetened." To get the most out of cow’s milk alternatives, always be sure to check labels and try to opt for fortified, nutrient-rich varieties that are as nutritionally similar to cow's milk as possible. Translation: Look for higher levels of protein, low (or no) added sugars, and added (fortified) vitamins and minerals that you find in cow's milk (30% DV calcium and about 25% DV vitamin D). Note that not all dairy alternatives are fortified with calcium and vitamin D, and the amount of these added nutrients varies from brand to brand. This means that  not every brand of soy milk, for example, would be a nutritionally adequate alternative to cow's milk. Be sure to read labels to find the nutrition profile that fits your needs.

Soy Milk
Soy milk is made from filtered water and whole soybeans. This milk is the most popular dairy alternative and has the closest nutritional profile to cow’s milk. While most brands of soy milk contain the same amount of protein, vitamin D and calcium as cow’s milk, other brands of soy milk do not contain any added vitamins or other nutrients. So, always keep your eye on ingredients lists and nutritional information before you make your purchase.

Almond Milk
Almond milk is a great alternative to cow’s milk when you are looking to cut calories. This nut milk is made from almond base containing filtered water and ground almonds. The bad news about almond milk is that it contains very little protein—just 1 gram per cup. Though most varieties of almond milk are fortified with vitamins and other nutrients, there are others that don’t contain vitamin D or calcium.
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Member Comments

  • I've found 2% milk, organic, works for me...more satisfying than skim and the fat helps curb my appetite. Usually I drink it after a workout.
    - 4/9/2016 7:11:29 AM
  • I'm deathly allergic to dairy. Years and years ago I used to use MochaMix as an alternative although they are not truly non-dairy anymore because they are made in a place that still does dairy. I generally do Almond milk but it's gotten so hard to find locally so I end up with coconut milk from a company based out of Oregon (that also does a 100% non-dairy ice cream made from coconut milk too!). - 12/2/2013 1:47:58 AM
  • Soy is my preferred alternative to cow's milk but soy does bad things to me if I eat too much. I need the protein though. I have never seen oat milk, I will have to look for it next time I am at Whole Foods or Trader Joe's. - 11/15/2013 9:11:19 AM
  • I always buy unsweetened plain soy milk (Trader Joe's and Whole Foods have great, super cheap store brands) because I like the protein punch soy gives vs. the others. I sometimes worry about getting too much processed soy in my diet between this and tofu, though, so I try not to have soy every day. - 3/1/2011 2:25:14 PM
    Good comparison, I can see how the choices would be daunting at first. I'm vegan and avoid milk mostly for ethical reasons (in addition to it being absolutely disgusting and full of chemicals, hormones, blood, pus, etc.) Vanilla unsweetened almond milk is my favorite, just as easy to find as soy milk, and often times cheaper than cow's milk.

    I do want to add one thing: vegans need to be careful with D-fortification because most products use D3, which is derived from animal skin. D2 is the plant-sourced version. D2 supplements are very cheap and alleviate the need to rely on fortified foods that probably use D3.

    We can thank the Big Ag dairy lobbyists for making people think cow's milk is a healthy and necessary staple in our diets. Once you research how unhealthy milk really is (HUGE contributor to cancer), you'll see cow's milk is NOT a high-standard food we should strive to duplicate. Thank goodness there are so many other truly healthy products we can consume instead. - 2/18/2011 11:13:42 AM

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