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Variety of alternative milks in glasses on a white table in front of a blue background with small bowls of soy, almond, flax, oats, and half of a coconut.

5 Non-Dairy Milk Alternatives

If you’re looking for an alternative to dairy milk but are overwhelmed by all the options, read on.

By Clover Health

Here are tips for finding the cream of the crop when it comes to the healthiest picks. 

“Many older adults are lactose-intolerant, meaning they can’t fully digest the sugar found in dairy,” explains Sophia Chang, MD, MPH. “If that’s you, try lactose-free milk. Or sample one of the many plant-based milks available.”

These non-dairy alternatives are basically water plus a grain (like oats or rice), seed (like flax or hemp), nut (like almonds or cashews), or coconut. 

Each milk has its own properties, but in general, you want an option without added sugars, but with added vitamin D, calcium, and protein. You also want to check for the shortest and simplest ingredients list. You may also want to avoid milk that includes the ingredient carrageenan, a thickener that can cause digestive issues for some people. 

Soy Milk

Soy milk is a common substitute for cow’s milk. In fact, among plant-based milks, unsweetened, fortified soy milk has the most similar nutritional value to cow’s milk. Soy milk is a good choice for those with nut or dairy allergies.

How Soy Milk Is Made

Soy milk consists of soybeans that are soaked, ground, and strained. Some brands use soy protein isolate. Many varieties also use thickeners or vegetable oils to improve the taste and consistency. 

Soy Milk Nutrition 

Soy milk has approximately the same amount of protein as cow’s milk, but around half the number of calories, fats, and carbohydrates. It is higher in protein than many of the other non-dairy milks and contains essential amino acids. Look for a fortified soy milk for added calcium.

Soy Milk Taste, Texture, and Uses

Many people like the mild and creamy flavor of soy milk. It works well on top of cereal, in coffee, or as a cow’s milk substitute in savory dishes. 

Almond Milk

Almond milk is made of ground almonds and water or almond butter and water. The amount of water used in almond milk varies among brands. 

Almond Milk Nutrition

Almond milk is low calorie and naturally free of cholesterol and saturated fat. It’s also a natural source of vitamin E; however, it has only 1 gram of protein per cup compared to 8 grams of protein in cow’s milk. Most almond milk does not have the same nutritional benefits as consuming whole almonds due to the processing and high amount of water used in making almond milk. 

Almond Milk Taste, Texture, and Uses

Almond milk has a light texture and a slightly nutty flavor. It’s versatile and can be used in desserts and baked goods, coffee, and smoothies. 

Coconut Milk

Don’t confuse coconut milk, which can be high in calories, with coconut water, which is considered a lower-calorie drink. 

How Coconut Milk Is Made

Coconut milk is made from the white flesh found inside coconuts mixed with water. Ready-to-drink coconut milk is more diluted than the canned coconut milk used in curry and other recipes. 

Coconut Milk Nutrition

Coconut milk is lower in protein and carbs and higher in saturated fat compared to other nondairy milks. Some lighter versions with fewer calories and fat are available, but coconut milk does not offer significant nutrition benefits. 

Coconut Milk Taste, Texture, and Uses

Coconut milk has a creamy texture and sweet flavor. Ready-to-drink coconut milk can be used in coffee or cereals. Because it is high in saturated fat, coconut milk is better suited to replace heavy creams than for everyday use.

Oat Milk

The popularity of oat milk has soared in recent years, and it is now the second most popular plant-based milk, coming only behind almond milk in sales. 

How Oat Milk Is Made

Oat milk is a mixture of oats and water and often has added ingredients to enhance the taste and texture. These additives may include gums, oils, and salts. As with other non-dairy milks, look for an oat milk with the fewest ingredients without added sugar.

Oat Milk Nutrition

Oak milk has more protein and fiber than many nondairy milk options. One unique quality of oat milk is that it contains beta-glucan, a type of soluble fiber that can help lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels according to a study conducted in Sweden.

Oat Milk Taste, Texture, and Uses

With a mild and naturally sweet flavor, along with a smooth texture, oat milk is ideal for smoothies, lattes, and other creamy foods. It can also be used in a wide variety of recipes.

Flax Milk

Flax is high in fiber and omega-3 fatty acid, which makes it a good choice for those watching their cholesterol and heart health.  

How Flax Milk Is Made

Flax milk is made with ground flax or flax oil and water. Like many other nondairy milks, flavored types of flax milk often contain sweeteners, so check the sugar content. 

Flax Milk Nutrition

In addition to heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, flax milk is rich in alpha linoleic acid, which has been used to prevent and treat diseases of the heart and blood vessels. Alpha linoleic acid can lower high blood pressure and cholesterol.  

Flax Milk Taste, Texture, and Uses

Flax milk has a creamy taste and sweet, nutty flavor. It can be used in smoothies and baked goods as well as coffee.

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This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Kumar Dharmarajan

Published on 6/9/22

Photo credit: Getty