The Facts of the New Milk Options

 By: Lisa Zook, Dietitian

Remember when you wanted to add milk to your cereal and there was only one type available – milk from a cow?  Consumer choices were so much simpler in the past. Choosing milk from the store has gotten a lot more complicated.  Here’s a nutrient breakdown on the most popular choices per 8-ounce serving:

Type

Calories

Total Fat

Saturated Fat

Protein

Sugar

% Calcium

% Vitamin D

Whole Milk

Calories: 150

Total Fat: 8

Saturated Fat: 5

Protein: 8

Sugar: 12

% Calcium: 30

% Vitamin D: 25

Nonfat Milk

Calories: 90

Total Fat: 0

Saturated Fat: 0

Protein: 8

Sugar: 12

% Calcium: 30

% Vitamin D: 25

Original Soy

Calories: 110

Total Fat: 4.5

Saturated Fat: 0.5

Protein: 8

Sugar: 6

% Calcium: 45

% Vitamin D: 30

Unsweetened Soy

Calories: 80

Total Fat: 4

Saturated Fat: 0.5

Protein: 7

Sugar: 1

% Calcium: 30

% Vitamin D: 30

Original Almond

Calories: 60

Total Fat: 2.5

Saturated Fat: 0

Protein: 1

Sugar: 7

% Calcium: 45

% Vitamin D: 25

Unsweetened Almond

Calories: 30

Total Fat: 2.5

Saturated Fat: 0

Protein: 1

Sugar: 0

% Calcium: 45

% Vitamin D: 25

Original Rice

Calories: 120

Total Fat: 2.5

Saturated Fat: 0

Protein: 1

Sugar: 10

% Calcium: 30

% Vitamin D: 25

Unsweetened Rice

Calories: 90

Total Fat: 2.5

Saturated Fat: 0

Protein: <1

Sugar: <1

% Calcium: 30

% Vitamin D: 25

Original Coconut

Calories: 70

Total Fat: 4.5

Saturated Fat: 4

Protein: 0

Sugar: 7

% Calcium: 10

% Vitamin D: 30

Unsweetened Coconut

Calories: 45

Total Fat: 4.5

Saturated Fat: 4

Protein: 0

Sugar: 0

% Calcium: 10

% Vitamin D: 30

Original Cashew

Calories: 60

Total Fat: 2.5

Saturated Fat: 0

Protein: <1

Sugar: 7

% Calcium: 45

% Vitamin D: 25

Unsweetened Cashew

Calories: 25

Total Fat: 2

Saturated Fat: 0

Protein: <1

Sugar: 0

% Calcium: 45

% Vitamin D: 25

 

So Let’s Review:

  1. Cow’s Milk

Packed with nine essential nutrients – calcium, potassium, phosphorus, protein, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin B-12, riboflavin, and niacin – milk is a nutrient powerhouse. The 12 grams of sugar come from naturally-occurring sugar, lactose, which is not added sugar.  There’s lots of emerging research on whether the saturated fat found in whole milk is beneficial for you; however, there’s no official verdict yet. If you don’t consume a lot of saturated fat in your diet overall, perhaps there's room for it in your diet. However, for most people, I would still recommend nonfat or 2 percent milk as a better choice.

  1. Soy Milk

Soy milk has always been a good alternative for people with a milk lactose intolerance or allergy. Packed with heart-healthy soy, 7 to 8 grams of protein and almost no saturated fat, it can definitely be a smart choice. Do keep in mind that the sugar found in the sweetened and original varieties are added sugar (from cane sugar), so if you’re watching your total sugar consumption, you might want to stick with the unsweetened kind.  Also, if you have a history of breast cancer, you may want to limit large amounts of soy in your diet.

  1. Almond Milk

Rich in calcium and a good source of vitamins D, E, and A, almond milk has definitely become more popular in the last couple of years. Its taste and texture make it a great alternative for milk. However, just like with soy milk, if you buy the original or sweetened varieties, the sugar is from added cane sugar. But there are several unsweetened and now “light” varieties available, with 0 grams and 3 grams of sugar, respectively. Surprisingly, almond milk has minimal protein, so if you’re hoping to use it as a protein source with your meal, you are out of luck. But the good news is there’s room to add some protein to your breakfast meal or smoothie since almond milk is low in calories. 

  1. Rice Milk

Original rice milk has more calories than the other milk alternatives (not including whole milk), but the high sugar amount is naturally-occurring. Rice milk has the least amount of nutrition compared to the others. However, for people with multiple food allergies, rice milk could be the best choice.

  1. Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is a hot trend right now. It isn’t high in calories, but it’s the highest of the milk alternatives in saturated (bad) fats. Some studies show that coconut milk fats can raise your cholesterol levels and LDL levels. If you really love the taste of coconut, go ahead and include a little in your diet – just keep in mind that, per serving, there is no protein and the drink has the least amount of calcium compared to the other “milk” options.

  1. Cashew Milk

Another nut option, cashew milk has not picked up as much momentum as almond milk. Cashew milk's creamy taste, though, lends itself to be a perfect low-calorie swap in many recipes. Rich in calcium, just like almond milk, it can be a good source for people who avoid milk products. However, if you’re looking for a good protein addition for your meal, you might want to look elsewhere.

Bottom line: When choosing a “milk” beverage, a lot of it comes down to a taste preference – which obviously varies from person to person. If you don’t have any allergies, then all of them can be included in a healthy diet. Just keep in mind that some might be a better choice with certain snacks or meals depending on what else you’re consuming.  Most have some added calcium and vitamin D; some have protein while others do not. Buy some and try the different flavors for yourself!