Navigating the Milk Aisle: A Guide to Alternative Milk Sources

04.17.2012 / Blog Posts Health and Wellness

Amy Bortnick

Jane Jakubczak MPH, RD, CSSD, LDN Redskins Team Dietitian

To continue our discussion on milk, I thought it was important to break down the nutritional profile of the many different milk alternatives on the market today. Amy Bortnick identifies the pros and cons of the most popular milk alternatives, including soy milk and almond milk, for WOW members.

Alternative Milk Sources

Amy Bortnick, University of Maryland Senior Dietetic Student

I am a huge fan of milk and always have been as a child. It was a rule in my house to finish a full glass of milk before leaving the dinner table. I was always the first out to play because I had no problem guzzling down my full glass of milk!

I am grateful for my love of milk because it is an excellent source of calcium, vitamin D, riboflavin, vitamin A, and a complete source of protein. Milk consumption sets the foundation for strong teeth and bones. For more on the health benefits of dairy milk, visit

Lately however, I find that I rarely have dairy milk in my fridge. I have a passion for trying new nutritious foods and since I know that I can enjoy my favorite skim milk at most coffee shops, fast food establishments, restaurants and vending machines, I take advantage of trying something different at home. The grocery store has many, many milk alternatives to try - illustrated by the picture I took above during my last grocery store trip.

Alternative sources of milk are a great solution for people with lactose intolerance, milk allergies, or even those who are seeking something different. Non-dairy alternatives are a great way to add vitamins and minerals to their diet and enjoy some of their favorite foods like cereals and smoothies that are livened up with a creamy source of liquid.

However, there are increasingly more alternative sources of milk on the grocery store shelves and they all offer different nutritional benefits so it’s important to know the nutrient differences before replacing or swapping one milk source for another.

Here is a nutrition comparison of some of the most popular alternative milk sources available:

Soy Milk

Soy milk is made from soybeans, comes in various flavors, and has become a very popular alternative to milk.

Soy milk contains nutritional benefits such as:

- Omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, B-vitamins, magnesium, potassium, selenium and manganese.
- It is an excellent source of dietary protein because it contains a complete profile of essential amino acids.
- Soy contains isoflavins a compound that is shown to act like estrogen in the body, reducing menopausal symptoms, decreasing risk of some cancers including breast cancer and increasing cognition in women under 65 years of age (read more on the benefits here).

Almond Milk

Almond milk is a creamy nutty flavored milk source that differs quite a bit on the taste scale from milk but is a great lower calorie milk option that is great for weight management.

- Almond milk ranges from 40-60 calories a cup and contains about 2-8 grams of carbohydrates per serving.
- Unlike dairy and soy milk, almond milk contains only one gram of protein per serving and it is not a complete source of protein.
- When fortified, Almond milk is a great source of vitamin D and calcium in fact almond milk has the same amount of calcium as dairy milk meeting 30% of the daily requirement in one cup.
- Is low in both phosphorous and potassium making it a safer option for those struggling with kidney disease.

Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is extracted from the white, fleshy part of coconuts. Coconut milk has a strong creamy flavor (that I perrsonally LOVE) but it can be high in saturated fat and calories. (To read more about saturated fats click here). The full fat version can ring in 51 grams of saturated fat per serving! So it should be consumed in moderation or there are some reduced fat versions available in stores.

On the positive side, coconut milk:

- High in fiber and protein containing 5 grams or each!
- Provides beneficial micronutrients including a good of iron, manganese, and vitamin C.

Rice Milk

Rice milk is extracted from rice by pushing the rice grains through a mill stream resulting in a liquid that is lighter in flavor than some of the other milk alternatives. It is a healthy alternative to milk but it is missing some of milk’s key ingredients including protein and calcium.

- Rice milk only contains one gram of protein compared to the 8 grams found in a glass of dairy milk.
- Averages around 120 calories per glass and is higher in carbohydrates than the other milk alternatives with around 23 grams per glass.
- Rice milk’s high carbohydrate content may make it less ideal for people with diabetes.

The Take Home Message:

Various milk alternatives’ including almond, coconut, rice and soy milk provide nutritional benefits and can be incorporated into a healthy diet. However all of them have different nutritional profile so it is important to know the difference when choosing the best milk source for you and your family.

Thanks Amy for this important and timely information! We encourage WOW members to share your favorite milk habit. Please use the comment box below to share your experiences, questions or comments.

Cheers to good health!

Have nutrition questions for Jane or want to know more about alternative milk sources from Amy? Leave them below!

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