ClickCease Non-Dairy Milk: Weighing the Options and What to Consider
non-dairy milk alternatives

Non-Dairy Milk: Weighing in on the Options

Weighing in on Non- Dairy Milk Options

There is no better time than now to have dairy allergies, sensitivities, or lactose intolerance. No longer do you have to go without cereal, or “cream” based soups. There are an abundance of allergy-free options. With all of the non-dairy milk options, it is quite possible to drink a different variety every day. Sometimes, all of the choices can be too overwhelming. An article published in the New York Times reported though, in theory, choices seem appealing, in reality, people might find more and more choices to be debilitating.

Today, I’m going to give you a little more information on each non-dairy milk so that you can confidently make your selection at the grocery store without experiencing paralysis of analysis.

Pea Milk– Can you believe the things they come up with these days? While this may not sound like the most appetizing option for milk, the nutrient profile far surpasses that of most non-dairy milk alternatives. Ripple milk, made from yellow peas provides 8g of protein in an 8-ounce serving. This is as much protein as a glass of regular cow’s milk! Ripple milk also provides a good source of iron and just so happens to be nut free, soy free, vegan and non-GMO. Steer clear of the vanilla and chocolate varieties, as they pack 15g and 17g of sugar respectively. According to taste-testers, original appears to be the favorite, lending a creamy texture and richness. Other varieties are reported to be a bit chalky. What I love about this non-dairy milk is that an 8-ounce serving provides 32mg of DHA Omega-3 fatty acids. DHA is beneficial for brain health, so start your day with Ripple milk in your coffee, oatmeal or smoothie for a cognitive boost.  

Non-Dairy Milk Options!

Soymilk– This is one of the first non-dairy milk alternatives, though it is being outshined by almond, coconut and cashew. Soymilk has gotten a bad reputation due to controversy around soy and it’s supposed link to breast cancer.  The reported problems with soy are more closely associated to genetically modified soy (GMO). The details of soy will have to wait for another blog post, but until then, it is generally considered safe to consume one to two servings of non-GMO soy per day. One 8-ounce glass of soymilk counts as one serving. Unlike other plant-based milk alternatives, soy offers a complete protein source. This means that it contains all 9 essential amino acids. Some find that soymilk has a slight “beany” flavor, but that is easily disguised when used in smoothies or baking. It is much thicker and creamier than other non-dairy alternatives such as rice milk.  Soymilk also offers about 2g of fiber per 8-ounce serving.

Cashew– Cashew milk seems to be the new favorite among my patients. It is mild-flavored and creamy. If you have an almond allergy, be sure to read the ingredient label, as some brands using almond butter as an ingredient. Cashew milk doesn’t provide any protein, so it best used in protein shakes or used to provide creaminess to a beverage, soup, or other recipe, rather than a stand-alone milk replacement.

Almond– Almond milk, the ‘new soymilk’, monopolizes the dairy-free milk options at grocery stores. It is creamier and less chalky than soymilk. Its neutral taste makes it quite versatile and makes for a great milk replacement in any recipe sweet or savory. Some varieties are more watery than others, so try different brands to find what you like best. Like cashew milk, almond milk is not a good protein source. If you add it to cereal, make sure that your cereal contains protein so that you still have a satisfying breakfast. This is commonly offered at coffee shops making it much easier to be dairy free and still enjoy a latte.

Rice– This is a great option for those with nut allergies and is another one of the first non-dairy milk replacements. Rice milk is one of the least nutrient-dense options as it contains more sugar than most and only 1 gram of protein. Additionally, at 23g of carbohydrates in a 8-ounce serving, it has more than double the amount found in other non-dairy milk alternatives. For those with blood sugar issues, I wouldn’t recommend drinking this on a regular basis. However, it is excellent when used to make Horchata, a drink common to Spain and Latin America that is now taken America by storm. Made with cinnamon and sugar, it makes for a delicious treat, not a daily indulgence. It can be found in many Mexican restaurants or made at home.

Hemp- Hemp milk is one of my favorites, due to its rich nutty flavor and creaminess. It is much thicker than other milk alternatives, which makes it quite satisfying. Hemp milk is made from the seeds of the hemp plant. Rest assured, it does not contain THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is found in marijuana. At 2g of protein per 8-ounce serving, hemp provides more than most non-dairy milk alternatives but it can’t compare to pea or soy, which rival cow’s milk. Hemp milk is a great source of healthy fats, providing 900mg of ALA Omega-3s in just one glass.

Coconut- Once found only in cans, coconut milk has now become a regular dairy milk alternative. What makes boxed coconut milk different from the canned varieties is the addition of a lot of water. As you can imagine, it does have a slight coconut flavor so it probably wouldn’t be the best non-dairy milk alternative for a savory soup. I wouldn’t recommend replacing canned coconut milk for boxed coconut milk in curries or Thai dishes, but it is a great addition to tea in the morning and works well in baked goods. As with almond milk, many coffee shops offer this as a milk substitute.

Hazelnut- This is a unique non-dairy milk option! As with rice milk, it is not a very nutrient dense option and with 19g of carbohydrates per 8-ounces, isn’t the best option for those watching their blood sugar. However, as the name implies, it does have a rich hazelnut flavor. This is best used to enhance the flavor of your baked goods or to liven up your coffee. I wouldn’t recommend using it for cereal and definitely not in a savory recipe.

So that you can take nutrition into consideration when choosing your dairy-free milk, I’ll provide the stats for all of the above listed non-dairy milk alternatives.

The nutrition facts listed below are for and 8-ounce serving of the ‘original’ variety of all options compared to an 8-ounce serving of 2% regular cow’s milk. It’s important to know that there is added sugar in ‘original’ non-dairy milk. In most varieties, the total sugar is still less than an 8-ounce glass of cow’s milk. However, the sugar found in cow’s milk is from lactose, a naturally occurring milk sugar. Though natural, lactose can be difficult to digest. It is reported that 33% of Americans are lactose-intolerant and 75% of adults loose their ability to digest lactose as they get older.

If you are diabetic or concerned about added sugars, most brands offer unsweetened varieties. If you’re using it as a beverage rather than in a recipe, unsweetened vanilla is a great option, as it takes away some of the blandness of plain unsweetened. Plain, unsweetened is great for recipes, as it doesn’t obstruct the flavor.

Pea      Soy      Cashew      Almond          Rice      Hemp     Coconut        Hazelnut      Cow Milk

Calories         100       110          60                  60                   120            100            80                    110              130

Total fat         6g         4.5g         2.5g              2.5g                 2.5g            7g              5g                    3.5g             5g

Carb.               5g          9g           9g                 8g                     23g            8g              7g                    19g              13g

Sugar              6g          6g           7g                  7g                      10g            6g              7g                    14g             12g

Fiber                <1g       2g            0g                <1g                    0g              0g             0g                     1g                0g

Protein            8g          8g           <1g               1g                      1g              2g              0g                     2g               8g

Calcium           45%      45%         45%            45%                30%          30%            45%                 30%             30%

Vitamin           30%     30%         25%             25%                25%          25%             25%                35%             25%

Iron                  13%      6%            4%              2%                   4%             6%               2%                  2%                2%

Cautions about non-dairy milk:

  • Read the ingredient label closely. Some brands us carrageenan. Carrageenan is an indigestible polysaccharide that is extracted from red algae. It is often found in non-dairy milks in addition of other foods and used as a thickener or stabilizer. It has been shown to increase inflammation and cause intestinal distress, so drink with caution. Silk, Tempt Hemp Milk and Ripple brands do not use carrageenan.
  • Don’t be tricked into think that just because something is a non-dairy milk alternative, it is healthy. As stated earlier, most contain added sugars. This is especially this case for chocolate non-dairy milks. These varieties contain 17g of sugar or more per 8-ounce serving. Think twice before adding chocolate dairy-free milk substitute to your protein shake.  

Now that you know what each non-dairy milk option has to offer, confidently make your choice at the grocery store…or look for my mini blog with instructions on how to make your own!


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Danielle Crumble Smith

Danielle is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist currently living in Colorado though she is originally from TN and has lived in AK, CA, and NV. She and her husband, Colton, have two crazy dogs and are expecting twins in August. She received her degree in Nutrition, Dietetics and Food Science from California State University at Northridge and has since worked in a variety of roles as Dietitian over the past 7 years. Danielle has experience working in both clinical inpatient settings as well as outpatient. Her client/patient population has spanned from individuals with Food Allergies, Gastrointestinal Disorders, Eating Disorders, Autoimmune conditions, Diabetes, Kidney Disease, Sports Performance and Weight Management. In her free time, Danielle loves hiking with her husband, having FaceTime dates with family and doing anything outside!




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