Choosing the right milk for you

Choosing the right milk for you

How almond, coconut, hemp, rice, and soy milks compare with dairy

Published: August 2014
The tastiest almond, coconut, and soy milks of those our sensory panelists tested.

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Photo: Getty Images

The dairy aisle might seem more crowded lately. Soy milk has been around for years, but “milk” made from nuts, seeds, grains, and coconut are gaining shelf space—and capturing the interest of consumers.

Twenty-one percent of Americans report picking up more milk alternatives, and 15 percent say they’re buying less milk or none at all, according to a report from the market research firm Mintel. Those alternatives make life easier for vegans and people with dairy allergies and lactose intolerance, but how do they stack up nutritionally compared with milk? See what an 8-ounce glass of milk and milk alternatives give you.

Product

Nutrition information

Pros

Cons

Cow’s milk
 
(1 percent)

 

• 102 calories

 

• 8.2 grams protein

 

• 2.4 grams fat

 

• 31 percent of the recommended daily value for calcium

 

It has muscle-strengthening protein and bone-fueling calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D.

In addition to having some saturated fat, it contains lactose, a sugar that some people have trouble digesting. And allergies to proteins in cow’s milk may be a concern, especially for children.

Almond milk (unsweetened plain)

 

• 30 to 50 calories

 

• up to 1 gram protein

 

• 2 to 2.5 grams fat

 

• 30 to 45 percent of the recommended daily value for calcium

 

Made from ground almonds and water, it’s naturally lower in calories and fat than cow’s milk. It supplies some vitamin E and is often fortified with calcium and vitamin D. Blue Diamond Almonds’ Almond Breeze Original, shown above, which has added sugars, was the best of the eight tasted. A reduced-sugar variety has just 3 grams of sugars.

It’s very low in protein. Check labels for sugar content; some brands are lightly sweetened, but others have the equivalent of almost 2 teaspoons.

Coconut milk (unsweetened or original)

 

• 40 to 80 calories

 

• 0 grams protein

 

• 4.5 to 5 grams fat

 

• 30 to 45 percent of the recommended daily value for calcium

 

Not to be confused with the fattier stuff in cans, the coconut-milk beverage found in cartons in the dairy case is watered down to match milk’s consistency and fat content. It’s usually fortified with calcium and vitamin D; some brands add vitamin B12. In our tasting of five coconut milks and coconut-almond blends, Silk Almond-Coconut Blend Original, shown above, was the tastiest.

It has zero protein. It doesn’t come in low-fat versions, so it’s closer to whole or 2 percent milk. And the fat is mostly saturated. Depending on the brand, the milk may have a big coconut flavor or almost none at all.

 

Hemp milk

 

• 70 to 140 calories

 

• 2 to 3 grams protein

 

• 5 to 7 grams fat

 

• 30 to 50 percent of the recommended daily value for calcium

 

The hemp seeds used to make this milk are rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fats, which are good for the heart and brain. It’s fortified with calcium and vitamins B12 and D.

Hemp has an earthy, beany-nutty flavor, which our sensory panelists deemed an acquired taste. You might see cane juice or brown rice syrup on the ingredients lists of some brands’ sweetened varieties. But those are just other names for sugar. Brown rice syrup may also contain arsenic.

Rice milk (unsweetened)

• 90 to 130 calories

 

• 1 gram protein

 

• 2 to 2.5 grams fat

 

• 30 percent of the recommended daily value for calcium

 

It’s one of the least allergenic beverages, and some brands are fortified with calcium, vitamin B12, and iron.

 

Our tests found that products made with rice, including rice milk, contain detectable levels of arsenic, a carcinogen. Our experts recommend drinking no more than ½ cup per day and not giving rice milk regularly to children younger than 5.

 

Soy milk
(low-fat plain)

 

• 60 to 90 calories

 

• 4 to 6 grams protein

 

• 1.5 to 2 grams fat

 

• 20 to 45 percent of the recommended daily value for calcium

 

Made from ground soybeans and water, it contains high-quality protein and is often fortified with B vitamins, calcium, and vitamin D, giving it the closest nutrition profile to cow’s milk among the plant-based options. Our sensory panelists judged Silk Soymilk Vanilla, pictured above, to be the best of the four products they tasted. Compared with the 1 gram of sugars in unsweetened soy milk, it has 8 grams (the equivalent of 2 teaspoons), mostly from added cane sugar.

Flavored varieties have added sugars. And most soybeans are grown from genetically modified seeds. Look for brands with the USDA organic seal or the non-GMO verified label.

Find more Ratings and reviews from our experts in Consumer Reports' Food & Drink Guide.

Editor's Note:

This article also appeared in the September 2014 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.


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