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What’s the Deal with Plant-Based Milk?

Written by Caro Clark


Posted on January 02 2020

They’ve hit the aisles of Target and are officially no longer just for hipsters, the lactose intolerant, or vegans. Yep, I’m talking about plant-based milks. Some are delicious, and all are mysterious. How do they even make a nut or grain into a creamy liquid, and what are the benefits? Are they healthier than cow’s milk or just absent of lactose? There are so many different milks to choose from, and they’re all pricier than regular milk. So, let’s find out what the differences and benefits of these hip-milks are and how they compare to dairy milk nutritionally.

Dairy Milk
One cup 2% milk: 122 calories · 12 carbs · 8g of protein · 5g of fat · 12g of sugar
Daily Value Vitamin and Nutrient Profile: · Calcium: 29% · Riboflavin: 27%             · Vitamin D: 26% · Phosphorous: 23% · Vitamin B12: 19% · Potassium: 10%


Soy Milk
One cup Original Silk Brand: 110 calories · 9 carbs · 8g of protein · 4.5 g of fat   · 6g of sugar
Daily Value Vitamin and Nutrient Profile: · Vitamin B12: 120% · Riboflavin: 30%    · Calcium: 30% · Vitamin D: 15% · Phosphorous: 15% · Vitamin A: 15%                    · Magnesium: 10% · Folate: 10% · Potassium: 8% · Iron: 6%


Almond Milk
One cup Original Silk Brand: 60 calories · 8 carbs · 1g of protein · 2.5 g of fat     · 7g of sugar
Daily Value Vitamin and Nutrient Profile: · Vitamin D: 25% · Vitamin E: 20%          · Calcium: 10% · Vitamin A: 10% · Magnesium: 4% · Riboflavin: 4% 


Coconut Milk
One cup Original Silk Brand: 70 calories · 6 carbs · 0 g of protein · 4.5 g of fat     · 5g of sugar
Daily Value Vitamin and Nutrient Profile: · Calcium: 35% · Vitamin B12: 35%        · Vitamin A: 20% · Vitamin E: 20% ·Vitamin D: 10% · Iron: 2% · Potassium 2%


Oat Milk
One cup Original Silk Brand: 90 calories · 14 carbs · 2g of protein · 3.5g of fat   · 4g of sugar
Daily Value Vitamin and Nutrient Profile: · Vitamin B12: 50% · Calcium: 45%         · Vitamin D: 35% ·Riboflavin: 20% · Vitamin A: 15% · Iron: 4%


Cashew Milk
One cup unsweetened Silk Brand: 25 calories · 1 carb · <1g protein · 2g of fat · 0 sugars
Daily Value Vitamin and Nutrient Profile: · Calcium: 45% ·Vitamin D: 25%              · Vitamin E: 20% · Vitamin A: 10% · Iron: 2%


It’s not unlikely that soon there will be several more types of plant-based milks that could be added to this list, but we have enough for now. In terms of calories, Cashew is the winner. However, it has less than a gram of protein and is nutritionally inferior to the others. Almond is the next lowest calorie option and has high values of key vitamins, but it only beats regular dairy milk with its vitamin E and vitamin A contents. Coconut milk has a similarly low-calorie count but has no protein. It does pack quite a punch with its nutrients, being high in calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin A, vitamin E.

Cashew, Coconut, and Almond milk are the winners with vitamin E, which is an important antioxidant for healthy skin and hair. It’s also one of the vitamins that can be harmful when taken as a pill, so those are important benefits to keep in mind. Vitamin D is another one to look for on nutrition labels because most Americans are deficient in it, which can cause body aches, joint pain, and fatigue. That one, however, is safe to take in a supplement, and many doctors encourage taking it daily even if you think you get enough from foods. 

While I haven’t tried Cashew milk, I enjoy the thickness of almond milk for coffee or tea but find it too thick for oatmeal or cereal. Coconut milk is pretty thin, so it makes for a better addition to cereals or grains. I don’t like it in lattes though because of the thin consistency. It’s the closest one to feeling like a creamy water in my personal opinion, but stated, it does have its nutritional benefits.

Oat milk is my personal favorite out of the plant-based milks, and I even prefer its creamy texture and nutty taste over regular milk. It’s the highest in carbs, so it probably won’t be the main choice for any of those following the trendy keto diet. However, it is higher in calcium and vitamin D than dairy or soy milk and has high values of riboflavin and vitamin B12 as well; while being lower in calories, sugar, and fat.

Based on the nutrition facts alone, soy milk appears to be the healthiest, but it’s not just about the numbers. Soy can be intolerable for some people and have negative effects on others. Soy contains isoflavones, which can produce estrogen-like effects. For younger and premenopausal women this can cause issues, but for post-menopausal women, it can be beneficial. Additionally, Soy is one of the most common allergens, so just because it boasts those extra nutrient values, that doesn’t mean it’s good for you. It also contains some others compounds that can interfere with your metabolic process and vitamin/mineral absorption. It’s something to be cautious about, and as with everything in health, variation and moderation are key.

Each type of milk has its benefits and drawbacks, which is why it’s important to have a varied diet and not stick to just one because it’s the trendiest at the moment. For vegans, soy milk and oat milk are likely the best choice due to their iron and protein content, but you can also mix in vegan protein drinks/powders in to the milk that suites your tastes to ensure you’re getting enough nutrients. When unsure about which is best for your needs and health, it’s a good idea to consult a nutritionist; but if you’re generally in good health and are just trying to decide which one to incorporate or substitute, the information provided above should be enough.


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