Comparing Milks: Almond, Dairy, Soy, Rice, and Coconut

milk
Milk and milk alternatives

Not too long ago, the only thing you could expect to drown your cereal in was whole cow’s milk. Now, cow’s milk comes in all sorts of varieties: whole milk, 2 percent, 1 percent, skim (fat-free), and even lactose-free milk. For people with dietary or allergy concerns, there are also alternatives to cow’s milk. Almond, soy, rice, and coconut “milk” are popular plant-based milk alternatives. They’re becoming even more available in stores across the United States. Goat’s milk is less common in stores in the United States, but is another good choice for some people.

Each type of milk has its advantages and disadvantages, depending on a person’s diet, health, nutritional needs, or personal taste preferences.

For example, people in key development years — children older than two years, teens, and pregnant women — need proteins, vitamin D, and calcium. These are abundant in cow’s milk. On the other hand, people who need to watch their calories or saturated fat intake, such as for weight reasons or heart health problems, should look to other options. Whole cow’s milk contains more calories and saturated fat than any other milk, aside from goat’s milk.

Look at the differences in these popular types of milks to determine which best suits your needs. With all varieties, choose the unsweetened versions. Milk and milk alternatives can double their amount of sugar if they are sweetened with added sugars.

Almond milk has 40 calories per 8 ounce serving, whereas soy milk has 80 calories and rice milk has 120 calories. Here are some helpful resources:

These all have 1 gram or less of sugar per 8 ounce serving. Here are some helpful resources:

Soy milk has 7 grams of protein per 8 ounce serving which is much higher than other milk alternatives. Here are some helpful resources:

Rice milk only has 2 grams of fat per 8 ounce serving, but it is much higher in sugar, calories and carbs compared to other milk alternatives. Here are some helpful resources:

Milk and milk alternatives: Nutrition comparison per 8 fluid ounces

 CaloriesCarbohydrates (total)SugarsFat (total)Protein
Cow’s milk (whole)15012 g12 g8 g8 g
Cow’s milk (1%)11012 g12 g2 g8 g
Cow’s milk (skim)8012 g12 g0 g8 g
Almond milk (unsweetened)401 g0 g3 g2 g
Soy milk (unsweetened)804 g1 g4 g7 g
Rice milk (unsweetened)12022 g10 g2 g0 g
Coconut milk beverage (unsweetened)502 g0 g5 g0 g

Cow’s milk

cow milk

Whole milk is cow’s milk with none of the fat removed. One cup contains about:

  • 150 calories
  • 12 grams of carbohydrates in the form of lactose (milk sugar)
  • 8 grams of fat
  • 8 grams of protein

None of the milk’s natural components are removed. That means whole milk is high in natural proteins, fat, and calcium. Milk sold in the United States is usually fortified with vitamin A and vitamin D, as well.

Other cow’s milk has the same amount of carbohydrates and protein, with some or all of the fat removed. While whole milk has 150 calories in one cup, 1 percent milk has 110 calories, and skim milk has just 80 calories. Fat-free milk has all of the nutritional benefits of whole milk — protein, calcium, vitamins, and minerals — without the saturated fat and calories. However, absorption of some vitamins may be reduced due to the lack of fat.

Lactose-free milk is processed to break down lactose, a natural sugar found in milk products. Lactose-free milk is also a good source of protein, calcium, vitamins, and minerals. The total and saturated fat contents of lactose-free milk vary, as it comes in 2 percent, 1 percent, and fat-free varieties.

Pros of cow’s milk

  • Whole milk can provide essential proteins, extra calories from fats, as well as vitamins and minerals for infants and older adults.
  • Lactose-free versions are available for people who have a lactose intolerance.
  • Cow’s milk, including grass-fed and low-heat pasteurized options, is widely available in grocery stores and convenience stores.

Cons of cow’s milk

  • The versions that aren’t fat-free are higher in saturated fats and calories.
  • The protein in cow’s milk is a common allergen for babies, children, and adults.
  • Some people have ethical concerns about modern dairy farming practices.

Almond milk

almond milk

 

Almond milk is made from ground almonds and filtered water. It may also contain starches and thickeners to improve its consistency and shelf life. People who are allergic to almonds or nuts should avoid almond milk.

Almond milk is lower in calories than other milks, as long as it is unsweetened. It’s also free of saturated fat, and it’s naturally lactose-free.

Per cup, unsweetened almond milk has:

  • about 30 to 60 calories
  • 1 gram of carbohydrates (sweetened varieties have more)
  • 3 grams of fat
  • 1 gram of protein

Even though almonds are a good source of protein, almond milk is not. Almond milk is also not a good source of calcium. However, many brands of almond milk are supplemented with calcium and vitamin D.

Pros of almond milk

  • It’s low in calories and contains no saturated fat.
  • It’s a good source of vitamin A and can be fortified to be a good source of calcium and vitamin D.
  • It’s vegan and naturally lactose-free.

Cons of almond milk

  • It’s not a good source of protein.
  • It may contain carrageenan, which may cause digestive issues in some people.
  • There are some environmental concerns about the amount of water used to cultivate almonds.

Soy milk

soy milk
  Soy milk is made from soybeans and filtered water. Like other plant-based milk alternatives, it may contain thickeners to improve consistency and shelf life. One cup of unsweetened soy milk has:
  • about 80 to 100 calories
  • 4 grams of carbohydrate (sweetened varieties have more)
  • 4 grams of fat
  • 7 grams of protein
Because it comes from plants, soy milk is naturally free of cholesterol and low in saturated fat. It also contains no lactose. Soybeans and soy milk are a good source of protein, calcium (when fortified), and potassium. Probiotic or fermented soy milk is also available. It’s an even better choice, especially for people with high blood pressure. However, too much soy may be a problem for people with thyroid disease or other conditions. And a 2008 Harvard study showed that higher intakes of soy-based foods caused fertility problems and lower sperm counts. Soy is also a common allergen. People who are allergic to soy should not drink soy milk.

Pros of soy milk

  • It’s a good source of protein, vitamin A, vitamin B-12, potassium, and isoflavones, plus it can be fortified with calcium and vitamin D.
  • It contains as much protein as cow’s milk, yet is lower in calories than whole milk and about equal to the calories in 1 percent or 2 percent milk.
  • It contains very little saturated fat.

Cons of soy milk

  • Soy is a common allergen for both adults and children.
  • Too much soy may be a problem for people with thyroid conditions.
  • Most of the soy produced in the United States comes from genetically modified plants, which is a concern to some.