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The Best and Healthiest Milk Alternatives For When You're Going Dairy Free

- Written by on August 2nd 2015

People choose to go dairy free for many reasons. Maybe you're going vegan for ethical reasons, cutting dairy from your diet because of lactose intolerance, or trying to avoid the antibiotics and hormones that may be found in cow's milk.

Whatever your reasons, there is an unbelievable amount of dairy free milk in supermarkets today. Looking at all those cartons of soy, almond, coconut, rice, and other dairy free options can be overwhelming - how are you supposed to decide which product is right for you?

To make your decision easier, we looked over all the dairy free milk substitutes in our product database to find the best and healthiest milk alternatives.

Here are our picks:

High Protein Soy Milk

Full-fat cow's milk contains 8 grams of protein per cup. Many milk substitutes don't come close to this amount of protein, so if you're worried about getting enough protein in your diet, you need to choose carefully. Soy milk is a perfect choice in this case, as it contains up to 12 grams of protein per cup! Moreover, these are 12 grams of high quality protein that the body can readily use to build muscle (for more information on which sources of protein are best, check out our protein eBook.)

When it comes to choosing the best brand of soy milk, you'll want to keep a few things in mind:

  1. Flavored soy milk, such as vanilla or chocolate, often comes with added sugar. We recommend sticking to original, unsweetened varieties.
  2. Soy may be genetically modified. If this concerns you, choose organic or non-GMO verified soy milk.
  3. Soy milk and other milk substitutes can contain additives that you might want to avoid, such as carrageenan and xanthan gum which can have negative digestive effects on sensitive individuals.

The soy milks below contain just two ingredients: water and soybeans! They are definitely two of the best milk alternatives we could find, but you may find other brands that are similar.

Eden Foods Edensoy Organic Unsweetened Soymilk

  • certified organic, non-GMO, gluten free, carrageenan free soy milk
  • 12 grams of protein per serving
  • not fortified

Pacific Non-Dairy Beverage - Unsweetened Original Organic Soy

  • certified organic, non-GMO, gluten free, carrageenan free soy milk
  • 9 grams of protein per serving
  • not fortified

Note: These two products are not fortified, so if you need more B vitamins, iron, calcium, magnesium, etc., you may want to opt for Edensoy Extra or Pacific Ultra Soy. Just be aware these products have somewhat less "clean" ingredient lists.

If you're wondering about other issues surrounding soy's health impact—whether it increases or decreases cancer risk, affects estrogen levels, etc.—this article provides an excellent overview of soy-related scientific studies. Though soy is often a controversial food, we think there is no compelling evidence to suggest that soy milk should not be considered one of the healthiest milk alternatives available; in fact, we think some of the evidence suggests it absolutely should!

Low Calorie Almond Milk

Almond milk and other nut milks are popular for being a) delicious and b) low calorie. Almond milk can contain as little as 30 calories per 1 cup serving, compared to 50-60 calories in light soy milk and 120 calories in normal soy milk! However, almond milk contains very little protein (around 1 gram per serving) and you will have trouble finding a brand without carrageenan, xanthan gum, or other additives, unless you make it from scratch.

If we were buying almond milk, we'd opt for So Delicious Unsweetened Almond Plus 5X, which has additional pea and rice protein to bring the protein content up to 5 grams per serving. It still contains some additives, but nothing more suspect than what you find in most other almond milk brands:

almond milk (water, almonds), pea protein, rice protein, calcium phosphate, magnesium phosphate, carrageenan, natural flavor, locust bean gum, kosher sea salt, vitamin a palmitate, vitamin d-2, l-selenomethionine (selenium), zinc oxide, folic acid, vitamin b-12

So Delicious Unsweetened Almond Plus 5X

  • certified gluten free, non GMO verified, vegan
  • 5 grams of protein per serving, 0 grams of sugar
  • contains carrageenan and other additives

Creamy, BPA Free Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is an excellent dairy substitute because its creaminess lends itself well to cooking (and making dairy free ice cream!) It contains no carbohydrates, little protein, and a lot of fat; so-called "lite" coconut milks just have more water added. While not overeating any one food is always advisable, the fat in coconut milk may not be bad for you. The more important thing to avoid is BPA, which is often found in the lining of cans and absolutely poses a health risk. For this reason, we recommend Native Forest Organic Coconut Milk, which seems to be packaged in BPA-free cans.

Native Forest Organic Coconut Milk

Allergy-Friendly Rice Milk

Like almond and coconut milk, rice milk contains very little protein. It is higher in carbohydrates and calories than almond milk, though, and often contains vegetable oils like sunflower oil or canola oil. The best thing about rice milk is the fact that is it is an allergy friendly option; while soy allergies and nut allergies are common, rice allergies are relatively rare.

RICE DREAM Classic Original

  • organic, gluten free, and allergy-friendly milk substitute
  • just 1 gram of protein per serving
  • contains vegetable oils

If rice milk is one of the few milk substitutes you can tolerate, we recommend trying a recipe for homemade rice milk, especially if you'd rather avoid those unnecessary vegetable oils. Because rice milk doesn't offer much nutritionally, we don't consider it the healthiest milk alternative. So if you're not allergic to soy, almonds, or coconut, we'd personally go with one of those options.

Best Milk Substitute: Our Winner

Overall, we have to go with soy milk. It is naturally high in protein and available in unsweetened, organic, GMO free versions without any additives. Sounds good to us! Maybe you'll want to put one of these popular recipes with soy milk on your spoonacular meal planner?


Crystal Schlegelmilch

Written by on August 2nd 2015

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