Want to ditch milk for soy, almond, or something else? We’ve already covered how to find a non-dairy milk that delivers enough nutrients without too much added sugar or unhealthy fat.
But navigating the ever-expanding non-dairy aisle can still be confusing. Here’s a taste of what’s new—and which claims on milk labels matter.
Should you go for nuttier nut milks?
Most almond milks have no more than 4 to 6 nuts per cup. (That’s why they’re low in calories and protein.) Now you can get more nuts (17 or 18) and more protein.
The downside: the extra-nut milks we found don’t add calcium or vitamin D…and they have more calories (typically 130 to 150) than regular nut milks.
Dream Ultimate Almond has “4 times more almonds.” The nuts supply 5 grams of protein. Ditto for Elmhurst Milked Almonds. Extra nuts also mean 3 to 6 grams of protein in Elmhurst Milked Cashews, Milked Hazelnuts, Milked Walnuts, and Milked Peanuts.
Should you go for more nuts? Yes, if you’re looking for a creamier milk that’s made with unsaturated fat. But you still get more protein for your calorie buck with pea protein milk.
Do you need extra calcium?
“50% more calcium than dairy milk,” boast many non-dairy milk cartons. But more isn’t necessarily better. Calcium doesn’t cause heart attacks, but getting too much from supplements or fortified foods may raise the risk of kidney stones, hip fractures, and prostate cancer.
Shoot for 1,000 milligrams a day (1,200 mg for women over 50 and men over 70). That includes what you get from food and supplements. Count roughly 250 mg for each serving of dairy you eat (150 mg for greek yogurt), and add 250 mg for the rest of your diet.
Why pea protein milk comes close to dairy
Your best shot at a non-dairy milk that tastes like Bessie made it: pea protein. Silk came the closest, just beating out Bolthouse.
Silk Protein Nutmilk. The creamy mix of pea protein with almond milk and cashew milk yields 10 grams of protein per cup. The regular (130 calories) has just ½ teaspoon of added sugar.
Bolthouse Farms Plant Protein Milk. The Unsweetened (90 calories) and Original (110 calories and 1 teaspoon of added sugar) each has 10 grams of protein from peas.
Ripple. The Unsweetened Original (70 calories) and Unsweetened Vanilla (80 calories) have no added sugar, but our tasters preferred the 100-calorie (sweetened) Original, which has 6 grams (1½ teaspoons) of added sugar. All have 8 grams of protein.
Which “free” claims matter
“Dairy-free,” say many non-dairy milk cartons. (Duh!) Are other “free” claims more helpful?
Cholesterol-free. Any milk made from plants (soy, nuts, grains, etc.) has no cholesterol. It also has no lactose (milk sugar).
Gluten-free. Most non-dairy milks are naturally gluten-free. But if you need to avoid gluten, always check the label.
Carrageenan-free or gum-free. The controversial thickener carrageenan is gone from most non-dairy milks. Some brands, like Forager Project, are also “gum free.” But gums like gellan or locust bean, though not well tested, are probably safe for most people (see chemicalcuisine.org).
Don’t bother buying coconut milk for its medium-chain fats
What’s fueling the coconut craze? It’s partly due to medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), which “[help] to support metabolism,” according to the Trader Joe’s coconut milk cartons.
In one good study, dieters given 18 to 24 grams of MCFAs a day for four months lost about 3½ more pounds than dieters given olive oil.
But you’d have to drink 26 to 38 cups a day of coconut milk to get as much MCFAs as those dieters got. And each cup has 45 to 90 calories. So much for a magic weight-loss bullet.
And so much for your arteries, which have to deal with coconut milk’s cholesterol-raising longer-chain saturated fatty acids.
Like coconut? Silk and Blue Diamond almond-coconut blends cut the sat fat to just 1 gram.
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Photos: © Brent Hofacker/fotolia.com (top), © Califia Farms (Califia Farms Almondmilk), © Lindsay Moyer/CSPI (all others).