What’s the best milk?

Dairy is still king. Non-dairy reportedly makes up only about 9 percent of all milk sales. But plant milks keep inching up. Why? Non-dairy is better for the planet (and for animals). And many people believe that it’s better for their health.

Clearly, all “milks” are not created equal.

Know what you’re missing

Dairy milk is naturally rich in nutrients. Among them: calcium (30 percent of the Daily Value per cup), vitamin B-12 (20 percent), and potassium (10 percent). And dairy milks add 25 percent of the DV for vitamin D.

Many non-dairy milks add at least that much calcium and D. Only soy milk naturally matches dairy’s potassium, though some pea milks—Ripple and Bolthouse Farms—add enough to rival soy.

Some milks boast that they’re “soy free.” But if you like soy and want its protein, healthy fat, and potassium, there’s no reason to drop it. (Click here for more on soy claims.)

Many plant milks don’t add B-12. If you’re a vegan, take a multivitamin.

What to look for: At least 30% of the DV for calcium and 25% for vitamin D per cup.

Looking for non-dairy protein? Soy and pea deliver.

Get enough protein

Protein may not matter if you just want a low-calorie liquid to blend into your yogurt smoothie. But if you’re counting on milk for protein, look for at least 7 grams per cup. Dairy delivers 8 grams.

That means nearly all almond, cashew, coconut, flax, rice, and other nut milks are out. They typically have 0 to 1 gram of protein per cup. But most soy and pea milks are in. (Some light or sweetened soy milks have just 5 or 6 grams.)

What to look for: At least 7 grams of protein per cup (if you need it).

Limit added sugar

A cup of dairy milk has 3 teaspoons (12 grams) of naturally occurring lactose (milk sugar). Most non-dairy milks naturally have 0 to 2 grams of sugar. Anything more than that is added.

And some rice and oat milks have as much as 20 grams of sugar, because companies use enzymes to break down their starches into sugars. We count that sugar as added.

Who needs it? Plenty of unsweetened non-dairy milks taste good.

Don’t like unsweetened? Most sweetened “original” non-dairy milks have just 1 to 1½ teaspoons of added sugar—far less than most vanillas (1½ to 3 teaspoons) or chocolates (3 to 5 teaspoons).

Tip: Check the label. Blue Diamond Almond Breeze Hint of Honey Vanilla has 2 teaspoons of added sugar per cup. Pacific’s “lightly sweetened” Vanilla Hemp milk has 4 teaspoons per cup. You call that lightly?

What to look for: No more than five grams (about a teaspoon) of added sugar per cup.

Get healthy fats

If you drink dairy milk, stick with 1% or fat-free. But for non-dairy, don’t worry about the fat in nuts, seeds, and soy. It’s the healthier, unsaturated kind. Just avoid coconut milk.

What to look for: No more than 2 grams of saturated fat per cup.

Skip rice milk

Arsenic is a human carcinogen, and rice soaks it up from soil and water. A half cup of rice milk could put an adult at the daily arsenic limit set by Consumer Reports. Kids under 5 shouldn’t drink rice milk daily.

What to look for: No rice or rice syrup in the ingredients list.

Photo (top): © luigi giordano/fotolia.com.

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19 Replies to “What’s the best milk?”

  1. Still trying to determine, and it wasnt clear in the info you provided, if I can take my antibiotics (2 wk suppy), with an almond milk (clearly labeled “nonDairy”) after the phyarmisist advised taking the pills with no dairy one hour before and no dairy two hours after?

    1. http://www.aicr.org/foods-that-fight-cancer/soy.html?_ga=2.158378874.1325467702.1521034229-1427278883.1504646272

      I’m an oncology dietitian, and whole soy foods (edamame, tofu, tempeh, soy milk) are allowed even with our estrogen sensitive breast cancer patients. Phytoestrogens, or plant estrogens, are not identical to human estrogen and may infer some benefits – see article attached. Soy sauce and soybean oils do not contain the isoflavones of interest, so don’t worry about those.

  2. Could you please tell me if there are any major differences between dairy milk and organic dairy milk? Besides the organic version being double the price where we shop.

  3. I have read about almond milk having a chemical that is a carcinogen in it.
    carr………………… I don’t know the spelling but when I checked the carton it was there. I stopped drinking it after that and went back to milk. I also have seen and read that you need to use real pure soy to get the full benefits out of it and many don’t have pure soy in it. Dr. Oz talked about that on his show one day.

  4. You have not addressed the controversy between the Dairy Association (DA) and scientists. The DA says milk is the perfect food that’s good for bones. Scientists say that milk is actually bad for bones. Where do you stand on this important issue? Thank you.

    Kathleen Cahill

  5. I remember reading that only brown rice has arsenic, not white
    rice. The arsenic is removed when the brown rice is converted to white rice

  6. Fairlife is my choice of milks.
    I drink it for the LOWERED fat and the HIGHER protein [ 13 grams per 8oz.].
    And the chocolate milk is THE best thing I have tasted in too many decades to remember.
    I have not had milk in my diet for at least 5 decades,till now.
    Heated 8oz a night before bed !.

    1. I agree about Fairlife. I started drinking the fat free version when it first appeared. It has more protein and less sugar. CSPI even wrote about it a while back. I’m also lactose intolerant.

  7. Great article! Would it be possible to adapt the content for a free newsletter targeting an audience of clients/patients? Please advise.

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