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.
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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