There is no shortage of dairy alternative options available on grocery store shelves. But how do they compare to a good old glass of cow’s milk? Check the table below to compare the calorie and macronutrient content between milk and three popular dairy alternative options.

  1% milk Soy milk Almond milk Rice milk Coconut milk
Calories 108 100 60 120 80
Fat 3 grams 4 grams 2.5 grams 2.5 grams 5 grams
Protein 9 grams 7 grams 1 gram 1 gram 1 gram
Carbohydrates 13 grams 8 grams 8 grams 23 grams 7 grams

 

This chart highlights that the calorie difference between the milk and the dairy alternative options isn’t very significant. Rice milk has the highest amount of calories and almond milk the lowest. However, even between these two, there is only a 60-calorie difference. In the grand scheme of things, for most people, 60 calories isn’t very significant.

What is different between these options is where the calories come from and specifically, the amount of protein. Almond, rice and coconut milk all have very little protein while soy milk provides an amount of protein similar to cow’s milk. The type of protein in soy and 1% milk is also a complete protein since it contains all the essential amino acids, unlike the protein found in almond, rice and coconut milk. Finally, coconut milk is higher in fat and rice milk, higher in carbohydrates when compared to the other options.

All dairy alternatives provide a similar amount of calcium compared to cow’s milk. However, the calcium in the plant-based beverages is fortified. This means it is added to the drink rather than found naturally. Because of this, the calcium can settle to the bottom of the container. If you are drinking a non-dairy alternative, be sure that you give the container a good shake before drinking it so that you get all of the calcium.

 If you are lactose intolerant or prefer not to drink cow’s milk, then soy milk would be the best dairy alternative option from a nutrition perspective. If you’re worried about the safety of consuming soy milk, check my past blog here. However, remember that cow’s milk provides more protein, calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc and phosphorus per calorie than any other food.

One final caution about dairy alternatives: beware of the addition of sugar, such as in chocolate or vanilla flavoured options. While clever marketing schemes can make these look like “healthy” options, it really is just flavoured with added sugar. If you do opt for a dairy alternative, look for an unsweetened variety.