4 Dairy-Free Milk Alternatives (Coconut, Rice, Almond, Soy)

Not Milk?

When I was a kid, the word milk referred to milk from cows.  Fast forward a couple decades, and the variety of non-dairy milks has become dizzying.  Many of these “milks” you see in grocery stores today are not technically milk.  They come from plant sources such as almonds, soybeans, rice and coconuts, but they have the color and consistency of cow’s milk.
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Dairy-free milk alternatives are popular with vegans and vegetarians because they contain no animal products or by-products. This also means that they are cholesterol-free. Non-dairy beverages are great for milk lovers with dairy allergies or lactose intolerance, which is the inability to digest the natural milk sugar called lactose.

Rice, almond and soy beverages tend to be lower in fat and calories than cow’s milk.  On the down side, plant-based beverages contain much less protein and calcium than regular dairy milk.

If you want or need to avoid dairy milk, or just want to jazz up your morning cereal, here is a basic primer on the most common non-dairy beverages you’ll find at the grocery store:


1) Rice milk

Made from boiled rice, brown rice syrup and brown rice starch.

Manufacturers often add thickening agents to commercial rice milk. Rice milk may be sweetened with sugar and some manufacturers use vanilla to make rice milk taste more like cow's milk. Rice milk generally tastes sweeter than cow's milk.

One cup of rice milk contains about 140 calories, compared to 185 calories in a cup of whole cow's milk, and 97 calories in a cup of skimmed cow's milk. Rice milk contains about 3 grams of fat per cup, while whole cow's milk contains about 11 grams per cup and skim milk contains less than 1 gram of fat.


2) Almond milk

Made from ground almonds mixed with water and sweetener.

Almond milk has become quite popular in the last several years. It shares several properties of dairy milk: Both have a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, and a comparable fat content. Almond milk also has a rich, nutty taste and comes in several flavors.

Protein in almond milk is only 1 gram per cup, compared with 7 and 8 grams for soy and cow's milk, respectively. It's not suitable for those with nut allergies and lacks the B vitamins in cow's milk. Some almond milk has substantial amounts of sugar added, so read the labels and look for unsweetened varieties to avoid empty calories.


3) Soy milk

Made by soaking soybeans and grinding them with water.

Soy milk is rich in protein and calcium and has no saturated fat. It is low in calories and comes in many flavors.  On the down side, soy products can inhibit protein and mineral absorption, offsetting its health benefits.


4) Coconut milk

Made from ground coconut meat and juices.

This milk is rich, creamy and tasty and is a mainstay of Indian and Thai cooking. Its fats are more easily digested than those in dairy milks, and coconut milk is low in cholesterol.

On the downside, coconut milk has a whopping 467 calories per cup. It's also low in calcium, contains only 1 gram of protein and is high in saturated fat. Some lower fat options of coconut milk are becoming available, but always read the Nutrition Facts label before you buy.


Holly Aglialoro
Guest Blogger and Fitness Enthusiast