Want To Ditch Dairy? Here’s Your Vegan Milk Guide…

Most of us will remember the adverts on television, the major campaigns in school, and our parents at breakfast and sometimes even dinner telling us to drink our milk if we wanted strong bones and healthy teeth. The reality, however, is a little different, and with so many allergies to dairy in the world today, along with some growing evidence that it may not be as healthy as we think and ethical issues within the industry, there is an increase in demand for vegan milk alternatives. This is a great thing, because, even if you do enjoy cow’s milk, chances are you are consuming too much of it, and, at the very least, you might want to switch to a vegan milk substitute half the time, if not altogether. Let’s take a look at the healthiest and safest options…

Whether you're lactose intolerant, vegan, or just want to cut back on animal products, there are a number of plant-based milk alternatives to choose from...


Why Not Cow’s Milk?

Bloating, cramps and rashes are some of the symptoms of lactose intolerance, but even if you are not allergic to dairy, there is mounting evidence that it’s not the healthy ‘food you drink’ that you think it is. Sure, there are nutrients in cow’s milk, and it does have some health benefits, being a good source of calcium and vitamin D, but a number of scientists are now saying that the pros may not outweigh the cons. Some studies suggest ditching dairy altogether can actually help you strengthen your bones, improve digestion, clear up acne-prone skin, and boost your energy. So, are you thinking you can’t take coffee without milk and love a bowl of oats in the morning? Let’s check out some of the substitute options to make a dairy-free milk change work for you…


Vegan Milk Alternatives

The good news is, there are a number of non-dairy alternatives to cow’s milk these days, including soy, almond, hemp, coconut and rice (to name just a few). Some are better than others in terms of health, and some are better in terms of taste. Of course, taste is always subjective, so it depends on what you like. Let’s start by taking a look at the nutritional value of these alternatives, but be aware that vegan milks are often enriched with different nutrients, so nutritional value can vary from brand-to-brand…

milk alternatives

Nutritional Information

We’re looking at the nutritional value of five popular non-dairy alternatives in 240 gram servings – soy, almond, coconut, rice and hemp. All of these are unsweetened varieties, either in their raw form (like coconut milk), or without added sugar, so when you do go to buy them in your local supermarket or health food shop, make sure it says ‘unsweetened’, or, if you are unsure, check the ingredients…

Soy Milk

Calories – 80
Total Fat – 4g
Cholesterol – 0mg
Sodium – 85mg
Total Carbohydrate – 4g
Dietary Fiber – 1g
Sugars – 1g
Protein – 7g
Vitamin A – 10% of RDI
Vitamin C – 0% of RDI
Calcium – 30% of RDI
Iron – 6% of RDI
Folate – 6% of RDI
Magnesium – 10% of RDI


If you actually are completely vegan, then soy products can give you a great boost of much-needed protein. It is one of the richest sources of plant-based protein around, and soy milk comes closest to cow’s milk in terms of protein content, providing 6 grams per cup. It is also a good source of potassium while being low in calories and fat. However, soybeans need to be heavily processed in order to be turned into soy products like milk, and more than 90 per cent of soy produced in the US is genetically-modified, with crops being sprayed with Roundup, a herbicide that may be associated with some serious health risks. There is a vast amount of information out there about soy, some studies suggesting soy products cause health risks, others touting their health benefits. At this stage, the evidence is too weak to conclude that soy products can be harmful to adults in moderate amounts. However, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid soy milk. If you do want to try soy milk, don’t drink it in excess (a dash in coffee or tea is fine), and look for enriched versions that provide extra calcium and vitamins B and D.

soy milk

Almond Milk

Calories – 40
Total Fat – 3g
Cholesterol – 0mg
Sodium – 180mg
Total Carbohydrate – 2g
Dietary Fiber – 1g
Sugars – 0g
Protein – 1g
Vitamin A – 10% of RDI
Vitamin C – 0% of RDI
Calcium – 20% of RDI
Iron – 2% of RDI
Folate – 0% of RDI
Magnesium – 4% of RDI

almond milk

As of 2016, this is the most popular plant-based milk in the US, and it does come with a range of health benefits. It is low in calories and fat and relatively high in calcium (although not as high as dairy). And, on top of that, it tastes great, which is probably why it’s such a popular choice. The only downside is that it is processed and watered down, meaning the great source of fiber in the original almond is basically removed, but generally milk is low in fiber, so as long as you are getting that elsewhere in your diet, then you’re not really missing out on anything. Choose unsweetened almond milk, not regular almond milk, because it is packed full of added sugar; and choose enriched varieties, with added calcium and vitamins. Like a lot of vegan milks, it’s actually quite easy to make, which means you can minimize the cost and keep it super natural. But, of course, the downside is, it won’t be enriched or fortified with any nutrients. If you’re not vegan and feel that you are getting plenty of protein and calcium from other food sources, then this is a great homemade option if you want to cut out dairy…

Coconut Milk

Calories – 552
Total Fat – 57g
Cholesterol – 0mg
Sodium – 36mg
Total Carbohydrate – 13g
Dietary Fiber – 5g
Sugars – 8g
Protein – 5g
Vitamin A – 0% of RDI
Vitamin C – 11% of RDI
Calcium – 4% of RDI
Iron – 22% of RDI
Folate – 10% of RDI
Magnesium – 22% of RDI

coconut milk

While coconut milk is high in fat, it is a fantastic natural vegan milk choice that is taken directly from the plant. It is naturally rich in essential minerals, including manganese, selenium, copper, zinc and iron, and low in sugar (with no fructose content). It is a relatively good source of calcium and is an excellent vegan milk choice if your diet isn’t already too high in fat, and if you’d rather stick to natural raw foods.


Rice Milk

Calories – 120
Total Fat – 2g
Cholesterol – 1mg
Sodium – 86mg
Total Carbohydrate – 25g
Dietary Fiber – 0g
Sugars – 0g
Protein – 0g
Vitamin A – 0% of RDI
Vitamin C – 2% of RDI
Calcium – 2% of RDI
Iron – 1% of RDI
Folate – 0% of RDI
Magnesium – 0% of RDI

rice milk

If budget is an issue, then rice milk is a great option compared to vegan milks like almond or coconut. Because it is made from one of the world’s most frequently cultivated grains, it is available at a more affordable price. But that doesn’t mean it sacrifices on health – it is still a nutritionally beneficial dairy-free option that includes a blend of carbohydrates and protein, with little fat. While it does contain more carbohydrates than cow’s milk, it doesn’t contain cholesterol, which makes it a more heart-healthy choice. Again, chose an enriched version to get a better dose of nutrients – most rice milk brands are fortified with calcium, making it a similar dose to regular dairy milk. Look for versions that are also enriched with niacin, iron and vitamins A, D and B12.


Hemp Milk

Calories – 110
Total Fat – 7g
Cholesterol – 0mg
Sodium – 20mg
Total Carbohydrate – 6g
Dietary Fiber – 1g
Sugars – 5g
Protein – 5g
Vitamin A – 0% of RDI
Vitamin C – 0% of RDI
Calcium – 2% of RDI
Iron – 20% of RDI
Folate – 0% of RDI
Magnesium – 0% of RDI

hemp milk

Hemp is a particularly healthy, but contentious food option that is densely packed full of powerful nutrients. However, because of its association with illegal drugs, it was banned as a food source for a long time in certain countries, and in some cases, still is. That’s a pity, because it has the ability to fill some nutritious gaps and provide a cheap source of wholesome essential nutrients. As a milk alternative, hemp is relatively high in fat when compared to some other vegan options, with 7 grams in a 240 gram serving. However, only 0.5 of a gram is saturated fat, and most is healthy omega-3 fatty acid, and it has plenty of vitamins and minerals. It also comes with 5 grams of protein, 10 essential amino acids and a good hit of iron, making it great muscle-building milk.


Other Vegan Milks

We’ve had a close-up look at five popular vegan milk alternatives to dairy, but there are actually quite a few more lesser known options, including hazelnut, quinoa and oat. One of the biggest issues with hazelnut milk is that it is difficult to find an unsweetened version (unlike almond milk, which is extremely easy). That, of course, depends on where you live – if you have access to health food stores in major cities, chances are you will be able to find unsweetened, but if you’re in a smaller town or country, you might have to go for unsweetened almond milk, or make your own. Hazelnut milk is low in calories, with no cholesterol or saturated fat, and is a good source of vitamins E, B1, B2 and B6, as well as omega-3 fatty acids and certain minerals.

vegan milks

Oat milk is extremely high in calcium and pretty high in protein, but is also high in sugar and calories, although you can find unsweetened oat milk, which reduces the sugar content. It is high in fiber, folic acid, vitamin E and heart-healthy phytochemicals and is low fat. Oat milk is a great option if you’re not a fan of nutty-tasting milk alternatives, because it has a mild oaty flavor. Quinoa milk is one of the more difficult to find, and, with quinoa being quite expensive, it’s not a particularly affordable option if you are drinking a lot of it. You can, however, make your own, and that comes with its own nutritional value. Quinoa is gluten-free, has a low glycemic index, is high in fiber, and rich in essential fatty acids, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, magnesium and vitamins B and E. It tastes similar to oat milk, so, again, if you don’t like the nutty milk options or the flavor of coconut, then this is a great alternative.


How To Use Your Milk Alternatives

Other than the obvious alternative option for coffee, tea and oatmeal, there are some other fantastic ways to use vegan milks…

Smoothies – Add some vegan milk to your regular smoothies. A great option as a breakfast meal replacement is half a frozen banana, half-a-cup of unsweetened coconut milk, half-a-cup of coconut water, a handful of in-season berries, a fifth of an avocado, 2 teaspoons of chia seeds, a quarter-cup of oats, 1 heaped teaspoon of 100% almond butter, 1 teaspoon of 100% maple syrup and one teaspoon of matcha powder. That will keep you nourished and full for hours!


Vegan Ice-Cream – Vegan milks make excellent ingredients in non-dairy ice-creams, and they are super easy to make – no churning necessary! If you like bananas, add two to a blender, along with half-a-cup of coconut or almond milk (unsweetened), 1 tablespoon of maple syrup, 1 tablespoon of cacao powder and 1 tablespoon of almond butter or peanut butter (100%). Blend, pour into a tub and freeze overnight! If you don’t like bananas (or are sick of them from all your healthy smoothies and baking!), add 1 avocado to a blender with half-a-cup of nut milk, 1 teaspoon of peppermint essence, 1 tablespoon of maple syrup and 1 tablespoon of macadamia butter and blend until smooth. Pour into a tub and mix in some miniature dark vegan chocolate chips. Freeze overnight and serve. Your very own vegan mint choc chip ice-cream!

Matcha Latte – We already know we can add a dash of vegan milk to tea or coffee, or make an almond milk cappuccino, but what about trying out a beautiful green matcha latte!? Check out this easy homemade recipe. All you need is a blender and stove top, along with the ingredients – water, almond milk, matcha powder, coconut butter, vanilla extract and honey. For a fully vegan option, you can substitute the honey with maple syrup.

matcha latte

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