Not milk? Choosing milk for your morning cereal or coffee used to be pretty simple: skim, low-fat or whole. These days, though, market shelves and refrigerators are crowded with an array of alternatives: soy, almond, rice, hemp and more.
While some people opt for these beverages because they're vegan, they have allergies or because they're lactose intolerant, the beverages are increasingly popular for another reason too. "We're all being encouraged to eat a more plant-based diet, and some of these products fit that category," says Andrea Giancoli, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a policy analyst at the Beach Cities Health District Blue Zones Project in Hermosa Beach, an initiative to develop healthier communities.
They're all slightly different in terms of nutrients — some are low in carbs and fat and others not so much — but Giancoli recommends choosing the unsweetened versions and those that also are fortified with calcium, vitamin D and, ideally, B12.
The nutrition facts listed here are for an 8-ounce serving. For comparison, a cup of whole milk contains 150 calories, 8 grams of fat, 30% of the recommended dietary allowance, or RDA, for calcium and 25% for vitamin D.
Soy is the closest to dairy milk in terms of protein, and it's low in carbohydrates and sugar. "Soy also provides amino acids, the building blocks of protein," says Giancoli. Most animal-based foods contain all nine of the essential amino acids, making them sources of "complete" proteins; most plant-based foods contain some but not all of those. Soy is one of the exceptions. "It contains all nine, so it's considered a complete protein," she says. It tastes a little sweet, close to skim milk.
Nutrition facts for Silk Original Soymilk: 110 calories; 4.5 grams of fat; 45% RDA calcium; 30% RDA vitamin D; 50% RDA vitamin B12.
Best for: Drinking, cereal, coffee. silk.com/products/original-soymilk
If you're allergic to soy or nuts, rice milk might be the best option. It's quite watery, so probably not ideal for tea or coffee. The unsweetened version is naturally sweet. "Rice milk has about 23 grams of carbohydrate per serving, higher than the other milk alternatives," says Giancoli.
Nutrient facts for Rice Dream Enriched Original: 120 calories; 2.5 grams of fat; 30% RDA calcium; 25% RDA of vitamin D; 24% RDA of vitamin B12.
Best for: Pancakes, baked goods or desserts. www.tastethedream.com
"Almond milk is the lowest in calories but also lower in protein," Giancoli says. It's fortified with vitamin E, whose antioxidant properties fight UV damage from the sun. Almond milk also contains iron. It tastes vaguely nutty, though not necessarily like almonds.
Nutrition facts for Almond Breeze Original Unsweetened: 30 calories; 2.5 grams of fat; 45% RDA calcium; 25% RDA vitamin D; 50% RDA vitamin E.
Best for: Coffee, smoothies and over cereal or oatmeal. almondbreeze.com
Coconut milk is the creamiest of the dairy alternatives, making it ideal for coffee and tea. It has also become a popular cooking ingredient and is frequently used in Indian and some other Asian dishes. "It's relatively high in saturated fat, with 4 grams of saturated fat per serving, but that's still just a fraction of the daily recommended limit," Giancoli says. It's slightly sweet and has barely a hint of coconut flavor.
Nutrition facts for So Delicious Unsweetened Coconut Milk: 45 calories; 4.5 grams of fat; 10% RDA calcium; 30% RDA vitamin D; 50% RDA vitamin B12
Best for: Smoothies, coffee, tea — it's creamier and thicker than the other milk alternatives. sodeliciousdairyfree.com/products/coconut-milk-beverages/unsweetened
Hemp seeds have a nutty and slightly sweet flavor, and they contain lots of omega-3 fatty acids (also found in fish), which are good for the heart. "Half the calories in hemp milk come from fat, but it's a heart-healthy fat," Giancoli says.
Nutrition facts for Pacific Hemp Original: 140 calories; 5 grams of fat; 50% RDA calcium; 30% RDA vitamin D; 25% RDA vitamin B12
Best for: Baked goods, mashed potatoes. www.pacificfoods.com/food/non-dairy-beverages/