Milky (the plant) way

Which plant-based milk should I choose?

‘Plant-based milk’ refers to non-dairy milks, which are made from plants. “Which one to choose” is a nutrition question I’m asked ALL the time, and unfortunately there’s no simple answer – it really depends on your individual needs and your taste preferences. Plant-based milks vary widely in their macronutrient (protein, carbohydrate, and fat) composition, but also in terms of the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) they contain. If you’re only having a glass or so of a plant-based milk per day, the composition won’t really affect your daily nutrient intake, however, if you have very specific macronutrient needs (if you’re an athlete, for example) and u are having more than a glass each day, it’s worth making an educated choice about which plant-based milk you’re going to drink.

Here’s a quick run-down of the pros and cons of the most common plant-based milks:

Almond Milk

It is made by extracting the liquid from almonds and leaving behind the almond pulp. It’s very easy to make at home and works out significantly cheaper. All you need is some raw almonds (soaked for 8 hours or overnight), filtered water, a high-speed blender and a nut milk bag (or piece of cheesecloth or muslin). The issue with commercial almond milks is that most are only 2.5% almonds, which is only about 5 almonds per 250mL glass. No wonder they taste thin and watery! Many almond milks have a fair amount of added sugar, to make them taste similar to dairy milk but unsweetened varieties are available if you prefer.

What to look for:

  • A high percentage of almonds
  • Fortified with calcium

Soy milk
In terms of macronutrient composition, soy milk is the closest plant-based milk to cow’s milk. It is higher in protein than any other commercially available milk, and contains variable quantities of carbohydrate (sugar) and fat, depending on what the manufacturer has chosen to add to it. Soy milks are available in ‘regular’, ‘low fat’ and ‘fat-free’ varieties which refers to the added fat content. The regular varieties have fat added in the form of vegetable oil, the low-fat and lite varieties don’t tend to have any fat added, but still do contain a small amount of fat, which is naturally-occurring in soybeans.

What to look for:

  • No added vegetable oils
  • In the ingredients list: ‘whole soybeans’ rather than ‘soy protein isolate’ or ‘isolated soy protein’
  • Fortified with 300mg calcium per 250mL cup

Rice milk

Rice milks tend to be much higher in carbohydrate than the other plant-based milks (a 250ml glass is equivalent to 2 slices of bread!), but they are a good choice for people with allergies to soy or nuts, or people with food chemical intolerances following elimination diets. One positive: they are usually fortified with 300mg calcium per 250ml cup.

What to look for:

  • Made from whole brown rice, not rice protein
  • Fortified with 300mg calcium per 250ml cup

Oat milk

Oat milk is quite a good all-rounder nutritionally, containing more protein than almond milk but less carbohydrate than rice milk. Most oat milks are also fortified with calcium, which is a bonus.

What to look for:

  • Made from ‘whole oats’
  • Fortified with 300mg calcium per 250mL cup

For the other plant-milks, such as nut milks other than almond (cashew, hazelnut, macadamia), grain-based milks (quinoa, spelt), coconut milk formulated for drinking, the same rules as above apply – check how much of the actual ingredient is going into the milk, look for no added oils, minimal sugars, and check if they’re fortified with calcium.


Fewwf – that was quite a lecture!


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