The Grapevine

4 Healthiest Non-Dairy Alternatives To Cow's Milk

Whether due to lactose intolerance or preference, more and more people are considering non-dairy milk substitutes. Given the number of options on the shelves, it can be difficult to determine the healthiest option.

Isabel Smith, a celebrity dietitian from New York City, recommended a simple rule to follow when shopping. "Whatever non-dairy milk you choose, use one that’s unsweetened, free of artificial sweeteners, and has some protein or healthy fat," she said.

Here is a breakdown of four alternatives that can provide the nutritional boost you need, including which ones you should avoid if you have certain health conditions: 

1. Soy milk

When comparing all the alternatives, a 2017 study found soy milk to resemble the nutritional profile of dairy the most. It contains just as much protein as cow's milk in addition to being a good source of vitamin A, vitamin B-12, potassium, etc.

There has been some debate in the medical community on whether soy consumption should be limited in the case of hypothyroidism. However, there is no evidence to suggest soy should be completely avoided.

Dr. Todd B. Nippoldt from the Mayo Clinic recommended waiting for around four hours after taking thyroid medication to consume any products that contain soy.

2. Rice milk

Unlike soy, rice milk is the least likely of all alternatives to cause allergies but is low in protein content. Containing around 120 calories per cup, it is best consumed when fortified with calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin D.

Since it is produced by blending milled rice and water, the carbohydrates are converted to sugar in the process. While the produced sweetness can be great for taste, this aspect makes rice milk a bad option for diabetes patients. Though it tastes a bit watery, people who prefer the taste of regular dairy milk over nutty alternatives may be more likely to enjoy rice milk.

3. Hemp milk

Hemp milk, which is obtained from crushing and soaking hemp seeds in water, is a good choice for those looking to strengthen their bones and lower the risk of osteoporosis.

"One 8-ounce glass of hemp milk gives you a whopping 45 percent of your recommended daily amount of calcium," said clinical nutritionist David Friedman.

The presence of magnesium (which helps regulate the heart rhythm) and omega-3 fatty acids (which is beneficial for cholesterol levels) also makes it a heart-healthy alternative.

4. Cashew milk

Ashley Pettit, a fitness chef, noted that cashew milk had a very similar nutrition profile to almond milk. "Unsweetened cashew milk has an incredibly low-calorie profile, but it's only five calories less than almond milk," she said. It is estimated to contain 4 grams of protein per serving and 8 percent of the daily value for iron.

While it may be very easy to make yourself, nutritionists suggest that store-bought cashew milk may contain much lesser fat than homemade cashew milk. "When you're buying any milk at a store, it's processed more than you have the ability to process at home, and those processes cut out some of the fat," Pettit added.