It wasn’t too long ago that “going to the store for milk” meant only in the dairy case and only one kind: cow’s milk.
Recently, options have expanded to include a plethora of choices. By strict definition only a “fluid secreted by the mammary glands of a female mammal for the nourishment of their young” is “milk,” but other plant-based products that resemble milk, and are used similarly to milk, are produced from seeds, nuts, beans or other foods.
According to research conducted by the Nielsen Company, sales of almond milk (the top-selling milk alternative) grew 250 percent from 2010 to 2015 and continue to rise. BCC Research reports that the global market for milk alternatives reached $5.8 billion in 2014 and is expected to reach almost $10.9 billion by 2019.
The most common plant-based milks are almond, soy, rice and coconut. There are also milks made from walnuts, cashews, oats, hazelnuts, peanuts, oats, barley, spelt, peas and quinoa as well as chia, flax, hemp, sunflower and sesame seeds.
These various milks have different nutritional profiles and can be used for different dietary reasons and purposes. Plant-based milks are ideal for vegans, and can be made into other non-animal-based “dairy” products like vegan yogurt, cheese, sour cream, cream cheese and ice cream. They are also a good option for people who are lactose-intolerant, allergic to dairy or simply want to expand their nutritional variety. Many varieties are, like cow’s milk, fortified with calcium and vitamin D, and some are fortified with protein and other vitamins as well.
Nutritional information for cow’s milk and the most popular varieties of plant-based milk:
(All nutritional information is per one 8-ounce serving and for unflavored, unsweetened varieties. Nutritional content is rounded and may vary by brand; check labels for specific details.)
Cow’s milk: Highest in protein (8 grams). Calories and fat vary per variety: Whole/3.25% (149 calories and 8 grams of fat); Reduced-fat/2% (122 calories and 5 grams of fat); Low-fat/1% (102 calories and 2.4 grams of fat) and Skim/0% (86 calories and .04 grams of fat).
Almond milk: Lower in protein (1.6 grams) but also lower in calories (39) and fat (2.9 grams).
Soy milk: Nearly as high in protein as cow’s milk (7 grams). 80 calories and 3.9 grams of fat.
Coconut milk: No protein. 75 calories and 4.8 grams of fat. (This is for coconut milk beverage rather than the canned, sweetened version often used in cooking.)
Rice milk: Low in protein (.7 grams). 113 calories and 2.3 grams of fat.
Cashew milk: 1 gram of protein. 60 calories and 2.5 grams of fat.