Meal Planning Monday ~ Milk Alternatives

This week’s blog post is by Christine Luken.

Open any home’s refrigerator in the U.S., and there’s an excellent chance you’ll find a jug – or two – of milk in there.  We drink milk, put it on our cereal, and cook with it almost daily.  The interesting thing is since 1975, America’s milk consumption has dropped by 30%.  There are a variety of reasons for this, but one major contributor is the rise in popularity of milk alternatives, such as soy, almond, coconut, and rice milk.

I conducted some very unscientific research to see why people would choose a “pseudo-milk” drink and their opinion on taste both straight-up and in recipes.  The biggest reason people are reaching for a milk alternative is lactose intolerance or sensitivity, which causes gastric upset.  Other people are concerned about the effects of hormones in conventional cow’s milk.  Vegans and some vegetarians avoid regular dairy products and prefer a plant-based alternative.  Personally, when I drink milk, I notice that it tends to irritate my sinuses and makes me mucus-y, which is really a drag during the peak of allergy season!

My first foray into milk alternatives was purchasing a carton of vanilla coconut milk, with a coupon – of course!  I started using it in my smoothies instead of regular milk.  It is super-delicious in the Hawaiian Breeze smoothie and I noticed no negative side effects for my sinuses.   I’m not a fan of drinking it plain, but my hubby loves it by the glass-full and on his cereal.  Nutritionally, the only downside I see is a complete lack of protein in coconut milk, whereas cow’s milk has 8 grams per cup.  Coconut milk has gotten somewhat of bad rap for being high in saturated fat.  However, most of this fat is in the form of lauric acid which helps to strengthen the immune system.

Let’s look at soy, almond, coconut, and rice milk and how they compare to cow’s milk nutritionally.  Be sure to scrutinize the nutritional label of whichever milk alternative you choose.  Some brands and varieties have added flavors and sugar, which will affect the numbers on the label. (1 cup of 1% milk has 102 calories, 8 grams of protein, 2 grams of fat, 12 carbs, and 30% DV of calcium.)

Soy Milk - Soy milk is the closest nutritionally to cow’s milk.  A cup of Silk Original Soy Milk has 90 calories, 6 grams of protein, 3.5 grams of fat, 8 carbs, 45% DV calcium, and 30% DV of vitamin D.  Soy milk easily replaces regular milk in recipes. The downside?  Many soybeans are grown from genetically modified seeds.  So, look for “non-GMO” or “organic” on the label if that is a concern for you.  (Fortunately, Silk Original is non-GMO.)  Some people avoid soy products altogether because of the plant-based estrogens.

Almond Milk – Almond Breeze Original refrigerated almond milk has 60 calories per cup, 1 gram of protein, 2.5 grams of fat, 8 carbs, 45% DV of calcium, and 25% DV of vitamin D.  The fat found in almonds is the healthy monounsaturated variety, plus you’ll be getting a good dose of vitamin E.  Almond milk was the most popular choice among my friends, who said it was a tasty dairy milk replacement for drinking, cereal, and cooking.  The only downside is the almost complete lack of protein.  I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m going to.

 Coconut Milk – So Delicious Unsweetened Vanilla coconut milk has 45 calories per cup, no protein (an obvious negative), 4.5 grams of fat, only 2 grams of carbs (a great choice for carb steppers!), 30% DV vitamin D but only 10% DV calcium.  My hubby and I do get plenty of calcium with our yogurt, cheese, and ice cream consumption.  I think the vanilla coconut milk is very tasty and it works well with the recipes I’ve used it in (mostly smoothies and desserts).  The amount of fat may be a deterrent for some folks.

 Rice Milk – Unsweetened rice milk seems to be the least popular of the milk alternatives, and for good reasons.  It’s higher is calories (and therefore, carbs) and has virtually no protein.  One cup of Rice Dream Enriched Refrigerated Original contains 120 calories, 1 gram of protein, 2.5 grams of fat, 23 grams of carbs, 30% DV calcium, and 25% DV vitamin D.  Unless rice milk is fortified, there’s not much nutritional value.  Plus Consumer Reports found detectable levels of arsenic in certain brands of rice milk and recommend consuming no more than ½ cup per day and not giving it to children under age 5.  Now that’s a little scary!

If you are trying to cut back on cow’s milk for whatever reason, I’d pass on the rice milk. But consider giving almond, coconut, or soy milk a try!  I’d like to hear your opinions – what milk alternative is your favorite and why?






  1. Casey says:

    This is an excellent post! So many people assume that products that are free of meat and dairy are automatically healthier choices, and that’s just not the case. I really like the taste of soymilk, but I only buy organic varieties. I have tried coconut milk and was not a fan, although I tried a coconut creamer recently and it was awesome. Weird, I know! :P

  2. Beth says:

    I didn’t know there was arsenic in rice milk, but there is in apple juice, as well.

  3. We drink soy milk in my house. I personally think that it tastes better and it lasts longer too.

  4. Anu says:

    Never knew there are other awesome alternatives to cow’s milk. Wish this brand was available worldwide. Thanks for this great information.

  5. We love Almond Milk. Not because we are avoiding cow products – just because we love it. I also seems to last longer in the fridge, which is useful because we are 65 miles away from a good grocery store. My husband likes Coconut milk too – but I’m deathly allergic so we don’t keep much in the house.

  6. Emerald says:

    I drink Soy milk and Rick milk. Its better for my digestive system and it just taste better in my opinion.

  7. We love almond milk and coconut milk. I’ve never tried soy or rice milk.

  8. Ronnie says:

    I don’t drink milk myself but I was never all too aware of any alternatives. Thanks for this post – it was super informative.

  9. Alicia says:

    I have a serious case of lactose intolerance and love Silk Organic. I also like Costco’s brand of organic soymilk as it doesn’t need refrigeration until it’s opened. It’s easy to take it on the road when traveling. I tend to avoid other brands because they do use GMO, add sugar or use artificial ingredients.

  10. cakes says:

    Appreciate the recommendation. Will try it out.

  11. Jennifer B says:

    We drink almond milk here in our house for many reasons! It’s just so good and good for you too!

  12. Tracy says:

    I just recently made the switch from 2% milk to Almond Breeze Almond Coconut (60) milk and it’s delicious! A doctor friend of mine recommended it saying it was the best blend of all that she tried and I totally agree.

  13. Excellent information. I, myself am noticing more and more itching, mucus,etc… with milk products. These are things that didn’t use to happen to me and that I began to attribute to aging, becoming more sensitive to stuff. But you know what? It hit me! Due to all the “crap” added in these foods, it’s almost crazy to not thing there will be side-effects. I’m eliminating as we speak and as of yesterday got some almond milk. Can’t wait to try it and see what happens! Great post, loved all the information. Thanks! :)

  14. I have never tried any milk alternatives, but coconut and almond milk sounds like they would be so tasty! I think I will make a point to try at least one of them the next time I go shopping.

  15. I love almond milk until I found out that my son has a Almond allergy so I don’t wanna take a risk of him accidentally drinking it, I do LOVE coconut milk and rice milk soo much better than cow’s milk

  16. I use Almond Milk everyday in my smoothie. It it a protein powder base so I get my protein that way. It is a good base and very low in calories (I buy unsweetened). I also like coconut milk.

  17. We love coconut milk in our house. We don;t usually drink it plain, but it makes some amazing smoothies :)

  18. Malia says:

    Great post. I don’t like regular milk, I don’t know why, but it just grosses me out! lol I occasionally use Soy Milk in my smoothies and I like it.

  19. I’m not a HUGE milk person anyhow, but I am lactose intolerant so I’ve dabbled in the substitutes. I like the chocolate varieties of soy and almond milk.

  20. My 1 year old just got switched from formula to milk and before we have noticed she had issues with gas. but now she has started having a rash on her body and the gas is worse now that she is on full milk so I have been searching for alternatives to try and see if we can find out if she does truly have a milk protein allergy, or lactose intolerant.. Thank you for this information it will make it a lot easier to decide which one we will make first..

  21. I knew there were alternatives to regular cow’s milk, but I didn’t know just how many! My husband and I just started using almond milk in smoothies. It’s a different taste, but definitely something you can get used to!

  22. We really like almond milk, especially in cereal!