Nutritionally, How Do Different “Milks” Compare?

Gone are the days when the only options in the milk aisle were cow’s milk or lactose-free alternatives. The rise of non-dairy milk has led to an explosion of choices, with soy, almond, oat, and even banana milk now widely available. And thanks to a February decision by the Food and Drug Administration, these non-dairy options can now officially be called “milk.”

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But with so many choices, how do you know which is best for you? That depends on your priorities. Some people may be looking for milk that is high in calcium, while others may be more concerned with cholesterol levels. And your preferences may differ depending on how you use the milk. Oat milk, for example, is often touted as the creamiest non-dairy milk and is a popular choice for coffee, while other people may prefer a different flavor if they’re pouring a glass.

To help you make an informed decision, we’ve put together some essential nutritional breakdowns for each milk based on a one-cup serving (240 ml) of the brand listed on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s FoodData Central database. Keep in mind that different brands or versions of each milk may vary.

But nutrition isn’t the only factor to consider. Allergies and dietary restrictions are significant players in milk options. For example, people with nut or soy allergies may need to avoid specific non-dairy milk, while those who are lactose intolerant or follow a vegan diet may opt for plant-based milk.

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There’s also the environmental impact to consider. While the effects of every alt-milk in the market aren’t yet known, data shows that rice, soy, almond, and oat are all better for the planet than cow’s milk. Rice has the lowest impact on land use, almond has the lowest impact on greenhouse emissions, and soy has the lowest impact on freshwater use, according to a Global Change Data Lab analysis.

Dairy cows are often pregnant, raising hormone levels in their milk. Plant milk may contain additives, but it’s fortified with nutrients like calcium and can have flavors and sugar. The CDC suggests avoiding added sugars. Choose milk based on nutritional needs, allergies, and environmental impact. The milk aisle has many options, so try something new, like pistachio, macadamia, or hemp milk. There’s always something to explore.