Going Nuts Over Milk: 11 Plant-Based Milk Alternatives You Need to Try

Updated

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My wife and I have been vegan for a combined 15 years, and we’ve watched the plant-based milk world grow from very few types and brands that were difficult to find, to aisles full of an overwhelming assortment. I’ve bought them all and made most on my own as well. 

I don’t regularly drink every option on this list. I have my favorites, and so do my wife and kids. But I’ll break down the health benefits of 11 of the most common non-dairy milks, some science to back them up, and my personal preferences.

Table of Contents

I chose the brands I recommend for the plant-based alternatives in this article based on availability, ingredients, and company profile. If you are choosing to switch to dairy alternatives you are already making an environmental impact as cow’s milk produces at least three times as much greenhouse gas emissions and uses nine times as much land as any nut milk on this list. My recommendations, however, don’t make any difference if you can’t find them! I then recommend brands that use the least amount of fillers, have organic options, and are certified vegan. Finally, I give special consideration to companies that source their products sustainably and/or are doing additional environmental work.

Let’s Take a Trip to the Store

Your first trip to the nut milk aisle can seem a bit daunting. There are so many to choose from! And not just types of nut milks, but brands, flavors, and ingredients as well. Not to worry. You’ll find your favorites and will come to enjoy the variety the plant-based milk world has to offer.

First thing’s first, read your labels. Look at calories, fat, carbohydrates, and protein, and choose brands and types that fit your needs. If you are watching your calories and counting your macros, the type of nut milk you choose can make a huge difference!

How to Read Nut Milk Nutrition Labels

Most commercial plant-based milks are fortified with vitamins and minerals like calcium and vitamin B12. This is important when switching from dairy as you’ll continue to get the nutrients you are used to.

Vitamin D2 is regularly added to nut milks because it helps your body absorb calcium. I ignore its addition as far as my personal supplementation goes, however. While the D2 will help you absorb calcium, it’s not the bioavailable D3 you need if you are not getting daily sun exposure. During winter months I continue to supplement with D3, regardless of which plant-based milk alternatives I’m enjoying.

You will also notice various fillers and emulsifiers when checking out nutrition labels. I go in-depth on this topic here, but If you’re new to plant-based milk alternatives don’t overthink this one. Simply choose brands with the least amount of “extras” that are available where you shop, and avoid carrageenan (it’s been shown to not be carcinogenic, but can cause digestive distress and the better brands have moved away from it) [18, 19] and “natural flavors” if possible (“natural flavors” is usually code for MSG).

Whether you choose, or can find, my recommended brands or not, go for options that are unsweetened, organic, and non-GMO. Personally, I go for organic Unsweetened Vanilla. And buy from the refrigerated section instead of the aisles. Shelf-stable products can sit unrefrigerated due to ultra-high heat pasteurization, which destroys more natural enzymes and nutrients than the refrigerated versions.

Best Overall – Soy Milk

Silk Soy Milk

Soy milk will work for pretty much any and all applications, is nutritionally the closest to cow’s milk, has a thick, creamy consistency, and soybeans are incredibly healthy for you. It’s great in coffee and espressos as it froths like a boss. My boys’ favorite treats are steamed soy milks from Starbucks.

If anyone tells you to avoid soy milk due to its estrogen content, run. Research over the past several years has shown numerous health benefits of soybeans, and completely debunked the theory that soy phytoestrogens raise estrogen levels in people. Soy does not grow man boobs! Soy contains isoflavones, a class of phytoestrogens that bind and block hormonal estrogen. [1] These phytoestrogens have also been shown to have anti-cancer properties, especially against breast and prostate cancers. [2, 3, 8] Trust the science, not the marketing!

Always purchase organic soymilk made from whole soybeans (not soy protein isolates) as almost 90 percent of soybeans are grown as feed for animals, and are heavily sprayed with chemicals.

The only reason soy shouldn’t be your first stop on your plant milk journey is if you are allergic. 

Silk Soy Milk has been around for a long time and is found pretty much everywhere. They make their soymilk from whole, organic soybeans, are carrageenan-free and non-GMO, and the taste is incredible.

Best New Kid on the Block – Oat Milk

Oatly Oat Milk

Oat milk has exploded in popularity recently, and for good reason. It’s slightly sweet, has a consistency similar to low-fat milk, and froths amazingly, making it a nice addition to coffee. And, because oats absorb a lot of water, the creamy texture is accomplished naturally, with less need for additives.

Oat milk has less protein than soy or pea milk, but watch out for the calories! They will add up quickly if you are trying to lose weight. Oat milk also has a lot of carbohydrates (only rice milk has more), so won’t be the first choice for my keto-friends out there. If you’re looking to put on muscle or fuel your workouts, however, this is a great addition. You will notice grams of added sugars, even on the unsweetened versions of oat milks. Processing the oats converts some of the oat starches into sugar (maltose and glucose). This creates sweetness without the addition of cane sugar.

Another huge benefit to oat milk is that oats are a primary source of the soluble fiber beta-glucan. Beta-glucan benefits blood sugar, digestive and heart health, and helps lower cholesterol. [4, 5]

Oatly is available pretty much everywhere. It’s delicious, non-GMO, glyphosate-free (the chemical found in Roundup), has few ingredients, and this is all they do. Oatly is also very environmentally conscious and transparent about its carbon footprint.

Best for Weight Loss – Flax Milk

Good Karma Flax Milk

Flaxseeds are a nutritional powerhouse, supplying omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and cancer-fighting lignans. And, with only 25 calories per glass, this is a great option if you are working to lose weight.

Flax naturally contains next to no protein. Some brands, however, will add peas in order to increase the protein content. I love this option, but choose based on your goals as the addition of peas will raise the overall calories of this version.

Protect your prostate! Studies have shown three tablespoons of ground flax meal a day to be an effective intervention for relieving symptoms of enlarged prostate, along with being a complementary nutritional intervention against prostate cancer cell growth. [6, 7, 8] Use flax as a dietary complement to any medications or interventions your doctor recommends.

Good Karma flax milk has a thick and creamy texture, and its flavor isn’t overly seedy. If you can find it, Good Karma Flax Milk + Protein is awesome! Low calories, healthy fats, and easily digestible pea protein. Everything a healthy body needs.

Best for Cooking – Coconut Milk

So Delicious Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is ideal for baking. I use it for making vegetable soups, smoothies, chia seed pudding, and homemade nice cream. I also add it to my morning coffee for a hit of coconut flavor.

You will find two kinds of coconut milk: the drink, which you’ll find in a carton alongside other plant-based milks, and the concentrated liquid that comes in a can. Canned coconut milk is super thick (think spoonable cream here) and packs a rich coconut taste. I use this for baking or making delicious homemade whipped cream for my kids!

Coconuts milk is also a great post-workout choice due to the presence of manganese, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and sodium; nutrients that will help you recover from a hard workout. Grab this instead of Gatorade!

So Delicious Coconut Milk is another plant-based milk that has been around forever and you can find pretty much everywhere. It’s organic and certified vegan.

Best for Athletes – Pea Milk

Ripple Pea Milk

Pea milk is high in protein and easily digestible. No more Whey bloat! And it tastes Incredible. Pea milk has a smooth, rich texture, making it a great substitute for those who like the consistency of dairy. And the high protein, low carbohydrate content make this a Keto-friendly choice.

Pea milk is allergen-friendly, which may make this a better protein choice than soy for some. Additionally, pea milks are made from yellow split peas, which are very easily digestible, making this a great choice for toddlers.

For my environmentally conscious friends out there, pea milks use less water than dairy, almonds, and soy.

Ripple pea milk has a thick, creamy texture making it a great substitute for milk, and its mild sweetness makes it great for smoothies, protein shakes, and homemade nicecreams.

Best for the Environment – Hemp Milk

Tempt Hemp Milk

Hemp milk has a smooth, almost buttery, nutty flavor, and is great with cereal or mixed in with oatmeal. Its mild flavor and creaminess make it especially well suited for savory dishes. I use it when making slow-cooker soups and stews, but skip this one when it comes to coffee. It just doesn’t mix in as well as some of the other options.

Its huge benefit is that it supplies healthy fats that your body needs. One cup of hemp milk provides 50% of your daily intake of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid that is important for brain health. [9] Hemp provides these fatty acids in the perfect 3:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, enhancing its anti-inflammatory properties as well.

Hemp milk is allergen-friendly, not containing any nuts, soy, or gluten, and it’s easily digestible. While it is low in protein, the proteins are complete, containing all of the essential amino acids. In fact, hemp seeds are naturally higher in protein than beef. And, hemp is sustainable! It requires far less water than other crops, doesn’t need to be heavily sprayed, and it replenishes the soil in which it grows. 

Tempt Hemp Milk is a great place to start if you’d like to give hemp milk a go. You’ll find it almost anywhere you find plant-based milks.

Almond Milk

Califia Farms Almond Milk

Almond milk has been used as an alternative to dairy milk for decades and is probably the first nut milk you either tried, heard of, or saw. Its popularity has made it incredibly accessible, so you’ll find it at nearly any store or coffee shop you visit.

Almond milk has a light, creamy texture, similar to skim milk. Its neutral, slightly nutty flavor makes it well suited for both sweet or savory recipes, and it’s a great substitute on breakfast cereals. Additionally, almond milk is low in calories, making it ideal for those trying to lose weight. Use almond milk as a liquid base in your favorite smoothies for a bit of flavor without killing your calorie goals for the day, or in the evening when you want a snack but don’t have many calories left.

Almonds are rich in vitamin E, an antioxidant that is “important to vision, reproduction, and the health of your blood, brain and skin,” [10] and zinc, a trace mineral that is a “major player in the creation of DNA, growth of cells, building proteins, healing damaged tissue, and supporting a healthy immune system” [11, 12]. 

Environmental impact

Almond milk takes the highest environmental toll of all the currently available nut milks. It takes roughly 920 gallons of water to make one gallon of almond milk. This is still less than the 1,000 gallons required to make one gallon of cow’s milk, and without the methane and excrement waste. Almond trees are also heavily sprayed around their base to kill grass to make picking the almonds that fall from the tree easier, so purchase organic if possible.

Califia is the most widely available brand of the group and is the one I usually buy. It is carrageenan-free, has great flavor and texture, and is the least expensive of my recommendations.

Malk is amazing, if you can find it. It’s the only organic almond milk currently available. It has a few more ingredients than Three Trees, but the natural flavors are from vanilla beans, and the almonds are sprouted!

Three Trees has only 2 ingredients! This is the most expensive of my recommended group, but the higher price tag is due to having the highest percentage of almonds.

Macadamia Nut Milk

Milkadamia

Macadamia milk has a neutral taste and a slightly creamy texture. It won’t overpower any food you use it with and is one of my favorites for drinking straight from a glass. The main reason I drink this option, however, is because macadamia nuts contain a rare, heart-healthy omega-7 fatty acid called palmitoleic acid, which helps increase insulin sensitivity and lower cholesterol. [13, 14]

Milkadamia (the most clever name ever!) is the king of the macadamia nut milks at the moment. They make unsweetened, lightly sweetened, a version specifically for frothing into lattes, and a few creamers. They are family-owned and very environmentally conscious, avoiding palm oil and practicing regenerative farming.

Cashew Nut Milk

Forager Cashew Nut Milk

Here are two reasons to add cashew milk to your plant-based arsenal: anacardic acid, which may be protective against breast cancer, and vitamin K, which is vital for blood clotting. [15, 16] If you are vegan, the addition of vitamin K is definitely beneficial. Cashews also contain lutein and zeaxanthin which are beneficial to your eyes.

Along with almond and hemp milks, cashew milk is a great alternative for those working to lose weight. Give this a shot if you’re still trying to find the perfect plant-based milk to meet your needs.

Forager Project‘s cashew milk has only 5 ingredients, all of which are organic except for sea salt. Gluten-free oats and coconut cream add a hint of flavor and make a nice, creamy consistency. Additionally, Forage Project sources their cashews in South Vietnam where they are sustainably grown without the use of irrigation water.

Rice Milk

Rice Milk

Rice milk is the most hypoallergenic of all the plant-based milks. If you’re looking to make the switch from dairy and have allergies, or tend to have digestive issues, give this one a try. Rice milk has a thin consistency, making it ideally suited for smoothies, and the sweet-tasting carbohydrates will pair nicely with your post-workout shake.

You will notice 12 grams of sugar, but these aren’t added sugars (assuming you’re choosing the unsweetened version). The processing of the rice splits some of the carbohydrates into sugars. This gives rice milk a sweet taste without the addition of table sugar.

I use rice milk sparingly due to the fact that rice is used to absorb arsenic from soil. Current recommendations are to look for rice sourced from California or India as they have the lowest arsenic content, and to limit rice consumption to not more than two servings per week. [17] You’d have to drink a lot of rice milk to hit one serving of rice, but I still exercise caution.

Rice Dream is made from brown rice, has a light, sweet flavor, they source rice that is organic, non-GMO, and even have a sprouted version.

Pistachio Milk

Three Trees Pistachio Milk

Yep, you read that right. I love pistachios, and this fun milk doesn’t disappoint. If you don’t like pistachios, you probably won’t go for this one, but I can put this on everything. 

It’s especially amazing in chai tea, but also goes well in coffee, on cereal, in baked goods, or just by itself. It’s creamy, buttery, and smooth.

Pistachio milk comes in it at 100 calories, with 8 grams of healthy fats and 4 grams of protein. Great for those looking to pack on muscle, and with only one gram of carbohydrates this option is Keto-friendly.

Pro tip

Pistachios are naturally high in melatonin, so add this to your evening beverage of choice in place of other nut milks.

Three Trees is difficult to find, but worth it if you can! It’s absolutely delicious and contains only five ingredients.

Not wild about the cost or additives? Make your own!

You can make delicious plant-based milks at home with 1 cup of nuts and 4 cups of water. For a bit of added flavor throw in a teaspoon of vanilla, a pinch of cinnamon, and/or a couple of dates. Not only will your homemade almond milk be higher in actual nuts, but it will come at a fraction of the cost! I regularly make my own at home, for less than a dollar (and homemade oat milk will cost you pennies!). All you need is a good blender (I use the Vitamix 5200. Read my review) and a nut milk bag. Or, give an Almond Cow a try.

Directions

  • 1 cup of nuts or seeds soaked overnight
  • 4 cups of filtered water
  • 2-3 dates (my favorite method!) or maple syrup (optional)
  • Pinch of cinnamon (optional).
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp vanilla (optional)
  • Rinse the pre-soaked nuts/seeds and place into a blender with all of the other ingredients. Blend on high for 2 minutes (1 minute only for oat milk). Strain using a nut milk bag or fine mesh strainer. Store in the fridge for 3-5 days.

What to do next?

The more varied you can make your diet the better, and plant-based milks are a great way to add variety. Find your three or four favorites and add them to your daily regimen.

Personally, soy milk is my go-to, all-around-favorite, Flax Milk + Protein is my favorite post-workout, and I rotate through Hemp, Oat, and Milkadamia for different nutrients or just to switch things up.

Whether you are new to the plant-based milk world or are just looking for a few more options, make the switch and have fun trying these nutritious, compassionate, plant-based products.

Add comments below and let me know which are your favorites. Have you tried a plant-milk that didn’t make my list? I can’t wait to hear from you!

References

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  2. Omoni AO, Aluko RE. Soybean foods and their benefits: potential mechanisms of action. Nutr Rev. 2005 Aug;63(8):272-83. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2005.tb00141.x. PMID: 16190314.
  3. Gary E Fraser, Karen Jaceldo-Siegl, Michael Orlich, Andrew Mashchak, Rawiwan Sirirat, Synnove Knutsen, Dairy, soy, and risk of breast cancer: those confounded milks, International Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 49, Issue 5, October 2020, Pages 1526–1537, https://doi.org/10.1093/ije/dyaa007
  4. Muthukumaran Jayachandran, Jiali Chen, Stephen Sum Man Chung, Baojun Xu, A critical review on the impacts of β-glucans on gut microbiota and human health, The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, Volume 61, 2018, Pages 101-110, ISSN 0955-2863, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jnutbio.2018.06.010. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0955286317310070)
  5. Othman RA, Moghadasian MH, Jones PJ. Cholesterol-lowering effects of oat β-glucan. Nutr Rev. 2011 Jun;69(6):299-309. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2011.00401.x. PMID: 21631511.
  6. Demark-Wahnefried W, Robertson CN, Walther PJ, Polascik TJ, Paulson DF, Vollmer RT. Pilot study to explore effects of low-fat, flaxseed-supplemented diet on proliferation of benign prostatic epithelium and prostate-specific antigen. Urology. 2004 May;63(5):900-4. doi: 10.1016/j.urology.2003.12.010. PMID: 15134976.
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  10. https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-vitamin-e/art-20364144
  11. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/zinc/
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  21. https://www.worldwildlife.org/magazine/issues/winter-2019/articles/milk-s-impact-on-the-environment

*Author's Note: The content on this website is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. The content of our articles is not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. It's always best to speak with your doctor or a certified medical professional before making any changes to your lifestyle, diet, or exercise routine, or trying a new supplement.

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AUTHOR
Matt Walter, CHN, M.A.T
I studied Food Science and Human Nutrition at Washington State University and interned as a Strength and Conditioning Coach for the WSU football team. I am a Certified Holistic Nutritionist and former personal trainer and competitive CrossFit athlete. My mission is to make embracing and adopting a healthy vegan lifestyle simple and fun!