Cow’s Milk and Non-Dairy Milk: How Do They Compare?

milk vs non dairy milk

The non-dairy milk movement has become big business. According to a report from The Daily Mail, “one in five households now chooses to buy non-dairy, plant-based products such as soya, rice, oat, almond or coconut milk as a lifestyle choice or for medical reasons.” In fact, the industry grew 155% between 2012 and 2014.

We’re not trying to start a milk versus non-dairy milk battle here, but there are so many different kinds of milk out there, how do you choose the right one for you? Besides the taste or consistency, are they all that different from one another?

SuperFoodsRx compared the most popular varieties. All of the milk alternatives are available unsweetened, sweetened, or flavored with vanilla and chocolate — which obviously contain more sugar and calories. We created the infographic below to quickly illustrate the story, and at the bottom of this post you have a more detailed breakout of the info.

Regular Dairy Milk (1% fat)
Many people are surprised when they see that milk contains sugar (lactose) even without any added sugar. In terms of taste, low-fat milk is creamy, albeit thinner than whole milk, and somewhat sweet.

8 grams of protein per cup
110 calories
2.5 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat
30% DV of calcium
25% DV of Vitamin D
12 grams of carbohydrates
14 grams of sugar

Soy Milk
Soy milk was the first popular alternative to milk. The nutritional content is about the same as cow’s milk. In terms of added calcium and vitamin D, soy milk fares even better than regular milk and better than most of the other milk alternatives. It can be slightly chalkier and beanier than regular milk but has a similar texture and thickness. It has a good amount of protein, almost as much as dairy milk.

6-8 grams of protein per cup
90-130 calories
4 grams of fat, 0.5 grams of saturated fat
45% DV of calcium
30% DV of vitamin D
7-14 grams of carbohydrates
6-11 grams of sugar

Rice Milk
Thinner than soy and cow’s milk, rice milk contains more starch, and is also hypoallergenic — perfect for people with nut or dairy allergies. It tastes more like regular milk than soy milk and can best be described as light and sweet. It is not a great source of protein, however.

1-2 gram of protein
70-160 calories
3 grams of fat, no saturated fat
2% DV of calcium
No vitamin D
11-34 grams of carbohydrates
1-28 grams of sugar

Hemp Milk
No, hemp milk doesn’t get you high. The food-grade seeds come from a completely different variety of cannabis. Like rice milk, hemp milk is hypoallergenic, which makes it a good option for people with allergies to both nuts and dairy. Like dairy milk, it’s rich and creamy, but its earthy flavor is not for everyone and takes some getting used to.

1-8 grams of protein
80-150 calories, depending on the brand and the amount of sugar
6-8 grams of fat, 0.5 grams saturated fat
30-50% DV of calcium
25-30% DV of vitamin D
8-35 grams of carbohydrates
6-14 grams of sugar

Almond Milk
Generally lower in calories compared to the others, almond milk has become the most popular non-dairy milk on the shelves. It’s also lower in calories than the other options. However, it contains far fewer vitamins and minerals than simply eating almonds. With that said, the flavor is very sweet and creamy, with a very milk-like texture. It is not, however, the best source of protein unless it’s been infused into the product.

1 gram of protein (unless you buy SoDelicious Almond Plus, which has 5 grams of protein)
30-120 calories per cup
3 grams of fat, no saturated fat
45% DV of calcium
25% DV of vitamin D
1-23 grams of carbohydrates
0-22 grams of sugar

Coconut Milk
Do not confuse coconut milk with the canned (thicker) version usually used for cooking. Coconut milk is not at all chalky but is rather smooth and sweet. If you like the taste of coconuts, you will enjoy coconut milk. It is not a great source of protein, and is not particularly high in calcium.

1 gram of protein
50-100 calories per cup
4.5 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat
10% DV of calcium
45% DV of vitamin D
1-12 grams of carbohydrates
1-10 grams of sugar

Cashew Milk
Cashew milk is the latest milk substitute to hit the shelves. Less flavorful than almond milk or cow’s milk, it’s definitely creamier, but without much fat. The jury’s still out as to whether or not cashew milk will become as popular as some of the others, but if you’re looking for a thicker milk product, this may be the right one for you.

1 gram of protein
60 calories
2.5 grams of fat, 0.5 grams of saturated fat
30% DV of calcium
45% DV of vitamin D
9 grams of carbohydrates
8 grams of sugar

Flax Milk
Flax milk is probably the least known and least accessible of this bunch. It’s loaded with omega-3s, which are great for the heart. Texture-wise, it’s thin, but it tastes pleasantly sweet. Unfortunately, it has zero grams of protein.

0 grams of protein
50 calories
2.5 grams of fat,
30% DV of calcium
25% DV of vitamin D
7 grams of carbohydrates
7 grams of sugar

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