By Hope Kumor
With so many milk options, it’s no wonder we’re all confused when choosing which type to purchase. The varied selection includes soy, almond, coconut, and fat-free choices, to name a few. To decode the differences between the varieties, we chatted with Willow Jarosh and Stephanie Clarke, registered dietitians from C&J Nutrition in New York City. Here’s the Q&A:
Out of soy, almond, coconut and fat-free, which is the healthiest and why?
C&J Nutrition: There are so many alternatives available for milk these days, which is nice because it provides a lot of options for people who can’t or don’t prefer cow’s milk (fat-free), and a lot of different flavors and uses. However, each one differs in what it offers nutritionally.
For instance, soy milk and cow’s milk are the best protein sources, while almond milk is the lowest in calories per cup (40 calories per cup), but doesn’t provide much protein at all. So if you rely on milk (let’s say in a smoothie or in your cereal) to provide the protein in your meal, you’re better off choosing soy or cow’s milk. When it comes to calcium, most brands of plant-based milks (almond, soy, coconut) are fortified with calcium to at least the level of dairy milk, so they’re pretty even on that front.
In terms of fat, coconut milk is high in saturated fat (1 cup provides about 1/3 of what you should get per day). Even though the type of saturated fat in coconut milk is not likely to be as unhealthy for the heart as the type from animal sources like butter or meat, it’s still important not to get too much.
What is all of this hype about almond and coconut milk?
Almond milk and coconut milk have gotten hype both because they’re new players in comparison to soy and cow’s milk, and also because they offer things that neither of those milks do in terms of flavor and texture. They’re not any better nutritionally, but as mentioned above and below, there are pros and cons to each type of milk, so we recommend basing your choice on what type of nutrition you need from your milk, how you plan to use it, and what you like the best.
What are the pros/cons of these milk varieties?
- Non-fat cow’s milk (skim)
Pro: You get 8 grams of protein per cup, which is more than any other type of milk, making it great for helping you feel full and more satisfied, and building lean muscle. It’s a great source of vitamin D as well, which not all milk selections contain unless they’re fortified (some are and some aren’t).
Con: It’s not an option if you have a dairy allergy, have lactose intolerance, or follow a vegan diet.
- Soy milk
Pro: It’s the highest in protein of the plant-derived milks, serving up 7 grams of protein per cup, and 80 calories per cup.
Con: Some people don’t like the more prominent flavor of soy milk. Also, be sure to choose the unsweetened variety of soy milk to avoid added sugar. Finally, soy foods may also be something you need to avoid if you have a family history of certain types of breast cancer. If so, ask your doctor if soy foods are OK for you.
- Almond milk
Pro: It’s high in calcium (45 percent of your daily value) and its flavor is slightly nutty, but otherwise neutral and great to use in cereal, soups, and smoothies. A single serving of almond milk provides half your daily needs for vitamin E.
Con: If you don’t get the unsweetened version, you’re getting more added sugar than you need. Also, almond milk doesn’t provide as high of a protein content as soy or cow’s milk.
- Coconut milk
Pro: It’s super creamy and slightly naturally sweet flavor makes it delicious, especially when you’re in the mood for something decadent. It’s also moderate in calories, at 50 calories per cup.
Con: It’s high in saturated fat (5 grams per 1 cup) and doesn’t contain protein.
unsweetened almond beverage
unsweetened coconut beverage
|saturated fat (mg)||0||4|
Nutritionally, unsweetened almond and coconut beverages are really close. Coconuts do contain more saturated fat than almonds, so the resulting beverages also reflect that. Although, recent research is showing that the type of saturated fat in coconuts likely doesn’t react in our bodies the same way as the types from animal products. If you already eat a lot of highly saturated fat foods (tropical oils, processed foods, red meat, high fat animal products, full fat dairy products), we’d say opt for the almond beverage.
unsweetened soy beverage
|saturated fat (mg)||0.5||0|
Nonfat milk has slightly more protein, but it also has more sugar and carbohydrates. They’re both good choices, nutritionally. The optimal choice is the one that fits into your overall diet most closely and the one you like the best.
From Get Fit Get Life