Photo: Greg Dupree

The milk section at the grocery store grows bigger by the month, and not just with dairy options. The number of nondairy milk alternatives has grown about 11% each year since 1999. Use this handy guide to find the right milk pick for you and your family.

February 02, 2017

The demand for alternatives to dairy milk has grown significantly over the past 30 years. Whether you're shopping for a substitute due to medical necessity, personal preference, health, sustainability, or cost concerns, switching to a different dairy or non-dairy milk can be confusing. With more and more options on the market, it can be difficult to decide which is best for you. We're here to help. Our milk guide gives you pros and cons for each type as well as breaks down each option by nutrition, price, and taste so you can sip with satisfaction.

Need all this information in an easy-to-use guide? Print this handy milk chart and use it to help you make a choice for you and your family.

DAIRY MILK

Cow's Milk

Nutrition

  • Whole: 150 calories; 4.6g sat fat; 8g protein; 12g carb
  • 2%: 125 calories; 2.9g sat fat; 8g protein; 12g carb
  • 1%: 102 calories: 1.5g sat fat; 8g protein; 12g carb
  • Skim: 83 calories; 0.1g sat fat; 8g protein; 12g carb

Price (per 8 fl. oz.)
Conventional: $0.30
Organic: $0.58
Grass-Fed Organic: $0.75

Pros
A naturally good source of protein, calcium, and potassium, it's also fortified with vitamins A and D and offers a good protein-to-carb balance. Cow's milk, along with goat's milk, does not include synthetic thickeners (as most nondairy milks do).

Cons
Fat levels vary greatly between skim and whole; the more fat, the higher the calories. While fat aids in mineral absorption and satiety, most of the fat is saturated. Cow’s milk, as an animal product, contains trace amounts of naturally occurring hormones. But organic milk is free of synthetic hormones, as is milk labeled 'No rBST.’ If you’re concerned about hormones, keep in mind that the FDA has deemed the use of rBST as safe—milk from cows treated with hormones doesn’t appear to have any effect on humans.

Taste Test
Depending on the type, the flavor is rich, creamy, and slightly sweet (whole); moderately rich (2% and 1%); or very mild and bland (skim).

Goat's Milk

Nutrition

  • Whole: 140 calories; 7g sat fat; 8g protein; 12g carb
  • Low-Fat: 100 calories; 1.5g sat fat; 8g protein; 11g carb

Price (per 8 fl. oz.)
$1.16

Pros
A naturally good source of protein, calcium, and vitamin A, it also contains less lactose, making it a dairy milk that some with lactose intolerance can drink.

Cons
Whole goat's milk has the most saturated fat per glass of any milk—more than half the daily recommended amount. Sat fat has been shown to raise blood cholesterol levels.

Taste Test
Similar to cow's milk in consistency and color, with a pronounced goat flavor (think drinkable goat cheese).

Photo: Greg Dupree

NONDAIRY ALTERNATIVES

Soy Milk

Nutrition: 80 calories; 0.5 sat fat; 7g protein; 4g carb

Price (per 8 fl. oz.)
$0.39

Pros
Soy was the first nondairy milk that could rival the protein in dairy until pea milk arrived. Usually fortified with calcium and vitamins B12 and D.

Cons
Soy milk is rich in isoflavones, once thought to encourage cancer growth—though current research shows no correlation.

Taste Test
Creamy beige in color with a subtly nutty, bean flavor; good for boosting protein in smoothies and as a milk substitute in baking.

Nut Milks (almond, cashew)

Nutrition
25-60 calories; 0g sat fat; 0-2g protein; 1-2g carb

Price (per 8 fl. oz.)
$0.41

Pros
Lower in calories than all other milks, nut milks also have negligible sat fat and are usually fortified with calcium and vitamins A and D.

Cons
Most nut milks offer no significant protein and little vitamin E unless fortified (despite the fact that nuts themselves are rich in protein and vitamin E).

Taste Test
Creamy consistency and subtle flavor of the nut they originated from; good for smoothies and oatmeal or for stirring into coffee.

 

Pea Milk

Nutrition
75 calories; 0.5g sat fat; 8g protein; 0g carb

Price (per 8 fl. oz.)
$0.72

Pros
Other than soy, pea milk is the only option that rivals the protein in cow's milk. It's also a source of iron and fortified with vitamins A and D, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Cons
There is only one brand available; it adds sunflower oil for creaminess, which is primarily omega-6 fatty acids, the type that can contribute to inflammation (and most Americans need to cut back on).

Taste Test
Thick, creamy texture with definite legume flavor and slight bitter note on the finish; good for using in a savory soup in place of cream to reduce saturated fat.

Rice Milk

Nutrition
70 calories; 0g sat fat; 0g protein; 11g carb

Price (per 8 fl. oz.)
$0.47

Pros
It's low in calories, with most coming from carbyhydrates. It has no saturated fat or lactose and is usually fortified with calcium and vitamins B12 and D.

Cons
While some start with brown rice, most producers refine it in processing, losing the extra nutrients offered in whole grains. It's lowest in protein, too.

Taste Test
Almost identical to skim cow's milk in color and consistency with a sweet, slightly nutty flavor; a good option for cereal.

Coconut Milk

Nutrition
45 calories; 4g sat fat; 0g protein; 2g carb

Price (per 8 fl. oz.)
$0.41

Pros
It comes closest in creaminess to 2% or whole milk, thanks to fat content. It's also lactose-free and fortified with calcium and vitamin D.

Cons
Its fat content comes almost entirely from saturated fat, and it has negligible protein.

Taste Test
Thick with a slightly tart flavor and faint coconut aftertaste; use with canned coconut milk to cut fat.

Oat Milk

Nutrition
130 calories; 0g sat fat; 4g protein; 24g carb

Price (per 8 fl. oz.)
$0.65

Pros
Highest in protein among nut and grain milks; 2g fiber per cup. Lactose-free; fortified with calcium and vitamin D.

Cons
It has more calories than other nondairy options and double the carbohydrates of dairy milk.

Taste Test
Color and texture are similar to eggnog, and it has a naturally sweet oat flavor.

Need all this information in an easy-to-use guide? Print this handy milk chart and use it to help you make a choice for you and your family.