Milk has been a big part of the American diet for a very long time but with over 50 million Americans having milk allergies or sensitivities and numerous negative environmental effects, maybe it’s time to make the switch. With so many choices out there, which milk alternative is best for you and best for the environment?
Cow’s Milk – Starting with the OG for a base to compare with the new age milks (or are they mylks?) as we go down the line. Cows’ milk is always a hot topic of debate on whether or not we should be drinking it due to no other mammals drinking milk past a certain age and many people all over the world do not produce lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose. If you are lucky enough to have a sufficient amount of lactase, there are excellent benefits to cows milk due to the high amounts of protein, calcium, and vitamin D in such a small amount. Typically there are few to no additives (check the label to be sure!) and the milk is used to make a ton of other tasty foods such as yogurt and cheese. However, when it comes to sustainability, cows milk isn’t always the best. Cows require a lot of land; they eat a lot of food and all of this requires a lot of water. Cows also create a ton of methane that is released into the atmosphere and shipping the milk from the farms, to the factory, to the grocery stores and then to your home creates a lot of emissions that are bad for the environment.
- USDA for 1 cup (8 ounces) of 2% low fat milk. Calories: 137 Fat: 4.9g Sodium: 145mg Carbohydrates: 13g Fiber: 0g Sugars: 11g Protein: 9.7g
Almond Milk – While almond milk is by far the most popular, being that it is one of the lowest calorie nondairy milk alternatives, containing less than a quarter of the calories and half the fat of cow’s milk. However, this option comes with negative environmental impacts. A large percentage of almond milk is harvested and produced in California, a state frequently facing drought. Almonds themselves requires a lot of water to harvest the large amount needed to make the milk.
- USDA for one cup (240ml) of unsweetened almond milk. Calories: 30 Fat: 2.5g Sodium: 170mg Carbohydrates: 1g Fiber: <0.7g Sugars: 0g Protein: 1g
Soy Milk – Soy milk is a great alternative because of its high protein content, it is important to know where your soy milk is sourced from because there are deforestation concerns.
- USDA for one cup of soy milk. Calories: 108 Fat: 4g Sodium: 51mg Carbohydrates: 12g Fiber: 0.6g Sugars: 9g Protein: 8g
Coconut milk – While there are no worries when it comes to environmental factors such as water usage or deforestation, coconuts mostly come from the Philippines, Indonesia, and India which creates a large number of emissions due to shipping. Coconut milk is also high in saturated fat, so it should be limited.
- USDA for one cup of Coconut milk. Calories: 552 Fat: 57g Sodium: 29mg Carbohydrates: 8g Fiber: 5g Sugars: 8g Protein: 5g
Oat Milk – A great option for reducing cholesterol, but oat milk is a newer option which means there are few brands. These brands tend to add more sugar than seen in cow milk, so they tend to be higher in calories.
- USDA for one cup of oat milk. Calories: 130 Fat: 5g Sodium: 115mg Carbohydrates: 244g Fiber: 1.9g Sugars: 19g Protein: 4g
Pea Milk – Less heard of but an amazing milk substitute due to the fact that pea milk uses less water than many other milk alternatives, it has lower greenhouse gas emissions, it is low in calories, high in protein and there is little to no saturated fat!
- USDA for one cup of Pea milk. Calories: 90 Fat: 4.5g Sodium: 110mg Carbohydrates: 6g Fiber: 1g Sugars: 5g Protein: 8g
Cashew Milk – This creamy nut milk is perfect for cooking, baking, and making a frothy latte with. Bonus! The unsaturated fats cashews contain are great for your heart. Cashews are grown in countries that are not struggling for water and also require less water to grow, which makes it a fantastic sustainable milk alternative.
- USDA for one cup of Cashew milk. Calories: 25 Fat: 2g Sodium: 160mg Carbohydrates: 1g Fiber: 0g Sugars: 0g Protein: <1g
Rice Milk – Rice milk is great for people who are lactose intolerant or have nut allergies, it is also very similar to cow’s milk in terms of taste and texture. However, rice requires a large amount of water to produce so it is not a very environmentally friendly option and it is low in protein.
- USDA for one cup of Rice milk. Calories: 112 Fat: 2.3g Sodium: 94mg Carbohydrates: 22g Fiber: 0.7g Sugars: 13g Protein: 0.7g
Hemp Milk – Hemp milk is an excellent milk alternative for a variety of reasons. To start, it is high in protein and essential fatty acids, which is good for the cardiovascular system and maintaining healthy cholesterol levels. The hemp plant requires fewer pesticides to grow and it also filters out carbon dioxide from the air!
- USDA for one cup of Hemp milk. Calories: 83 Fat: 7.3g Sodium: 10mg Carbohydrates: 1.3g Fiber: 0.6g Sugars: 0g Protein: 4.4g
Macadamia Milk – While macadamia milk is not a great option for those with nut allergies or for those looking for a low-fat alternative, it is usually lower in calories and the macadamia nut requires very little water to grow.
- USDA for one cup of Macadamia milk. Calories: 70 Fat: 5g Sodium: 105mg Carbohydrates: 7g Fiber: 1g Sugars: 6g Protein: 1g
Flax Milk – Flax milk is great for those with allergies to cow’s milk or nuts and has little environmental impact. The drawback is that it has no protein unless added and the taste is a little less than desirable. Can be great milk for baking!
- USDA for one cup of Flax milk. Calories: 50 Fat: 2.5g Sodium: 80mg Carbohydrates: 2g Fiber: 0g Sugars: 0g Protein: 5g (if added)
And the awards go to…
Best Source of Protein: Cows milk or Soy Milk
Most Sustainable: Cashew Milk
Best all around: Hemp Milk tied with Pea Milk
Other factors to take into consideration when choosing a milk other than do you like the taste, is to look at the ingredients on the nutrition label. Some of the milk alternatives can have a ton of ingredients including preservatives and added sugars. The simpler the better!