Since eliminating animal milks from our diet, we have tried out a series of vegan milk products. This resulted in a lot of trial and error as we learned that some are good for drinking and others are good for cooking. A few are good for both. So to save you from the expense and nuisance of testing yourself here is a list of the good, the bad and the numbers behind each of the milks that are readily available.
As you read this list be aware that the numbers around nutrients back out the impact of the supplements. I just think that is a separate consideration. If I had a child who refused other forms of supplements, I would be looking for the added calcium, selenium, and zinc found in some of these products. I don’t have a child with those issues so I prefer to avoid food with built in supplements. That is a choice for each parent to make based on their own child and situation, and that people know that they are getting milk with a vitamin supplement hidden inside and not a food that is naturally rich in calcium or b12.
I admit that I rarely consume almond or rice milk. I have friends who love rice milk. I find it too sweet. I also do not regularly use almond milk. It contains tree nuts and my son has too many friends who cannot eat tree nuts. I personally use all the other milks I list here, but for different things.
The good – Easiest and best swap for cows milk in recipes. Widely available organic and unsweetened. Typically high in vegetable protein. Has body without the need for carageenan. Is white without zinc oxide. Easy to find with only two ingredients (soybeans and water). Soy contains plant estrogens which means that it can be helpful for menopausal women.
The bad – Soy contains plant estrogens which means it is not my first choice for growing children. Over 90% of soy in the U.S. is GMO so if it is not organic or non-GMO verified assume it has been genetically modified. Although the evidence linking gut health and food allergies is still preliminary, to be on the safe side I avoid GMO foods. People with co-morbid thyroid disease or soy allergies cannot consume soy.
The fact on the percentage of soy that is GMO comes from the USDA. You can find it here
The numbers– The numbers vary wildly by brand, but 1 cup of Trader Joe’s Organic Unsweetened has 90 calories, 4.5g of fat, 2g fiber, 2g sugar, 15 mg of sodium and 9g protein. Westsoy Unsweetened is similar. Its only ingredients are water & organic soybeans, but it still gives you 8% of your iron for the day. No added vitamins or minerals.
Bottom line – When organic or at least non-GMO certified and unsweetened, my milk of choice for quiche and other savory recipes. My personal latte milk beverage of choice.
The good – Easily available organic, has a naturally nutty sweet taste and is naturally off white.
The bad – Non-organic almonds are either irradiated or treated with propylene oxide to prevent microbes, (mostly the latter, there is a labeling law around irradiation) so there is a good reason to stick with organic brands. Almonds are tree nuts and highly allergenic. Almond milk does not have the nutrients of almonds. Needs carrageenan or other thickeners.
Information on the law can be found here. I specifically chose a pro-industry article. FYI, the new method they mention is for roasted almonds only. As they mention, raw almonds get the chemical wash.
Information on the chemical used to pasteurize almonds can be found here. Look under fumigant and human carcinogen.
Organic almonds are steam treated instead. That and roasting are fine…this issue applies to raw almonds only. The problem with the milks is that they do not specify whether or not the almonds are roasted. Hence my personal desire to purchase organic.
The numbers – I used Pacific Organic Almond Milk. I discounted all vitamin levels that were pumped up by adding vitamins to the milk. It has 60 calories, 2.5g of fat, 7g of sugar, 0g of fiber, 150mg of sodium and 1g of protein. It provided 2% of daily calcium and 2% of daily iron.
Bottom Line – We have too many nut allergic friends and so if its sticky and contains nuts we don’t use it. We might use it otherwise.
The good – Plant based omega-3 fats, low calories, no sugar, and free of the major allergens (no gluten, dairy, soy, or nuts. Flax is a wildflower and easy to grow so it is pretty good for the environment. Naturally white. Does however contain pea protein which may not be tolerated by some people with soy intolerance.
The bad – Needs thickeners and uses several including xanthan gum which some people react to.
The numbers – I used Good Karma Unsweetened Vanilla, which had 50 calories 2.5g fat, almost 2g of which is omega-3, 0g sugar, 0g of fiber, 80mg of sodium, and 5g of protein largely from added pea protein. Naturally contains 10% of vitamin A, 2% of iron and 15% of phosphorous. Has other added vitamins and minerals which some people may prefer.
Bottom line – My recipe milk of choice for baked goods and my son’s beverage of choice. Available unsweetened but not currently unflavored, which limits its use in cooking.
The good – People who cannot tolerate other nuts or even seeds can often tolerate coconut. Coconut is naturally sweet tasting. Coconuts are not GMO, irradiated or heavily treated with toxic pesticides.
The bad – Coconut milk is not naturally very white or very thick so thickeners are added and zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are added to the milk to whiten it. Neither substance is harmful to humans, but they are whiteners.
The numbers – I used So Delicious Unsweetened which has 50 calories, 5g of fat (65% medium chain fatty acids), 0g of fiber, 1g of sugar and 1g of protein. The product is heavily supplemented with extra supplements like selenium which other milks lack. Other than the 4% of RDA for iron the other vitamins and minerals mentioned appear to be supplements.
Bottom line – I use the creamer daily and the milk when I cannot get the flax milk.
The good – Hypoallergenic. Rice milk is often the only milk people can drink as rice milk is seed free as well as being free of the entire big eight.
The bad – The highest calorie content of any milk on this list. High in carbs and sugar. Rice milk has twice the calories of the other milks. Low in protein and because of how sweet it is and the low protein content it is challenging to cook with.
The numbers– I used Rice Dream Enriched Original Flavor Rice Milk. An 8oz serving contained 120 calories, 2.5g of fat, 10g of sugar, 23g total carbs, 0g of fiber and 1g of protein. Contains 4% of daily iron and 15% of daily phosphorus without supplementation. It is supplemented with calcium, b12 and vitamin D.
Bottom Line – I prefer the other milks.
The good – Hemp is one of the most environmentally correct crops in the world. It requires neither fertilizer nor pesticides so Hemp is very clean. It truly is a weed. Hemp milk is naturally reasonably high in protein. There is no need to add pea protein. It does not curdle and works very well in cooking especially in cream soups. Pleasant mild nutty taste. Naturally whitish.
The bad – Can have a gritty texture when consumed as a beverage. Needs thickeners. Can be difficult to find.
The numbers – 70 caloriess, 5g of fat, 0g of sugars, 3g of protein and 2g of fiber. 140mg of sodium
Bottom Line – Works well in cream soups and savory dishes especially those that would benefit from nuts. Has a nutty taste that is excellent in squash and pumpkin dishes. My favorite for soups, but not my favorite drink.
In the end you may choose to have a variety of milks in your home to meet different needs. All of these milks exist because they have an audience and there are subsets of milk within these brands which provide even more choices. Read labels because the brands and flavors make a big difference. Added sugar adds calories, and many brands do add sugar. Also if you have issues with legumes be careful to avoid the pea protein which is being added to these milks with increasing frequency.
Enjoy. You may find, as I have, that you prefer some of these to dairy milk, which is good for you and for the planet!