This post may contain affiliate links and I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases. For more information please read my disclosure policy.
Some time ago, Silk Soymilk ran an ad campaign featuring cows talking about the health benefits they get from drinking Silk instead of milk. Here is one example:
Clever, eh? But really, how true is it? Is a product like Silk better than milk, whether that’s pasteurized/homogenized milk or raw milk? Today, let’s look at milk and compare it to all of the various other “milks” people use to replace real dairy in their diet.
The Nutrition Facts Of Milk And Milk Substitutes
There are any number of reasons why people choose not to include milk in their diets. For those of us that adhere to a Primal or Paleo lifestyle, milk doesn’t fit. Vegans and some vegetarians don’t include milk because it’s of animal origin. And then there are those that are lactose intolerant. Finally, there are the people that have been convinced by slick marketing that non-milks are better options than the real deal.
So I suppose the starting point is to look at the nutrition facts of the main “milks” that people drink. I’m going to focus on plain ol’ “moo juice,” soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, and coconut milk. Note that there are other, lesser known, milk substitutes out there like oat milk, peanut milk, hemp milk, and milk made from other grains. Without further ado, the nutrition labels of the Big Five:
Nutrition Facts: Milk And Milk Substitutes
|Grams Per 8oz||Milk (Whole)||Soy||Almond||Rice||Coconut|
You probably noticed that I have listed the fat content of whole milk. There are a couple big reasons for that. First, you may know my take on pasteurized milk vs. raw milk. But I can’t find a nutrition label for raw milk. As such, for comparison purposes, we need a standardized product and whole milk, at around 3.5%, fills the bill. Raw milk is typically 4-8%, depending on the time of year, so the calorie and fat information would be a bit different. I didn’t pick skim or low-fat milk for another very big reason. Milk is not naturally low in fat, nor should it be turned into that.
Brand Names Of Milk Substitutes
As a brief aside, I just want to touch on some of the various brand names for these milk substitutes.
Brands Of Milk Substitutes
|Soy Milk Brands
||Almond Milk Brands
|Rice Milk Brands
||Coconut Milk Brands
Protein Quality Of Milk Vs. Soy Milk, Etc
The total amount of protein in a food is important, but how well that protein is absorbed (known as the biological value) is even more important. Soy protein comes in with a low biological value of 74/100, while cow’s milk is a 90/100. But here’s something I just found that everyone should take note of, especially vegetarians searching for quality protein sources:
In other words the rats grew more rapidly than when given cheese, meat, eggs, milk or any other high-protein food. McCandish and Weaver have also found that the protein of coconuts is superior to that of other foods and claim that coconut meal is of greater value than soybean meal. As the soybean is equal in biological value to any of the animal proteins, this would mean that the coconut protein is in a class by itself and is perhaps the finest protein known.
I don’t know how well coconut meal translates to the protein in coconut milk, but it seems promising to me. And no I don’t think you should give up your meat in favor of coconut. I didn’t come across any good information on almond or rice protein, but the link above regarding coconut protein noted that coconut was found to be better than any other seed. As for rice, we already know that vegetable proteins are on the whole are of lower value than animal proteins.
I have argued several times with my friends on the very high levels of anti-nutrients in soy foods. Rather than recreating the debate, I’ll just quote a one of our other posts:
Why Soy Is Not A Health Food
High levels of phytic acid in soy reduce assimilation of calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc. Phytic acid in soy is not neutralized by ordinary preparation methods such as soaking, sprouting and long, slow cooking. High phytate diets have caused growth problems in children.
Reasons Why Soy Isn’t Good For You
So what’s so bad about soy? How about goitrogens, protease inhibitors, phytoestrogens (hooray for emasculation!), and too much aluminum and manganese?
Note that all of these risks refer to unfermented soy products, of which soy milk is one, not traditional soy products like miso, natto, and tempeh.
While almonds aren’t nearly as high on the anti-nutrient scale as soy beans, they do have a few risks in raw form, such as phytates. As far as I know, they just take a 24-hour soak to get them to “activate” and reduce their phytate and inhibitor levels.
Cow’s Milk, Coconut Milk, and Rice Milk
I can’t find any references to measurable anti-nutrient levels in these other milk options.
Looking at the nutrition information from the standpoint of the general “common wisdom” about nutrition, soymilk still wouldn’t be the winner. I’d guess almond milk would be the one that would make most nutritionists salivate. It’s the lowest in calories, very low in total fat, has no saturated fat or cholesterol, and is also lowest in carbohydrates and sugar, though also has little protein. It’s even competitive across the board in vitamins.
But for those of us that don’t discount cow’s milk and coconut milk outright for the sins of being of animal origin and being high in saturated fat, respectively, what do I recommend? Here you go:
- Coconut Milk
- Raw Milk
- Almond Milk
- Whole (Organic, Unhomogenized) Milk
- Rice Milk
Coconut milk is tolerated well by pretty much everyone and is loaded with healthy medium-chain saturated fats. It also has a nice vitamin and mineral profile, while being middle of the pack in protein and carbohydrates. As for milk, while some are pretty dogmatically opposed to milk of any type, including raw milk, I recognize that many cultures have thrived while including raw dairy. So I place it second on my list. You can also be positive that these two have no added sugar. Once you get into dealing with soy, almond, rice, and other fake milks, you often run into added sugars, along with other unknowns.
Third, I guess would be almond milk, though placing the last three is really up for debate. Almond milk seems pretty harmless to me though if you get unsweetened varieties. Next up would be organic (non-rBGH/rBST), unhomogenized whole milk. I’m not a big fan of the pasteurization process, but if you can’t get raw milk in your area, whole milk is likely a pretty safe bet if you want to include dairy.
I only placed rice milk at the bottom of the list because it’s a grain and I don’t know much about it. I’m rather ambivalent about where to place it in relation to pasteurized milk. Feel free to discuss.
You should know I left one off. Here’s a statement to ruffle some feathers: Do not drink soy milk. If you want to know why, go back to the anti-nutrient section. Add to that very high levels of omega-6 fatty acids in soy fat. It’s really not good for you.
How To Make Your Own Almond Milk At Home
Any of these milk substitutes can be made at home. Coconut milk is rather labor intensive though as cutting through coconuts and getting the meat out is work. So I’ll just be real…there’s no way I’m doing it myself when I can buy good stuff in a can. For those that want to go the almond milk route though, it looks rather easy to make at home.
Here’s a quick recipe from Dr. Ben Kim:
- 1 1/2 cups of raw almonds, soaked in water overnight
- 4 cups of filtered or spring water
- 3-5 dates (optional)
- Blend 1 ½ cups of raw almonds that have been soaked overnight in 4 cups of water.
- Blend with dates if you like your milk with a hint of sweetness. Strain once to remove almond granules.
That’s it. Enjoy!
Don’t forget to leave a comment and tell us which one you think is the best choice and why.