Oat, soy, almond, coconut, dairy: A dietitian rates eight ‘milks’ from healthiest to hell no

Oat, soy, almond, coconut, dairy: A dietitian rates eight ‘milks’ from healthiest to hell no

Long gone are the days when the biggest milk decision you needed to make was full-cream or light. Now, we have a range of plant-based “milks” with sales forecast to grow by as much as 50 per cent in the next four years. While they aren’t technically milk, they’re taking the place of cow milk in many Australians’ diets.

Whether your personal taste preference is for a plant-based milk, or you feel that it’s a healthier choice, the key thing to know is whether you’re getting what you need nutritionally from your go-to milk of choice.

Full-cream dairy milk

Full-cream milk is a whole, natural food that contains 8g of protein and close to 300mg of calcium per 250ml glass, as well as 10g of total fat, 6g of which is saturated. It is recommended that children consume full-cream milk up to the age of five, and after that, whether you opt for low-fat or full-cream milk is really up to you, although for those with heart disease risk factors, a reduced or low-fat milk is recommended. With the rise in heart disease rates in Australia over the past 30 to 40 years, it has been recommended that adults help to reduce their overall intake of saturated fat, and as such, swap to a reduced or low-fat milk, which contains far less fat with all the same nutritional benefits associated with consuming an animal-based milk.

  • Pros: a whole, natural food, rich in key nutrients including protein and calcium; good option for families
  • Cons: relatively high in saturated fat
  • Rating: 6/10

Low-fat dairy milk

Contrary to popular belief, low-fat milk does not contain more lactose – a naturally occurring sugar – than full-cream milk. It is simply lower in fat and calories per serve, containing between 0-4g of fat per 250ml serve.

  • Pros: a lower fat, lower calorie dairy milk; good for those with high cholesterol
  • Cons: lacks the rich mouthfeel of full-cream milk
  • Rating: 10/10

Soy milk

Soy milk, the plant-milk alternative that is closest nutritionally to dairy milk, contains 8-10g of protein per 250ml serve. Nutritionally, it is lower in saturated fat than dairy milk, with most of its fat coming from polyunsaturated fat, and there are regular, reduced-fat and low-fat soy milks available to suit your preference. The majority of readily available soy milks are fortified with good amounts of the essential nutrients typically found in dairy milk, including calcium. Be aware though: soy milks can also have sugars and/or vegetable oils added. There are some medical conditions in which soy milk may be contraindicated, so always check with your doctor or dietitian if you have any significant medical history before you switch to soy.

  • Pros: low in saturated fat, high in protein; the best option nutritionally for vegetarians and vegans
  • Cons: has a distinct flavour, and may be contraindicated with some medical conditions
  • Rating: 8/10

Oat milk

Of all plant-based milks, it is oat milk that has attracted plenty of attention over the past couple of years, likely thanks to its creamy taste and the fact that it sounds healthy. Made from a mix of oats, water and oat flour, oat milk is much lower in protein than dairy milk, with just 4g on average per serve, and little to no natural calcium. While some varieties may add calcium, not all do, and the formulated milk product still lacks the range of nutrients, such as phosphorus and magnesium working synergistically, the way they do in cow’s milk.

Oat milk contains significantly more carbohydrate than all other milks, including nut and soy. While these carbs are naturally occurring, a cup of unsweetened oat milk can add up to 30g of carbs (a similar amount to two slices of bread) to your favourite coffee order. Also, keep in mind that many baristas use sweetened oat milk, which adds to oat milk’s general appeal. The good news is that you can opt for unsweetened varieties, if oat milk is your thing.

  • Pros: rich, creamy taste, low in calories. Best option for families looking for a plant-based milk alternative.
  • Cons: lacks natural calcium and protein, can contain added sugars
  • Rating: 5/10

Almond milk

Popular on paleo and other low-carb regimens, unsweetened almond milk contains few calories per serve and no sugars. It’s also a good source of the key nutrient vitamin E, which helps cell regeneration in the body.

The biggest issue with almond milk is that it is naturally low in protein and calcium, so always choose an almond milk with added calcium, to reap the bone health benefits, and be careful of products that contain added sugars, as this bumps up sugar and calorie content significantly. There is also a growing range of almond milks with added protein, usually from soy, which can translate into more than 10g of protein per serve.

  • Pros: low in calories and carbs, good option for low-carb and keto diets
  • Cons: offers few nutrients naturally, especially if unfortified with calcium and protein
  • Rating: 3/10

Macadamia milk

With a similar makeup to almond milk, although with a little more fat per serve thanks to the nuts’ extra monounsaturated fat (close to 5g per 250ml serve), macadamia milk does not contain naturally occurring calcium, and comes in at just under 100 calories per cup. Although tasty and creamy, thanks to its formulation that includes added sugar and a range of additives, there is nothing standout about macadamia milk from a nutritional perspective.

  • Pros: can be enjoyed on a keto regimen
  • Cons: no positive, natural nutritional attributes; processed with added sugars and additives
  • Rating: 3/10

Coconut milk

Made from a mix of water and coconut flesh, coconut milk as a dairy replacement is still an emerging product, with only a couple of supermarket options currently available. Relatively high in fat, with 10g per serve, as well as up to 10g of sugars per cup, the current range is less likely to contain added calcium – and with exceptionally low levels of protein, nutritionally there are much better milks and alternatives you can choose instead.

  • Pros: can be enjoyed on a keto regimen
  • Cons: no positive nutritional attributes, extremely high in saturated fat
  • Rating: 0/10

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