Plant milks have been readily available for years at this point, but seemingly recently have exploded in popularity. Rarely do I see people purchasing traditional dairy milk at the grocery store, and many of my clients confess to preferring plant-based alternatives. Compared with dairy milk, plant milks are cholesterol-free, much easier on the lactose-intolerant stomach and of course, vegan-friendly. These milks are made from nuts, seeds, and other plants instead of animals.
While they tend to be lower in fat and cholesterol than dairy milk, not all plant milks are treated equal. Some are also lower in protein and nutrients like calcium, so it’s important to compare the nutrition facts and ingredient list before you choose one as your go-to option. In this guide, we’ll take a look at oat milk vs almond milk and other milk alternatives so you can make an informed decision about which one will be right for you.
- What is plant milk?
- How is plant milk made?
- Dairy Milk
- Is plant milk healthy?
- Soy Milk
- Almond Milk
- Oat Milk
- Oat vs. Almond Milk
- Healthiest Milk
What is Plant Milk?
Plant milk is a dairy-free alternative to cow’s milk that comes for various plant-based sources like nuts and seeds. It comes in a variety of flavors and can be used in almost the same way as regular cow’s milk, like on cereal or in coffee. Some people with allergies or sensitivities to lactose (the sugar found in cow’s milk) find plant milks as a more agreeable option, while others may try them because they’re vegan or want to eat more plant-based products.
How is Plant Milk Made?
The process of making plant milk can vary from brand to brand, but the basic steps are similar. First, the raw ingredients (usually a blend of nuts, seeds, and grains) are soaked in water overnight or boiled until they break down into a thick liquid. Next, the soaked or boiled mixture is strained through a cheesecloth-lined strainer and blended with more water and sugar until it reaches the desired consistency.
Before we get into oat milk vs almond milk and the other plant milks that are available, we first must discuss the O.G: Good ole’ fashioned dairy milk and whether or not you should substitute it at all. The wave of milk abandonment is largely in part to the growing popularity of veganism, plant based nutrition, and ethical agriculture. However, many people make the switch due to an apparent distaste for dairy milk or for the perceived benefits of the non-dairy alternatives (although many of these people also eat cheese…which is precisely made from dairy milk…but I digress.)
So what’s the deal? Should we ditch the dairy? Let’s see.
Nutritional Value of Dairy Milk
First off, we must assess the nutritional value of cow’s milk because this is, after all a nutrition blog
One cup of the traditional whole cow’s milk contains 150 calories, 12 grams of carbs, 8 grams of fat and 8 grams of protein. Certainly not bad from a macronutrient standpoint, although more on this later. It also contains 305 mg of Calcium and 322 mg of Potassium in a cup.
You can see that cow’s milk contains a healthy variety of carbs, protein, and fat, and it also be a great source of calcium, phosphorus, and Vitamin D (when fortified), and it is made of only milk and potentially vitamin enrichments (usually vitamin D.) For the average person, milk is a healthy dietary component, however, it doesn’t come without it’s drawbacks.
Fat Content of Milk
As you can see, a potential downside of milk is that it contains a good amount of fat, a high percentage of which (4.6 grams) come from saturated fats. But to put this into perspective: your traditional glass of (whole) milk contains 8 grams of fat which equates to 72 calories (so less than 4% of your total calories—and remember, we try keep fat content under 35% of your daily calories.) However, around 41 calories from a glass of whole milk come from saturated fat. It’s recommended that individuals keep their saturated fat intake to less than 10% of your daily calories, so you could drink almost five cups of whole milk without any adverse effects (assuming you don’t eat saturated fat at other points in the day.)
While most people will not drink five cups of whole milk a day, if consumed in excess, this high saturated fat content can lead to increased risk of physiological issues including disease and obesity. Although, thanks to reduced fat and skim milk options, it’s easy to mitigate the risks associated with the higher fat content without compromising other nutritional components.
A glass of 2% milk contains 124 calories, 5 grams of fat (3.1 grams of saturated fat), 12 grams of carbs and 8 grams of protein.
A glass of 1% milk contains 103 calories, 2.4 grams of fat (1.5 grams of saturated fat), 12 grams of carbs and 8 grams of protein.
Skim (nonfat) milk contains 0.2 grams of fat and 0.1 grams of saturated fat. You are still getting the 8 grams of protein and 12 grams of carbs.
Protein Content of Milk
On the positive side, milk contains high-quality protein which can help increase satiety, deliver essential amino acids and fuel various crucial physiological functions. Milk protein is also high in Leucine which is the primary amino acid responsible or muscle protein synthesis which make it a great option for those trying to build muscle or lose fat. (Whey and Caesin supplements are derived from milk protein)
Sugar Content of Milk
Dairy is also high in Lactose, which is a disaccharide (sugar) that adults do not need for survival. A glass of milk contains 12 grams of sugar (Lactose). Note, however, that Lactose is naturally occurring so it’s not as detrimental as added sugar. For this reason, lactose is not harmful if consumed in moderation. But, as with any sugar, high lactose consumption can increase the risk of Type Two Diabetes and obesity. It’s also worth noting that most plant milks also have considerable amounts of sugar added to them for palatability and to mimic the nutritional components of milk (more on this later.)
It’s worth nothing that dairy milk can be difficult on the digestive system for a lot of individuals because many populations experience a decline in Lactase (the enzyme that breaks down the lactose in milk) after about 4-years old. It’s estimated that Lactose Intolerance affects about two-thirds of the world’s population. Although, most people who are lactose intolerant can handle moderate amounts of it without any adverse effects.
Dairy milk is often criticized for its high levels of growth hormone which may cause hormonal imbalances in humans. However, most brands do not use hormones. It is, however, a good idea to brush up on the brands that do and do your best to avoid them. You can view a list of the brands using them here. Note, certified organic milk also indicates that no hormones are used.
The Great Dairy Debate
It’s no surprise that many people are opting for dairy-free milk alternatives with countless articles (largely from plant based advocates or franchises) listing the downsides and health risks of dairy. While I’d love to go down the rabbit hole on this, I have decided that it will be an article for another day. But simply put, many anti-dairy claims are not supported or refuted even, by scientific evidence.
Is Plant-Based Milk Healthy?
Alright, now that you have gotten an overview of the nutritional value of dairy milk, let’s talk about plant milk. In general, the content of plant milk can be comparable in regards to macronutrient composition (depending on on which one you choose) and they are often fortified with additional micronutrients. However, each plant milk and each manufacturer is different. Some of the best selling plant milks are marketed for their health benefits but are loaded with additives that degrade or counteract the proclaimed benefits.
It’s also worth noting that because plant milks are indeed a processed food they include emulsifiers such as lecithin and gums to create the consistency. Although, research has deemed these ingredients safe to consume in moderation. Alternatively, brands like Elmhurst do not use gums or emulsifiers in their formulas.
Below, I discuss a traditional glass of unflavored “milk.” Keep in mind, that most plant milks do contain added sugar for palatability and in attempt to resemble to nutritional content of milk. Most brands do offer an unsweetened variety which will be lower. in. calories and sugar.
Nutritional Value of Soy Milk
When it comes to plant milk, Soy milk is the longest standing alternative, and (spoiler alert) the most nutritious (and most comparable) option.
A standard cup of soy milk contains 100 calories, 4 grams of fat (0.5 of which are saturated), 8 grams of carbs, 1 grams of fiber, and 7 grams of protein. It also is rich in calcium and potassium with 380 and 289 mg respectively.
Soy is the only milk that is comparable in terms of protein value (7 grams versus the 8 in traditional dairy milk). It is also the only complete plant protein, meaning it contains all nine essential aminos. Furthermore, it beats out dairy in regards to calcium and sugar content. It is also lower in fat content than all milk variations with the exception of skim.
Best Overall Soy Milk: Edensoy Unsweetened Organic Soy Milk
With soybeans and water being the only ingredients, this soy milk is as clean as can be. It also contains 12 grams of protein in a standard serving which is considerably higher than other alternatives. Furthermore, it has 40 mg of calcium, 550 mg of Potassium
Best Easy-to-Find Soy Milk: Silk Unsweet Organic Soy Milk
This one is available at most of your average grocery stores. The Silk organic soy milk features no added sugar, 7 grams of protein and is enriched with calcium, Vitamin D, potassium, vitamin A, folate, B12 and Magnesium
Nutritional Value of Almond Milk
The most low-calorie milk alternative, and most popular option is Almond milk. Almond milk is ideal for those who simply like the nutty flavor and who are looking for a low-calorie option but it falls flat when it comes to its nutritional content (mainly because it’s primary ingredient is water).
The standard cup of almond milk contains 56 calories, 2.5 grams are fat calories (0.2 grams of saturated fat), 1 gram of carbohydrate and 1 gram of protein. While low in calories, its not very nutritionally dense as it contains minuscule amounts of vitamins and minerals (including calcium, unless it’s enriched.)
Almond milk is a going to be ideal for those who like the taste or are looking to minimize calories (unsweetened versions have a few as 30 calories per glass) but almond milk can’t really be viewed as a nutritional substitute for cow’s milk. Note, however, some manufacturers do enrich the formula with calcium and vitamin D.
Best Overall Almond Milk: Almond Breeze Blue Diamond
For those trying to keep calories low, the Almond Breeze unsweetened almond milk from Blue Diamond is your best bet. It only has 30 calories in a glass and is enriched with Calcium, Vitamin D, Vitamin A, and Vitamin E which makes it a good nutritionally-dense, low calorie option.
Best Natural Almond Milk: Elmhurst Unsweetened Milked Almonds
This almond milk is made with only two ingredients: Almonds and water. It also have 5 grams of protein which is considerably more than other options on the market.
Nutritional Value of Oat Milk
Oat milk is a plant milk that offers a creamier consistency than some of the other plant milks which is why its becoming a popular coffee additive. While oats in their raw form can offer many advantages to cholesterol and digestion due to their fiber content, the processing of oats to form the milk removes most of the fiber so these potential benefits are likely not apparent in oat milk. However, oat milk does have a slightly higher fiber content than the other plant milks discussed (although, at a whopping 1.5 grams per serving…you better not skip your fruits, veggies and whole grains.)
A standard cup of oat milk contains 130 calories, 29 grams of carbs, 1 grams of fat, and 2 gram of protein.
As you can see, while oat milk may be preferred for taste and texture, it is not anything to write home about from a nutritional standpoint. While it may be a decent source of potassium, it is otherwise underwhelming in terms of nutritional value.
While the above image references a standard glass, many brands will fortify oat milk with additional nutrients such as calcium, Vitamin D, Riboflavin, and B12 which can improve the nutritional value, especially for vegetarians and vegans who are at a higher risk of deficiency in some of these areas.
Best Overall Oat Milk: Chobani Zero Sugar Oat Milk
I love this one because it has 0 added sugar and is moderate in carbohydrates compared to other oat milks. It is also gluten free and fortified with Calcium, Potassium and Vitamin A.
Best Natural Oat Milk: Malk Oat Milk
This one only has three ingredients: oats, water and Himalayan salt. Although it’s not fortified with nutrients, it does have a moderate amount of calcium and is made with organic oats.
Oat vs. Almond Milk – Which is Better?
Almond milk and oat are the two most popular plant milks this year and I get a lot of questions about which one is better for you. And the answer is simply…it depends what you are looking for.
If you’re looking for a low-calorie option to mild out your morning coffee, unsweetened almond milk is going to be your best bet due to its low calorie content. However, the taste and consistency of oat milk tends to more closely resemble real dairy milk which may make it more palatable to some. As far as nutritional content goes, it depends on the kind of milk you buy—both oat and almond milk can be fortified with vitamins and minerals—but almond milk does tend to have slightly more protein than oat milk. So due to its low calorie nature and slightly higher protein, almond milk may be slightly more nutritious than oat milk.
With that said, the differences are so minuscule that you really should just choose the option you like the best, you can’t expect to experience many health benefits from choosing one over the other.
The Healthiest Plant Milk is Neither Oat Nor Almond:
While oat vs almond milk is the question I am asked about the most—given that these are the two most popular plant milks—the true answer is…neither. If you are unable to drink dairy milk due to intolerance or dietary restrictions, soy milk is going to be your best plant-based alternative. It contains the highest amount of protein (and its a complete protein, unlike other plant sources) and is going to most closely resemble real dairy milk from a nutritional standpoint.
Disclaimer: I am a certified nutrition coach and personal trainer, not a registered dietician or physician. The information in this post are meant to be for educational purposes only and should not be considered as medical advice. Please consult a licensed professional for specific dietary guidance
Please also note that some of the links above are affiliate links so I may earn a small commission off of purchases made through them.
Is Oat Milk Actually Good for You?
Oat Milk is not a “good for you,” per se—it lacks many of the nutrients (protein, calcium, etc.) compared to traditional dairy milk but can provide a similar taste and consistency without the lactose and dairy. And some brands will fortify oat milk with additional vitamins and nutrients which can enhance the nutritional value.
Is Drinking Almond Milk Good for You?
Almond milk is a lower-calorie alternative to traditional cow’s milk which makes it a useful tools for those on a weight loss journey or for those who would otherwise drink large amounts of milk, but otherwise, it lacks other nutrients that cow’s milk (or even soy milk) would have.
Is Soy Milk Good for You?
Soy milk is rich in protein. and omega 3s and is a comparable low-cholesterol alternative to dairy milk which makes it a healthy option so long as you avoid sweetened or flavored varieties.
Is Plant Milk Healthier Than Cow’s Milk?
The answer here depends on which plant milk you choose what you are hoping to achieve by drinking it. Plant milks are typically lower in fat and calories than your traditional glass whole cow’s milk but many plant variations (with the exception of soy) are lacking in protein. And many of the nutritional elements that would otherwise be present in the plant (i.e fiber) are removed through the processing that occurs to convert it to “milk.”