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Why use plant-based milk? Plant-based milks can be a more healthful alternative to regular milk. They contain less saturated fat (except for coconut milk) and, if they contain no added sugar, fewer calories. Some also provide as much protein as milk and most provide as much or more calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12. Being non-dairy, they are also a good milk substitute for people with milk allergy, lactose intolerance, or who are vegan. Plant-based milks are also more environmentally-friendly than cow's milk (See What They Are and Why to Consider Them).
What did ConsumerLab find? Lab tests showed that most products contained the nutrients they listed, but one contained only 62% of its promised calcium as well as 240% of one of its listed vitamins. (See What CL Found)
How do they taste? We focused mainly on unsweetened plant-based milks and although none of these was delicious, several were mild tasting and could be used an alternative to milk, such as in cereal or in coffee, adding creamy texture and some whiteness. The best tasting product contained added sugar (created by conversion of carbs from one of its key ingredients). (See the taste comparisons in the 2nd column of the Results table)
Which is best? Our Top Picks were not only acceptable in taste, but more nutritious than regular 1% milk. All of the plant-based milks cost more than regular milk, but our Top Picks were in the middle range.
Caution with plant-based milks: Most plant-based milks contain added vitamins and minerals. To avoid excessive intakes, particularly of calcium, limit intake to one cup at a time and no more than two cups per day, and consider cutting back on supplements that provide the same nutrients. Also check that products don't contain ingredients to which you are allergic, such as soy, almonds, and cashews. (See Concerns and Cautions)
Plant-based Milks Tested and Compared by ConsumerLab - Learn the Differences
What They Are:
Plant-based milks are, like milk, mostly water, to which plant-based oils and gums are added, yielding, to varying degrees, a creamy texture. Other plant-based ingredients are added to provide particular flavors and/or nutrients. For example, a substantial amount of calcium is added to nearly all products and soy or pea protein is added to some (delivering as much protein as regular milk). Most nut-based milks (such as almond, cashew, and macadamia) focus more on flavor than overall nutrition. Oats are used in some products to provide flavor and sweetness (by converting starch in oats into maltose, as sugar).
Why to Consider Them: Nutrition
Although it is hard to match the delicious taste of whole or low-fat milk, that taste comes at a price: sugar (from lactose) and saturated fats, both of which contribute calories. Even lactose-free milks contain a significant amount of sugar, as the lactose has been converted to glucose and galactose which, by the way, have a greater impact on blood sugar than lactose. What plant-based milks offer is an alternative with little to no saturated fat and, if you choose, little to no sugar, while providing good fats, plenty of calcium, and, in many cases, significant amounts of protein and other vitamins and minerals.
Plant-based milks are dairy-free and lactose-free, making them suitable for people with a milk allergy or lactose intolerance, as well as to vegans. Many products are listed as kosher and they are generally considered non-dairy items under Jewish law.
Plant-based milks tend to be more environmentally-friendly than regular milk in terms of lower production of greenhouse gases (cows produce large amounts of methane, a heat-trapping gas) and utilization of resources such as water (although almonds in almond milk also require large amounts of water).