What’s the best dairy-free milk?

What's the best dairy free alternative?

We often receive AMAZING questions from you (our readers) – mostly about ingredients and cooking tips, but also about the other side of “healthy,” like how we started a business, tips for feeding kids, or even suggestions for local San Francisco eats (since that’s where we live).

Instead of hoarding the answers, we decided it’s time to open up a blog column where we answer your questions and share our perspective with all of you. Check out this week’s question below all about dairy-free milk alternatives.

When a question pops up for you about eating healthy, improved work-life balance, motivation to get you moving, or anything about our journey to Eat Life Whole, ask us here.


“Which is better nutritionally, coconut milk or almond milk?
– Toni



Hi Toni,

What a great question, especially since we’ve been asked that very question around non-dairy alternatives quite often.

If you are allergic to dairy, simply prefer the taste of dairy-free alternatives, or choose to consume less animal-based foods, there are certainly a ton of options to choose from. To expand your question a bit, I’m going to highlight a few dairy-free alternatives beyond almond milk and coconut milk to help you see the comparison.

Consider this first

When selecting a dairy-free milk alternative for the best “nutritional punch,” you have to consider what your health goals are right now. Are you looking for something with more protein because you don’t consume much high-protein foods throughout the day? Are you looking to lose weight or gain weight – which will help you choose a lower or higher calorie-based dairy-free milk? Or are you simply wanting to swap a dairy-free option that would be most comparable to regular milk for baking/cooking or small add-ins like milk for your coffee or cereal?

Four common dairy-free milk alternatives

Take a look below at four common dairy-free alternatives, how they compare taste and nutrition-wise, and lastly, our thoughts on where to go from here.

Almond Milk:

Taste: Unsweetened almond milk is a low-calorie, dairy-free alternative that many people prefer (taste-wise) over other dairy-free alternatives because it is smooth and mild in flavor.

Nutrition: Although it has few calories per cup, it is not a great source of protein, and most calcium and vitamins are added-in during the processing of the almond milk. Beware that most almond milk brands usually contain “lecithin,” starches and thickeners to help create a traditional milk-like consistency.

Tip: In our upcoming detox food challenge, launching later in 2015, you’ll read-up on how to make almond milk from scratch (without fancy tools) and dive into a few dairy-free recipes during the challenge.

Make it QUICK yourself: Almond milk is quite easy to make at home, but if you are in a rush and need a quick version, simply blend almond butter with coconut water or filtered water.

Quick takeaways:

  • low calorie
  • low protein
  • similar calcium to traditional milk, although it is fortified/added

How to make almond milk

Coconut Milk:

Taste: Not to be mistaken with the canned coconut milk, the drinkable carton-based coconut milk is smooth, sweet, and has a noticeable coconut flavor.

Nutrition: Similar to almond milk, unsweetened versions are a low-calorie option, but it’s also low in protein AND calcium, which doesn’t make this a nutrient-rich source of what most people think dairy foods should add to their diet.

Tips: Just like almond milk, many coconut milk brands use natural and artificial flavors and starches to simulate what we think of as “traditional milk.” Be sure to shop for coconut milk with minimal ingredients

Make it QUICK Yourself: Simply make a cleaner version by blending 1 cup of unsweetened, dried coconut flakes with 2 cups of boiling water, then strain.

Quick takeaways:

  • low calorie
  • low protein
  • low calcium

How to make coconut milk

Rice Milk:

Taste: Unsweetened rice milk is a sweet dairy-free alternative that is slightly gritty due to the remnants of rice pulp.

Nutrition: It is one of the “mildest” dairy-free alternatives in terms of allergy reactions, however it is also high in carbs, sugar, calories, and low in protein in comparison to other dairy-free milk alternatives. Similar to almond and coconut milk, many “fillers” and starches are used to thicken the milk and prolong shelf life.

Tip: This isn’t a great source of a nutritional punch, however if you do prefer to experiment with it, be sure to look at the ingredients without loads of sugar.

Make it QUICK Yourself: It’s also something quite easy to make on your own. Boil 1 cup brown rice with 3 cups of water, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1 teaspoon honey. Once the rice is cooked, toss it in a blender with 4 more cups of water. Strain with a fine-mesh sieve or cheesecloth and store in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Quick takeaways:

  • high calorie
  • low protein
  • low calcium
  • high sugar

How to make (brown) rice milk

Soy Milk:

Taste: Soy milk was a popular one a few years ago, especially at Starbucks with “soy lattes.” It is smooth and has a slight “beany” aftertaste that may seem overpowering when consumed on its own.

Nutrition: Nutritionally, it is similar to traditional milk when it comes to protein and calcium, however “soy” is another food allergen that may not agree with your body. It is also a controversial food where various studies show that soy milk may not be as good for us as we think. An over-consumption of soy phytoestrogens (plant-based hormones) may conflict with our own natural hormones. Lastly, just like other dairy-free alternatives, many soy milk products contain various starches and emulsifiers to extend their shelf life.

Tip: With soybeans being one of the most genetically modified organisms, if you do choose to shop for soy milk, we highly suggest looking for organic, non-gmo brands.

Make it QUICK Yourself: Making traditional homemade soy milk is a slightly longer process because you must soak soybeans overnight. These soybeans are a yellow-tan color and are NOT the same as edamame (the young, green versions we eat at Japanese restaurants). However, since edamame (the green young bean) is slightly more nutritious than the mature version, you can you make a powerhouse edamame soy milk quite easily. Simply add 1 cup of edamame to 3 cups of boiling water and cook for 3 minutes. Pour the cooked beans and water in a blender, and add, 2 cups filtered water or coconut water, and 1 teaspoon ginger. Blend, then strain and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Quick takeaways:

  • low calorie
  • high protein
  • high calcium
  • low in sugar

How to make soy milk

So when it comes to nutrients, which is the best dairy-free milk alternative?

If you’ve read up on our philosophy, then you’ll know that we DO NOT promote a specific diet or one way of eating (like vegan, vegetarian, pascatarian, or even paleo). We do however support eating a produce-centric diet, minimally processed, made up of whole, real foods. One thing to consider when purchasing dairy-free milk alternatives, is that most options are highly processed, loaded with sugars, preservatives, and artificial ingredients to enhance flavor and extend shelf life – quite the opposite of whole, real foods.

On top of that, most traditional dairy and dairy-free alternatives contain fortified (enriched) nutrients (like calcium and vitamins) – which means “man and woman” added supplemental vitamins. As a result, we consider milk to be an ingredient that is added to our foods more for flavor than a substantial nutrient source for calcium, protein and vitamins.

According to Dr. Thalia, “As a culture, we did not actually drink animal milk until the early 1900’s when it was touted out to be the best source of calcium. The reality is that the absorbability of calcium from milk products is about 32% whereas the absorbability of calcium from green vegetables like kale, broccoli, and brussels sprouts is between 40 and 64%.” Just another reason to UP YOUR GREENS!


How to shop for dairy-free milk alternatives

When looking for dairy-free milk alternatives, try to follow these steps, as best you can:

  1. Shop the refrigerator section vs. the aisles. Refrigerated dairy-free milk alternatives tend to have a shorter shelf life, which means less artificial ingredients.
  2. ALWAYS flip the carton over and look at the ingredients. If it’s loaded with words that you can’t pronounce, it’s best to leave it behind. Making your own, might be the better option.
  3. Choose unsweetened / plain versions. Many dairy-free milk alternatives come in a variety of flavors (especially vanilla), which may mean added artifacial ingredients and color. Be sure to check the nutritional labels for sugar contents as well. Here’s more info on how 4 grams of sugar compares to a teaspoon.

Dairy-Free Milk Alternatives

Thanks Toni for asking such asking a great and pertinent question. As you can see, there’s no one solid answer, but the information provided above should lead you to explore an option that best suits your goals and taste buds.



Kale. All Day. Err Day.

If you like this post, checkout more nutritious and healthy living tips in our latest interactive book, Kale. All Day. Err Day. It’s enhanced and interactive for a super fun, learning experience. It’s filled with a great story all about kale, how-to videos, and recipes for the busy and the hungry. Did we mention, it’s FREE…for a limited time. Hurry – check it out here. (New book coming late 2016…)


Kale. All Day. Err Day. | Wake the Wolves


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Stephanie Wong

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  • Jenelle

    I’m surprised you’ve not mentioned oat milk? I would be interested in the comparison.

    • stephanie

      Hi Janelle,

      Ooh I’ve never tried oat milk! I’ve heard of it, but never even considered it when doing this blog post. I’ll add it to my list of “must tries.” Thanks for the tip!!! If you have any late/hate relationships with oat milk, please do let us know! -steph

      • gindricks

        I agree, it would be great to see Oat Milk (e.g. the brand Oatly) in this list for comparison. It’s what a lot of docs in the UK recommend for kids with allergies, more so than Rice Milk for sure.

  • Jess

    I love your blog. I’m wondering what you think about controversial carrageenan? I see it’s an additive in several of these dairy free milks. A researcher from Illinois has about 18 studies saying it’s harmful but well respected physicians disagree. Thoughts?

    • stephanie

      Hi Jess,

      Sorry for the delay. BUSY WEEK!!! It’s actually soooo awesome you asked this question. My brother-in-law is a chef and we were just debating over homemade ice cream recipes. He’s one of those super fancy chefs that blends chemistry with food and works in a very high-end restaurant. We were particularly talking about IRISH MOSS. Have you heard of it? It’s used in a few raw food recipes that I heard great things about, however I did my digging and the more I read and learned, the more I’ll choose to keep it OUT of my food. Carrageenan can be extracted from Irish moss and carrageenan itself is highly inflammatory to the body, which is a big fat no-no for my household if I can control it. Studies have also shown that it’s not the best for the gut either. For my health particularly (high-stress & sensitive stomach), adding inflammatory foods to my plate will only make me feel more sluggish. So a long story short is – I’m totally against it. If I see it in the back of the ingredient label, I’ll put it back. And of course, I won’t be adding it to my recipes via Irish Moss either. Hope that helps a bit.

      Oh and here’s a link where I started digging: http://www.rawmazing.com/irish-moss-health-concerns/


  • http://neriumrocks.blogspot.com/ JENNIFER PHOENIX

    Janelle – THANK YOU for creating such an informative & helpful site. I spent ALL morning googling “nutritional comparison of non-dairy milk” & wasting my time on countless websites filled with opinions rather than fact. I was specifically looking for a breakdown of the nutrients, and the pleasant surprise were the recipes to make your own! I never knew it was that simple & I have many of the ingredients already. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

    • stephanie

      Glad you enjoyed it Jennifer!

  • Dallas

    Hi there! I am also surprised hemp and flax milk were not included. My roommate is allergic to nuts, soy, and coconut, but we are also vegan. She likes hemp milk, I like flax, and I would be interested to see the comparison side by side for nutritional value, and if it can be used as a direct substitute for baking and such. Thank you!

    • stephanie

      Hi Dallas! What a great addition idea. I’m totally down to experiment with more dairy-free options. I’ve heard of hemp milk and use hemp in my food, but never made it. I’ve also never made/tried flax milk – so I must try that too! Good ideas!!! Stay tuned. I might make another post out of this. Thanks again!!!

  • Monisha

    Thank you for such an informative comparison of non dairy milks. i have yet to find a brand that tastes great and does not have a long list of mystery ingredients among them carrageenan! I will definitely try making my own after reading your simple to follow directions.

    • stephanie

      Hi Monisha. I think you and I are in the same boat. I can’t find good “clean” brands either. Lots either have added starches/shelf stabilizers, or sweeteners. Ugh! So happy you found the post and can’t wait to see how you like (or not) the easy recipes. Do let us know 🙂

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  • meggan

    Any thoughts on quinoa milk?

    • stephanie

      I’ve never tried making quinoa milk (or tasting it), BUT I’d definitely be sure to soak and rinse those seeds WELL! There is a natural phytochemical (kind of like a natural pesticide) called SAPONIN on the outside of quinoa – which has a flunky taste. When you wash it, you may notice a soap-like foam. If you make the milk yourself, be sure to rinse it thoroughly and preferably soak it for about 2-3 hours before re-rinsing and making it into milk.

      Thanks for the suggestion. Def. a must try!

  • JMR

    What do you use as an alt for a child who is allergic to milk, soy and almonds?

    • http://wakethewolves.com/ Wake the Wolves

      Hi JMR — Have you tried coconut milk or rice milk? I definitely would check with your doctor first because depending on allergy symptoms, you want to be very careful even with alternatives. Also, if your child is allergic to dairy, soy, and almonds, be sure to read the labels of other alternative sources to see if they are processed in a facility that handles dairy and nuts.

      Are they allergic to other nuts? Besides rice milk and coconut milk, there’s also hemp milk (made from hemp seeds).

      Hope that helps a bit!

  • http://www.wanderluce.com/ Lucy Sheref

    This is such a useful post! I have been drinking way too much almond milk without actually knowing how it’s made, and what’s been added.

    Thanks for such a fab post!

    • http://wakethewolves.com/ Wake the Wolves

      Hi Lucy! Thanks so much for your sweet note. Crazy right? The additives are nuts 🙂

  • Mia

    Hey, I’ve read at several places that actually, calcium from vegetables is way less bioavailable than from other sources because vegetables contain oxalic acid (some veggies more than others) that binds to calcium and prevents its absorption. Spinach is an example, it contains a nice amount of calcium, but according to what I’ve read, because of the oxalic acid that binds to the calcium in it, you might need to get about 16 cups of raw spinach to get the same amount you get from a cup of yogurt. I’ve also read that veggies that are high in oxalic acid deplete your body from its calcium, but honestly, I don’t think this is accurate, I think it only binds to the mineral that it’s on the veggie and then makes less likely to get it from that food, so if you eat a plant-based only diet and you have a calcium deficiency is probably because what you’re eating is not providing you enough of the calcium you need, and not because the oxalic acid is sucking the calcium out of your body (just a thought about all I’ve been reading, sorry!) I eat lots of veggies on a daily basis, but I don’t rely on them solely as calcium (and some other minerals like iron. Apparently it also binds to iron) sources, I always try to make sure to include no-fail sources of calcium.
    What do you think of this?

    • http://wakethewolves.com/ Wake the Wolves

      Hi Mia!

      Such a great post and lots of great questions/thinking! You are correct that the more oxalic acid a vegetable contains, that the less bioavailable the calcium is for us to absorb. Bones/fish with bones/dairy are definitely more absorbable sources of calcium, but a great thing to remember is that not all veggies are created equal when it comes to this too. Collard greens, turnip greens, broccoli, and kale have about 4-5x more absorbable calcium than spinach.

      Ok now for the fun stuff, I’d say if you are vegetarian, those leafy greens are probably one of the better options. And if you eat meat/fish, you can get a great spread of calcium from small fish with bones, and leafy greens. Unless calcium deficiency has been red-flagged for you, I’d say that a diverse, colorful plate of whole, real foods, will most likely steer you in a really great direction for calcium intake.

      Hope that helps a bit!

  • http://wakethewolves.com/ Wake the Wolves

    Crazy right? Just when we think we have a solid “option.” Happened to me today too because I bought almond milk, instead of making it. Big o…”what’s all this stuff in the ingredients” face!

    If only we weren’t so busy to be able to make EVERYTHING from scratch 🙂