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November 2019

Can Plant Milks Replace Dairy in Your Diet?

First it was soy. Then almonds joined the party. Now, a growing array of plant-based, creamy beverages—made from nuts and seeds to grains or coconut—line store shelves and fill coffee-shop pitchers.

Jar of almond milk, a few almonds, and the words Almond Milk in script on a table

These dairy-free options aren’t milk, exactly. In fact, the FDA is currently deciding whether the term milk—along with cheese and yogurt—can stay on the label.

If you’re vegan, lactose intolerant, allergic to milk, or just looking to switch things up, you might want to know more about what’s in each cup or carton.

Not the same moo juice

Milks are processed from plants in a variety of ways, including soaking and grinding foods into powders, then adding water.

One reason the FDA is worried: Most plant milks have a far different nutrient profile than cow’s milk. They’re sometimes grouped by categories—such as nut-based or legume milks—but each one has its own pros and cons.   

Some of the most popular options include:

  • Oat milk. This contains a compound called beta-glucan, which may reduce blood glucose and cholesterol levels. It’s often fortified with calcium and vitamin D, which it lacks naturally.

  • Soy milk. This is a close second to dairy when it comes to protein. Like oat milk, it’s low in calcium, unless you choose a fortified version.

  • Almond milk. This offers nutrients like vitamin E, magnesium, and potassium. It’s low in calories—but doesn’t have much protein.

  • Coconut milk. This contains antioxidants, compounds that help fight cell damage. But it’s also high in saturated fat. Saturated fat should make up less than 10% of your daily calories, the USDA says.

Find a healthy formula 

Unless you’re allergic to any of the ingredients, plant milks can fit into a healthy diet. But they might not replace all the nutrients you’d get from dairy.

If you’re staying away from milk for any reason, check labels and talk with a dietitian to make sure you’re meeting daily needs for calcium, protein, and vitamin D. This goes double if you’re pouring for children.


Online Medical Reviewer: McDonough, Brian, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2019
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