The Pros and Cons of All the Non-Dairy Milks That Aren't Made from Nuts

The Pros and Cons of All the Non-Dairy Milks That Aren't Made from Nuts

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Danielle Centoni
May 3, 2018
(Image credit: The Kitchn)

When you think of milk alternatives, almond milk is usually one of the first to come to mind. But the alternative "mylk" category seems to be growing and shifting every day, and that means you've got options — lots of them. This is great news for anyone who has nut allergies, or is concerned about the potential environmental problems associated with growing water-hogging nut trees.

Keep reading to learn the pros and cons of nut-free milk alternatives, and get our top picks for each option.

Shopping for Nut-Free Alternative Milks

Keep in mind that alternative milks can often be loaded with sugar, so check the ingredient list. If sugar is the one of the first three ingredients listed, it's a red flag. Try to acclimate your tastebuds to an unsweetened variety.

You should also pay attention to the drink's enhanced nutrients. Because cow's milk is rich in calcium and vitamin B12, and enhanced with vitamin D, you may want to look for alternative milks that are fortified with these vitamins and minerals.

We evaluated the unsweetened nut-free alternative milks on the shelves these days and compared them to an eight-ounce glass of whole milk. Check this list of pros and cons so you can see which one might be the right fit for you.

The Pros and Cons of Nut-Free Alternative Milks — And Our Top Picks for Each

(Image credit: Bolthouse Farms)

1. Pea Milk

Made by isolating protein from peas and blending with water and emulsifiers.

Pros

  • Half the calories and fat as whole cow's milk (70 calories and 4.5 grams fat)
  • Only 1 gram of carbohydrates
  • As much potassium (about 440 milligrams) and protein (8 grams) as whole cow's milk
  • Has 1 gram of iron
  • No cholesterol
  • Enhanced with the same amount (or more) of calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin D as cow's milk. Bolthouse Farms adds 112% DV of Vitamin B12, which is important for vegetarian and vegans
  • Has 32 milligrams Omega-3s
  • Has a neutral flavor and thick, creamy texture

Cons

  • None

Our pick: Bolthouse Farms Unsweetened Pea Protein Milk

(Image credit: Good Karma Foods)

2. Flax Milk

Made from flax seed oil blended with water and thickeners.

Pros

  • Very low in carbohydrates and calories — just 25 calories and 1 gram of carbs
  • Has 1200 milligrams Omega-3s
  • Enhanced with about the same amount of vitamin A, vitamin D, and calcium as cow's milk, as well as 35% DV of vitamin B12 (important for vegetarians and vegans)
  • Has a neutral flavor and thick, creamy texture

Cons

  • No protein unless you get one of the protein-fortified versions, which has 8 grams per 8 ounces, but also more calories (about 70 calories per 8-ounce serving)

Our pick: Good Karma Unsweetened Flax Milk

(Image credit: Silk)

3. Soy Milk

Made from soaked and ground soybeans.

Pros

  • Half the calories (80 to 90) and fat (4 to 4.5 grams) and just one-third the carbohydrates (4 grams) as cow's milk
  • Has almost the same amount of protein as whole cow's milk (7 to 9 grams) and is considered a complete protein with all the essential amino acids
  • Enhanced with comparable amounts of calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin D as cow's milk (some brands are enhanced with vitamin B12, too)
  • No cholesterol

Cons

  • When consumed in large amounts, the isoflavones in soy can trigger estrogen receptors in the body and affect your hormones

Our pick: Silk Organic Unsweetened Soy Milk

(Image credit: So Delicious)

4. Coconut Milk

Made from grated coconut flesh soaked in water and strained. Then mixed with more water and thickeners.

Pros

  • Has one-third the calories and half the fat of whole cow's milk (about 45 calories and 4 grams of fat)
  • Contains no carbohydrates
  • Contains no cholesterol
  • Enhanced with comparable amounts of vitamins A and D as cow's milk. Some also have added vitamin B12

Cons

  • Contains no protein
  • Enhanced with just 10% DV of calcium (compared to the 30% DV in milk)

Our pick: So Delicious Unsweetened Coconut Milk

Food for thought: Coconut milk is high in saturated fats. Ninety percent of its calories come from saturated fat, and the jury is still out about whether these saturated fats are a good thing. Some of coconut's saturated fat is in the form of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). Some say these fats are beneficial because they are utilized for energy similar to carbohydrates, which may help reduce appetite. Some studies say they improve blood cholesterol levels more than other fats because it raises your "good" HDL cholesterol levels. But other studies suggest it may raise levels of total cholesterol and LDL ("bad") cholesterol, too.

(Image credit: Pacific Foods)

5. Hemp Milk

Made by blending hemp seeds with water, straining, and adding thickeners.

Pros

  • Up to half the calories (60 to 80) and fat (4.5 grams) of whole cow's milk.
  • No cholesterol
  • Has Omega-3s (about 1090 milligrams)
  • Almost no carbohydrates or sugars
  • Tastes a bit sweet and nutty
  • Generally enhanced with the same vitamins and calcium as cow's milk. Some also have added vitamin B12

Cons

  • Has half the protein of cow's milk (2 to 3 grams), but some consider it a complete protein with all the essential amino acids (although the amino acids are low in some brands)
  • Has Omega-6 fatty acids (more than those found in flaxseed), and we typically consume too much Omega-6 already
  • Has a thin, watery texture

Our pick: Pacific Foods Unsweetened Hemp Original

(Image credit: Oatly)

6. Oat Milk

Made by blending water-soaked oats, then straining. Sometimes thickeners are added.

Pros

  • Half the fat of whole cow's milk (about 2.5 to 5 grams)
  • No cholesterol
  • Has 2 grams of fiber, including 1 gram of soluble fiber that can help lower cholesterol levels, particularly "bad" LDL cholesterol
  • Some brands are enhanced with vitamins and calcium similar to cow's milk
  • Tastes like cereal milk, with a thick and creamy texture

Cons

  • Similar amount of calories to whole cow's milk (about 130 per cup)
  • Can be high in natural sugars (Oatly has no added sugars and is actually less than cow's milk) and have more carbs compared to cow's milk
  • Less protein than cow's milk

Our pick: Oatly Oatmilk

(Image credit: Dream)

7. Rice Milk

Made from brown rice cooked in water, blended, and strained. Mixed with thickeners.

Pros

  • Just 2 to 3 grams fat

Cons

  • Similar in calories to cow's milk (130 to 140 calories), but with double the carbs (27 to 38 grams) and only 1 gram of protein
  • Only 2% DV calcium
  • Watery texture
  • Can contain some level of arsenic from the rice

Our pick: Enriched Unsweetened Rice Drink

(Image credit: Amazon)

8. Quinoa Milk

Made from cooking quinoa in water, blending, and straining. Then mixing the liquid with thickeners.

Pros

  • About half the calories (70) and a fraction of the fat (1 gram) of cow's milk
  • No cholesterol
  • Enhanced with about the same amount of vitamins and calcium as cow's milk

Cons

  • About the same amount of carbohydrates (12 grams) and less protein (2 grams) than cow's milk
  • More expensive and harder to find than other milk alternatives
  • Can have a distinct quinoa flavor
  • Mostly water and just 5 to 10 percent quinoa, so the nutrients of quinoa are diluted

Our pick: Suzie's Quinoa Beverage

Which nut-free milk alternative is your favorite? Or which one are you most excited to try?

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