VEGETARIAN JOURNAL

Vegetarian Journal 2008 Issue 1

An Updated Guide to Soy, Rice,
Nut, and Other Non–Dairy Milks

By Stephanie Gall, MS, RD
VRG Dietetic Intern

New tables were added in 2013 for
soymilk
nut and seed milks
grain milks
coconut milk

NON–DAIRY MILKS REPRESENT A GROWING MARKET. Many supermarkets now sell an increasing number of non–dairy beverages, and many major supermarket chains sell their own brand of soymilk. However, as the number of products on the shelves increases, so does consumer confusion as to which non–dairy milk is the best choice. Scores of vegetarians are familiar with non–dairy milks but may have lingering questions about which product to choose for their specific needs.

Plant–based milks, such as soy, rice, and almond milk, are non–dairy beverages that have their own distinct texture, color, and taste. They can be consumed straight from the container, mixed into drinks like smoothies, or used in cooking or baking. Non–dairy milks vary in their calorie and nutrient content. Some milks are lower in fat than cow's milk, and since they're all plant–based, they contain no cholesterol. Notably, non–dairy milks have little saturated fat, which many consider a benefit for cardiovascular health.

There's also the added benefit of protective substances found in some of the original products from which the milk is made. For example, soymilk contains soy protein and isoflavones that have been shown to modestly decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, and almond milk has vitamin E, an antioxidant compound that may play a role in prevention of prostate cancer.

Be informed when choosing a non–dairy milk. Unfortified products are low in several key nutrients, such as calcium and vitamin D, both of which are key players in the prevention of osteoporosis. Make sure to check the Nutrition Facts label and compare labels on milk alternatives to be certain you're getting the most for your money.

SoymilkTable 1 (original) Table 1 (updated, 2013)

Soymilk has become the most popular of all the nondairy milks. Many brands of soymilk have about the same or slightly less protein than cow's milk. Sometimes, lower fat or light varieties are lower in protein, calcium, vitamin D, and/or vitamin B12, depending on the brand. Unfortified soymilk contains little absorbable calcium. To counter this, some manufacturers enrich their products with calcium carbonate, an easily absorbed form of calcium. Many varieties of enriched soymilk also contain added vitamin D and vitamin B12.

Most recent research suggests that it is suitable to include soy as a part of a healthy diet, and there are some health advantages to using moderate amounts of soy products. A reasonable amount of soy for most people seems to be approximately 2–3 servings daily.1

As a consumer, you may also want to consider purchasing organic soymilk since soybean crops are often heavily treated with pesticides. In the tables that accompany this article, products that contain organic ingredients are indicated by a symbol () before the product's name.

Nut MilksTable 2 (original)Table 2 (updated, 2013)

Various types of nuts can be used to make nut milks. These include Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, and the ever popular almonds. All nut milks are made from ground nuts that have been strained, liquefied, and then sweetened. They are typically similar to soy beverages in terms of calories and fat, but actual amounts depend on the manufacturer and the product in question.

With nut milks, the properties of the nut are imparted on the milk during the manufacturing process. For example, almonds are one of the healthiest nuts that humans can eat. They're rich in magnesium, potassium, manganese, copper, the antioxidants vitamin E and selenium, and calcium. Almond milk, therefore, may be one of the more nutritious milk alternatives on the market. However, almonds are costly, so the actual amount of almonds used in the almond milk is small; it may not be enough to provide lots of nutrition.

Many products also have added sweeteners, such as cane or refined sugars, which may not be appropriate for people with diabetes. This is especially true for nut milks, which tend to have more sweeteners added to balance out the bitter taste. In addition, most of the nut milks available have very little protein (<2 grams per 8 ounce serving) when compared to soymilks, and most are not fortified with vitamin B12.

Grain MilksTable 3 (original)Table 3 (updated, 2013)

Grain milks are milk substitutes made from fermented grain or flour. The most common types of grain milks come from rice and oats. These milks are made from grains that have natural fiber present; therefore, the milks have the added benefit of fiber that is infused naturally into the drink upon manufacturing. However, most grain milks contain less than 4 grams of protein per 8 ounce serving, which may be a deciding factor in which beverages to consume.

Rice milk is processed from brown rice and usually contains rice syrup, evaporated cane juice, or some other natural sweetener. It is typically fortified with calcium, vitamin D, and/or vitamin B12. When compared to soymilk or cow's milk, rice milk is largely a source of carbohydrates without the protein punch. Therefore, it's important not to look at it as a nutritional equivalent but rather as a useful replacement for soymilk or cow's milk for taste and cooking purposes. If you're relying on rice–, nut–, or grain–based milks as dietary staples, eat a wide variety of other foods to insure that you're getting all the nutrients you need. Fortified soymilks, which are higher in protein than other plant–based milks, are a better choice as the primary beverage for a vegan child or adult.

Coconut Milks (added, 2013)

Summary

The non–dairy milk you choose is entirely up to your own preference. Some may choose soymilk for its isoflavone content, while others may want to limit their use of soy. Almond milk provides a healthful alternative milk for baking, cooking, and drinking, but nutritionally, you're perhaps better off eating the almonds. Rice milk is largely a source of carbohydrates, but it can give you something to use with your meals and for baking if you like the taste. Other types of milks—hemp, oat, and some others—can be beneficial for your diet, but they are largely unstudied or unavailable commercially at this time.

Many consumers will opt to use fortified non–dairy milks as a convenient source of key nutrients, such as calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12. Not all products are fortified with all three of these nutrients, so label reading is important in choosing the right product for your needs. Be sure to check the Nutrition Facts label regularly since nutrient values can change.

Our choices for the best products to deliver calcium and vitamin D (providing at least 300 milligrams of calcium and 3 micrograms of vitamin D or more per serving) are 365 Organic Soy, Natur–A Soy, Organic Valley, Pearl, Silk, Trader Joe's Soymilk, Yü Soy, Natur–A Rice, Trader Joe's Basmati Rice Milk, and Yü Basmati Rice. Good sources of calories for growing children and active adults (providing at least 130 calories per serving of the original or plain flavor) are Trader Joe's Soymilk Extra, Westsoy Plus and Westsoy Organic, Edensoy Extra, Edensoy, Y\FC Basmati Rice, Pacific Organic Oat, Pacific Low Fat Rice, Living Harvest Hemp Milk, and Natur–A Rice. If getting enough calories is your concern, you may want to try switching to flavored non–dairy milk, as these products generally have more calories than their regular counterparts. Top choices of non–dairy milks that provide good–quality protein to your diet (8 grams or more per serving) are Edensoy (Original and Extra), Pacific (UltraSoy and Organic Unsweetened), Trader Joe's Soymilk Extra, Vitasoy Classic, Westsoy (Organic and Unsweetened), and Yü Soy.

A few brands of soymilk contain algae–derived docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Odwalla, Silk Plus Omega–3 DHA, and ZenSoy on the Go are all fortified with this fatty acid, which is usually found in fish oils. Hemp–based products contain alpha–linolenic acid, which humans are able to convert to DHA to some extent.

Key considerations for many will be personal preference and taste. Check out the different varieties of non–dairy milks out there—and be sure you're eating a wide variety of healthy foods to go along with them. Of course, none of the non–dairy milks should be used to replace breastmilk or commercial infant formula for babies.

Reference
1 Munro IC, Harwood M, Hlywka JJ, Stephen AM, Doull J, Flamm WG, Adlercreutz H. 2003. Soy isoflavones: a safety review. Nutr Rev 61:1–33.

Stephanie Gall, MS, RD, wrote this article while doing a rotation for her dietetic internship with The Vegetarian Resource Group. She is a vegan, currently resides in Colorado, and works as a dietitian in a clinical setting.

TABLE 1 – NUTRITIONAL CONTENT OF SOYMILKS
Product Content in 1 cup (8 ounces) Flavors
Calories Protein
(grams)
Total Fat
(grams)
Saturated Fat
(grams)
Calcium*
(milligrams)
Vitamin D°
(micrograms)
B12#
(micrograms)
2% Reduced Fat Cow's Milk 130 8 5 3 300 3 1.5
365 Organic Soy Milk Original 90 6 3.5 0.5 300 3 3 Original, unsweetened, vanilla
8th Continent Fat Free Original 60 6 0 0 300 2.5 0.9 Original, vanilla
8th Continent Original 80 6 3 0.5 300 2.5 0.9 Original, vanilla, chocolate
8th Continent Original Light 50 6 1.5 0 300 2.5 0.9 Original, vanilla, chocolate
Better Than Milk Soy Original
Powder (2 Tbsp. with 8 oz. water)
100 2 2.5 0 80 0 0.6 chocolate, Original,
vanilla, carob
Edenblend 120 7 3 0.5 40 0 0 Original Rice & Soy Blend
Edensoy Extra Original 130 11 4 0.5 200 1 3 Original, vanilla
Edensoy Light Original 100 5 2 0 100 1 0 Original, vanilla
Edensoy Original 140 11 5 0.5 100 0 0 Carob, original, vanilla,
unsweetened, chocolate
Natur–A Soy Original 100 6 4 0.5 300 4.5 3 Original, unsweetened, vanilla,
chocolate, strawberry
Natur–A Soy Original Light 90 7 3 0.5 300 4.5 3 Original, vanilla
Odwalla Plain 110 7 4 0.5 300 2.5 3 Plain, original, vanilla
Organic Valley Original 100 7 3 0.5 300 3 3 Original, chocolate, vanilla,
unsweetened
Pacific Select Soy
Low Fat Plain
70 5 2.5 0 20 0 0 Plain, vanilla
Pacific UltraSoy Plain 120 10 4 0.5 500 2.5 1.5 Plain, vanilla
Pacific Organic Unsweetened
Original
90 9 4.5 0.5 20 0 0 Original
Pearl Original 110 7 3.5 0.5 300 3.5 0 Original, unsweetened, creamy vanilla,
chocolate, green tea, tropical delight
Silk Plus Omega–3 DHA 110 7 5 0.5 350 3 3 Original
Silk Enhanced 110 7 5 0.5 350 3 3 Enriched Original
Silk Light Plain 70 6 2 0 300 3 3 Plain, vanilla, chocolate
Silk Plain 100 7 4 0.5 300 3 3 Plain, vanilla, very vanilla, unsweetened,
chocolate, chai, coffee, mocha, spice, egg nog
So Nice Natural 80 7 4 1 110 00 Natural
So Nice Original 80 6 3 0.8 300 2.2 1 Original, vanilla, chocolate, mocha,
cappuccino, noel nog, unsweetened
So Nice Plus Original 110 7 4 0.9 330 2.25 1 Original, vanilla
Soy Dream Enriched Original 100 7 4 0.5 350 2.5 3 Original, vanilla
Soy Dream Classic Vanilla 140 7 4 0.5 40 0 0 Vanilla
Trader Joe's Organic Soymilk
Original
100 5 2 0 400 3 0 Regular, vanilla, chocolate
Trader Joe's Organic
Unsweetened Soymilk
90 9 4.5 0.5 0 0 0 Original
Trader Joe's Soymilk Extra
Original
130 7 3 0 300 3 0 Original, vanilla, chocolate
Vitasoy Light Original 60 4 2 0.5 300 2 0.9 Original, vanilla, chocolate
Vitasoy Classic Original 120 8 4.5 0.5 40 0 0 Classic (original, vanilla), creamy original,
smooth vanilla, rich chocolate, unsweetened,
green tea, holly nog
Vitasoy Complete Original 70 6 2 0 300 2 0.9 Original, vanilla
WestSoy Lowfat Plain 90 4 1.5 0 200 2.5 0 Plain, vanilla
WestSoy Lite Plain 90 4 1.5 0 300 2.5 0 Plain, vanilla
WestSoy Nonfat Plain 70 6 0 0 250 2.5 0 Plain, vanilla
WestSoy Organic Original 130 8 3.5 0.5 40 0 0 Original
WestSoy Plus Plain 130 7 3 0.5 300 2.5 0 Plus (Plain, vanilla)
WestSoy Soy Slender Plain 60 6 3 0.5 300 2.5 0 Plain, chocolate, vanilla,
cappuccino
WestSoy Unsweetened Plain 90 9 4.5 0.5 40 0 0 Plain, chocolate, vanilla,
almond
Yü Soy Original 120 8 4.5 0.5 300 4.5 3 Original, almond, vanilla
ZenSoy Plain 90 7 3.5 1 300 3 3 Plain, vanilla, chocolate,
cappuccino
ZenSoy Soy on the Go Vanilla 110 7 3.5 1 300 3 3 Vanilla, chocolate,
cappuccino
"2% Reduced Fat Cow's Milk" is included for purposes of comparison.
Indicates the product is organic or made with organic ingredients.
* The daily recommended intake of calcium is 500 mg for ages 1–3; 800 mg for ages 4–8; 1,300 mg for ages 9–18; 1,000 mg for ages 19–50; and 1,200 mg for ages 51 years or older.
° The daily recommended intake of vitamin D is 5 mcg for ages 1–50; 10 mcg for ages 51–70; and 15 mcg for ages 71 or older.
# The daily recommended intake of vitamin B12 is 0.9 mcg for ages 1–3; 1.2 mcg for ages 4–8; 1.8 mcg for ages 9–13; and 2.4 mcg for ages 14 or older.
TABLE 2 – NUTRITIONAL CONTENT OF NUT MILKS
Product Content in 1 cup (8 ounces) Flavors
Calories Protein
(grams)
Total Fat
(grams)
Saturated Fat
(grams)
Calcium*
(milligrams)
Vitamin D°
(micrograms)
B12#
(micrograms)
2% Reduced Fat Cow's Milk 130 8 5 3 300 3 1.5
Almond Breeze Original 60 1 2.5 0 200 2.5 0 Original, vanilla, chocolate, unsweetened
(original, vanilla, chocolate)
Living Harvest Hempmilk
Original
130 4 3 0.5 460 2.5 1.5 Original, chocolate, vanilla
Manitoba Harvest Hemp Bliss
Original
110 5 7 0.7 20 0 0 Original, vanilla, chocolate
Pacific Almond Low–Fat
Original
70 1 3 0 300 2.5 0 Original, vanilla
Pacific Almond Organic
Unsweetened Original
50 1 3 0 100 2.5 0 Original, vanilla
Pacific Hazelnut Original 110 2 3.5 0 300 2.5 0 Original
"2% Reduced Fat Cow's Milk" is included for purposes of comparison.
Indicates the product is organic or made with organic ingredients.
* The daily recommended intake of calcium is 500 mg for ages 1–3; 800 mg for ages 4–8; 1,300 mg for ages 9–18; 1,000 mg for ages 19–50; and 1,200 mg for ages 51 years or older.
° The daily recommended intake of vitamin D is 5 mcg for ages 1–50; 10 mcg for ages 51–70; and 15 mcg for ages 71 or older.
# The daily recommended intake of vitamin B12 is 0.9 mcg for ages 1–3; 1.2 mcg for ages 4–8; 1.8 mcg for ages 9–13; and 2.4 mcg for ages 14 or older.
TABLE 3 – NUTRITIONAL CONTENT OF GRAIN MILKS
Product Content in 1 cup (8 ounces) Flavors
Calories Protein
(grams)
Total Fat
(grams)
Saturated Fat
(grams)
Calcium*
(milligrams)
Vitamin D°
(micrograms)
B12#
(micrograms)
2% Reduced Fat Cow's Milk 130 8 5 3 300 3 1.5
365 Organic Rice Milk 110 1 2.5 0 250 2.5 0 Original, vanilla
Better Than Milk Rice Original
(2 Tbsp. with 8 oz. water)
75 0 1.9 0.3 300 0 1.8 Original, vanilla
Lundberg Drink Rice Original 120 1 2.5 0 300 2.5 0 Original, vanilla
Natur–A Rice Original 130 1 2 0 300 4.5 3 Original, vanilla
Naturally Preferred Rice Milk
Original
120 2 2 0 150 3 0 Original
Pacific Low Fat Rice – Plain 130 1 2 0 300 2.5 0 Plain, vanilla
Pacific Organic Oat - Plain 130 4 2.5 0 350 2.5 0 Plain, vanilla
Rice Dream Original
Enriched
120 1 2.5 0 300 2.5 1.5 Chocolate, vanilla,
HeartWise (original,
vanilla)
Rice Dream Original 120 1 2.5 0 20 00 Horchata, original, vanilla,
carob
Trader Joe's Basmati Rice Milk 100 1 2 0 300 3 0 Original
Westbrae Rice Beverage – Plain 100 1 2.5 0 250 2.5 0 Plain, vanilla
WestSoy Rice Beverage Plain 110 1 2.5 0 250 2.5 0 Plain, vanilla
Yü Basmati Rice Original 130 3 2.5 0.4 300 4.5 3 Original, vanilla, chocolate
"2% Reduced Fat Cow's Milk" is included for purposes of comparison.
Indicates the product is organic or made with organic ingredients.
* The daily recommended intake of calcium is 500 mg for ages 1–3; 800 mg for ages 4–8; 1,300 mg for ages 9–18; 1,000 mg for ages 19–50; and 1,200 mg for ages 51 years or older.
° The daily recommended intake of vitamin D is 5 mcg for ages 1–50; 10 mcg for ages 51–70; and 15 mcg for ages 71 or older.
# The daily recommended intake of vitamin B12 is 0.9 mcg for ages 1–3; 1.2 mcg for ages 4–8; 1.8 mcg for ages 9–13; and 2.4 mcg for ages 14 or older.

Excerpts from the 2008 Issue 1

Cheesecake: Not Just for Dessert Anymore.
Chef Nancy Berkoff makes cheesecake part of any course.
An Updated Guide to Soy, Rice, Nut, and Other Non-Dairy Milks
Dietetic Intern Stephanie Gall, MS, RD, brings you all the facts.
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About L-Cysteine But Were Afraid to Ask
Jeanne Yacoubou, MS, takes a closer look at the amino acid.
Vegan Fare from India
Sunita Pant Bansal shares some basic dishes from her country.
Veggie-Friendly Literature for Kids
Check out recommendations from The VRG Parents' E-Mail List.
Vegan Rocker Ted Leo Tours the World
Bobby Allyn interviews the indie rock veteran and vegan activist.
Nutrition Hotline
What are plant sterols, and what effects do they have on the human diet?
Note from the Coordinators
Letters to the Editors
Notes from The VRG Scientific Department
Vegan Cooking Tips
All About Oven-Frying, by Chef Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD, CCE
Veggie Bits
Scientific Update
Book Reviews
Catalog
Vegetarian Action
Everything Natural, by Bobby Allyn


The Vegetarian Resource Group Logo © 1996-2014 The Vegetarian Resource Group
PO Box 1463, Baltimore, MD 21203
(410) 366-8343   Email: vrg@vrg.org

The contents of this website and our other publications, including Vegetarian Journal, are not intended to provide personal medical advice. Medical advice should be obtained from a qualified health professional. We often depend on product and ingredient information from company statements. It is impossible to be 100% sure about a statement, info can change, people have different views, and mistakes can be made. Please use your own best judgment about whether a product is suitable for you. To be sure, do further research or confirmation on your own.

Web site questions or comments? Please email vrg@vrg.org.