• 3 min read

Almond, oat, coconut — which is the best alternative to cow's milk?

  • Resources

When you get a craving for a tall, ice-cold glass of milk, but have a dairy milk allergy, intolerance or diet restriction, what do you do? Many people face this problem. Thanks to the rising popularity of plant-based beverages, there are endless options to choose from at the grocery store.

To help navigate the growing options, a team of registered dietitians at Calgary Foothills PCN recently rose to the challenge, setting out to find the most delicious and nutritionally balanced, plant-based milk substitute.

Three PCN dietitians standing with the different milk alternatives they tested.

What are plant-based beverages?

Plant-based beverages might look “milky” and taste creamy, but they’re made from plants rather than dairy – such as soy, rice, almonds, oats, peas, cashews or coconut, to name a few. Sometimes they are a blend of these ingredients. In any case, it can be difficult for consumers to know which plant-based beverage is the right choice for them.

“People use plant-based beverages for different reasons,” says Mikaela Jahrig, registered dietitian at the PCN. “The best option for you would be the one that meets your health needs – whether you’re looking for more protein or fat content, lower sugar levels or the best taste and texture.”

According to Dietitians of Canada, plant-based beverages can be nutritionally acceptable alternatives to dairy, as long as you take time to read the label:

  • When comparing protein values, cow’s milk has approximately nine grams of protein per cup, versus anywhere from zero to seven grams of protein per cup in plant-based substitutes.
  • When looking at calcium amounts, cow’s milk contains around 30% of your daily needs, whereas plant-based beverages contain around 20 to 25% of your daily needs.
  • Look for plant-based beverages that are “fortified” or “enriched” to ensure essential vitamins and minerals have been added.
Four alternative milk cartons next to each other, including the winner of the taste test, Earth's Own Barista Oat.

Putting dairy milk substitutions to the test

The PCN’s registered dietitians underwent a plant-based beverage sampling challenge, with the intent of making recommendations to patients who need a dairy milk substitute. They sampled several types, comparing taste, texture, appearance and nutrition profiles including protein content, fibre, added sugar, saturated fat and calcium content.

The winner – drum roll, please – was Earth’s Own Barista Oat!

“Although it didn’t have the highest protein content, the mouthfeel and texture was our favourite – we preferred the neutral taste and found it foamed really well,” says Jahrig. “But again, choosing the right plant-based beverage really comes down to your own preferences and nutrition goals.”

Get more advice on nutrition and healthy eating

Are you looking for more healthy eating tips and advice from a registered dietitian? Calgary Foothills PCN’s Ask a Dietitian and Craving Change group workshops — in-person or virtual — are free and can help you get on the right track. You can also book a one-on-one appointment with a PCN registered dietitian online or by phone.