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For years we were told that milk does a body good. But while one cup provides roughly 30% of your daily recommended calcium intake, milk can also be hard to digest and may cause in inflammation.
Thankfully, we now have plenty of alternatives to choose from, including almond, cashew, and soy varieties. Atlanta-based nutritionist Marisa Moore, R.D., recommends paying special attention to each milk’s unique benefit and lack there of. She points out that most nondairy milks lack protein, are void of essential vitamin D (unless enriched), and are loaded with added sugar.
SEE ALSO: Breast Milk for Muscle Gains?
Since all these options can make for a confusing shopping experience, we asked Moore to show us the milky way.
BEST FOR: Anyone looking to cut calories and stay lean. It has zero sat rated fats and roughly 25 calories per serving (skim milk has 83). Moore says it also tastes surprisingly creamy and sweet, and has more vitamin E, too.
BUYER BEWARE: One measly gram of protein and few calories means it doesn’t really move the needle regarding your daily nutrition needs.
BEST FOR: Moore says soy milk is essential for active guys. The biggest differentiator is the protein content. “With 8g of protein per cup, soy milk is the only one in the bunch that rivals dairy milk,” says Moore, choosing soy as the top non-dairy choice. “Other milk alternatives usually have no more than a gram” of protein.
BUYER BEWARE: Soy milk is often loaded with sweeteners, and buying organic is extra important since most soybeans are genetically modified.
BEST FOR: Everything from drinking to drowning cereal because it, too, tastes a lot like real milk but is much lighter, in terms of calories. Almonds also have the highest levels of calcium of all the nuts.
BUYER BEWARE: Almond milk often comes packed with sugar, so it’s especially important to buy unsweetened. And, oddly, even though almonds are naturally rich in protein, nearly all of it is lost during processing. “If you use almond milk in hot cereal, for instance, you’ll still want to add some protein— like whole almonds,” Moore says.
BEST FOR: Buy hemp milk if you tend to skimp on “good fat” foods like fish or avocados. “Hemp has more omega-3s than any other milk alternative, as well as a few more grams of protein,” Moore says. It’s also safe for people who are allergic to tree nuts or soy.
BUYER BEWARE: Taste is the biggest barrier for many people. Hemp milk is the least “milk-like,” according to Moore.
BEST FOR: If you have a sweet tooth. It’s naturally rich and creamy, and delicious, making it perfect for smoothies.
BUYER BEWARE: Moore says all that creaminess means a lot more saturated fat—which can be bad for your heart—though the research isn’t cut and dry on how the fat in coconut affects heart disease. You should only buy the stuff that comes in cartons, not cans, as the canned stuff is mostly used for cooking, not drinking.