Consumers are now spoilt for choice when it comes to milk alternatives. Nut milk, oat milk, soy milk and more – in recent years the range of milk has spiked, which has been fantastic news for people with cow’s milk allergies, or people who elect to follow a vegan diet. Whatever someone’s reason for choosing a milk alternative over the real dairy deal, there are a couple of handy tips and tricks to know before embarking on your weekly grocery shop.

 

The nutrients to be mindful of when swapping out dairy

Firstly, you’ve probably heard by now that cow’s milk is a fantastic source of protein and calcium. It also provides a good dose of phosphorus, potassium, vitamin D and B vitamins. Whilst the predominant ingredients in milk alternatives (such as nuts, oats, or soy) are healthy foods in their own right, they simply do not have the same nutritional profile as cow’s milk. For this reason, we recommend choosing a brand that has undergone fortification. This means that calcium (and possibly other minerals) have been added during the manufacturing process. You’ll know if the product has been fortified with calcium by checking the ingredients list. Added calcium is usually labelled as ‘calcium’, ‘calcium carbonate’ or ‘calcium phosphate’. 

 

Ingredients to avoid

Secondly, if you have a look at the ingredients list on your milk carton, you’ll find that cow’s milk only contains one ingredient: milk.  Milk alternatives usually contain several ingredients. This is to make it more palatable and texturally appealing for consumers. Try to avoid brands with added sugars, we don’t need these in our morning muesli or coffee! Note that sugar may also be listed as ‘cane sugar’, ‘rice syrup’ or ‘corn syrup’. 

Let’s now look at some popular milk alternatives and see how they measure up. To give some context, here is the nutrition information for a serving of reduced-fat cow’s milk: 

  • 524kj  
  • 8.8g protein 
  • 4.8g total fat
  • 3.3g saturated fat
  • 90mg sodium
  • 320mg calcium (40% RDI, or Recommended Daily Intake) 

 

Almond Breeze Unsweetened Almond Milk: 

Positively, this product is low in energy, coming in at 168kj, and is also low in fat and saturated fat. However, it is also low in protein (1.3g) and is higher in sodium than cow’s milk (129mg) due to added salt. It is fortified with calcium, but 1 serving will only provide 200mg (25% RDI). 

Australia’s Own Unsweetened Almond Milk:

A positive aspect of this product is the minimal ingredients list. No sugar or other flavour-enhancers. Unfortunately, there is no calcium added to this product. It is also low in protein despite being nut based (1.5g). Not a bad addition to your diet, but not a good replacement for cow’s milk nutritionally, if that’s your intention.  

Australia’s Own Unsweetened Coconut Milk:

Delish and creamy, but only 0.3g of protein. This product contains 5g of fat, most of which is saturated fat (4.8g). Another product with added salt and no added calcium. Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with a product such as this, but if you’re wanting protein and calcium, this is not a good go-to. 

Nutty Bruce Almond and Coconut Milk: 

This product is found in the fridge section of the supermarket in comparison to many milk alternatives which are found in the long-life milk section. This is because the product uses minimal ingredients, and does not contain added preservatives. Nutty Bruce is also organic (if that’s your jam). This product provides 1.8g of protein and in comparison to the other coconut-based milk contains only 1.8g of saturated fat. Note though that it does not have added calcium. A great product, but again, not a match nutritionally for cow’s milk. You would need to ensure you are getting your protein and calcium elsewhere. 

Vitasoy Oat Milk:

This product comes in at 503kj and 1.5g of protein. It does contain slightly more total fat than cow’s milk, 5.3g, but only 0.8g of this is saturated. Tick. A positive of this product is that it contains 300mg of calcium, thanks to 2 added types of calcium in its ingredients. Because this product contains oats, it is not suitable for people who are gluten-free. 

Oatly Oat Milk:

Slightly less energy in comparison to the Vitasoy oat milk, with 482kj per serve. This product contains 2.5g of protein, which is more than the other milk alternatives listed so far. It is also lower in fat. This product has been fortified with calcium, but is slightly less than other options, with 120mg per serve. Again, being an oat-based product, this option is not suitable for people on a gluten-free diet. 

Sanitarium So Good Soy Milk: 

What stands out about this product is that it provides 8g of protein per serve, great! It provides even more calcium per serve than cow’s milk; 400mg (50% RDI) and has also been fortified with phosphorus and magnesium. It is comparatively higher in fat, however, with 8.8g of total fat. This product does also contain added sugar. 

Sanitarium So Good Lite Soy Milk: 

A whopping 8.5g of protein per serve and lower in fat than the regular soy milk made by Sanitarium (3.3g total fat). A decent dose of calcium with 300mg per serve (37% RDI), as well as added phosphorus and magnesium. But again, the ingredients list does show added sugar. 

So, which product do we choose? It depends! What’s the purpose of your milk alternative? Nutrition, flavour, or avoidance of certain allergens? As we can see, there are pros and cons to each of the above options. It’s best to speak with your dietitian to work out which is best for your goals and health needs. As with everything, there really is no one-size-fits-all. And finally, if you’re not allergic to cow’s milk or if you’re not a vegan…perhaps just keep it simple and opt for the real deal. 

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