[How to Loose Weight Happily] The Dairy Free Milk Battle
In the past 5 years or so, the dairy-free milk trend seems to be growing exponentially with no sign of slowing down. Nowadays we have more and more options on the market - from the traditional almond milk to some of the more peculiar ones such as pistachio milk. That being said, not all dairy-free milks are created equal. So, on a weight control point of view, which one of these are the best alternatives to dairy milk? In this blogpost, I am going to break down the macronutrient content of some of the more popular options on the market so you could decide for yourself which ones you prefer.
Before we go into the dairy-free alternatives, let's see how much carbs, fat, protein and calories a glass of 100mL dairy milk* offer, so we could make a fair comparison later on in this article:
From the table we could see that in dairy milk, the protein content is pretty consistent across the range, and majority of the calories came from either fat or carbohydrates due to the lactose which is a kind of natural sugar find in dairy milk.
Now that we understand the macronutrient profile of dairy milks, let's look at their non-dairy counterparts. When we speak of dairy free milk alternatives, these products generally falls into three different categories, depending on the raw ingredients used to make them: nut milks, grain milks, and legume milk. Although a combination of these are also available on the market, for the sake of argument we are going to only look at unsweetened, single plant source non-dairy milk products here.
Nut milks remained one of the most popular dairy free milk options on the market because it has a creamy texture quite similar to dairy milk, with much less calories due to the low fat and carbohydrate content. That being said, how well does each kind of nut milk actually compares to dairy milk?
Data is represented as (per 100mL)
Here we can see that most of these nut milks indeed have much lower calorie count compared to their dairy counterpart, except for almond and walnut milk, which has calorie content similar to skimmed and semi-skimmed milk respectively. That being said, it is clear that most of the calories in nut milk came from fat, as they all have very low amount of protein and carbohydrate; which makes sense as nuts and seeds are counted as fats in a nutrition point of view.
Grain milks such as oat and rice milk are also becoming increasingly popular as they are nut allergy friendly, and also partly because they seem to have smaller environmental impact during manufacturing, compared to some nut milks. However, for those who're watching their weight, grain milks may not be the best option as most of them (other than hemp) contains similar amount of calories as dairy milk (semi-skimmed), where most of the calories came from carbohydrate. So not great for people who's on a low carb diet. Also, a lot of grain milks available on the market tend to have oils (sunflower being the most common one) to them to improve the texture, as they naturally lacks the 'creamy' feel to them due to their low fat content.
Soy milk has long been another popular dairy-free milk alternative for those with nut allergies. Recently pea milk has also start to emerge on the market, expanding the legume milk family. In terms of macronutrient, soy milks have similar amount of calories compared to skimmed milk, and pea milks have slightly less calories than soy. Majority of the calories in legume milks game from proteins, a little bit from fat, and they generally have very low level of carbohydrates. In fact, legume milks seem to be the only option here that provides similar amount of protein to dairy milk. So this may be a better non-dairy option for body builders or those who wants to increase their protein intake. It is however important to note that some of these legume milk products have sunflower/ rapeseed oil added to them to improve their texture. If this concerns you, make sure to always read the label on the packaging and know what you're buying.
Final verdict: On a weight loss point of view, almost all plant based milk have calorie content similar to or lower than skimmed milk. On a macronutrient point of view, nut milks are mainly fats, grain milks are mainly compost of carbohydrates, whilst legume milks tend to have the highest protein content. For those who are weight watching, legume milk such as soy or pea milk might be your best option, where it has lower calorie content but still able to provide similar amount of protein as dairy milk does. However, if you have impaired or compromised kidney function and are on a low protein diet, then go for hemp or rice milk instead.
* Reference nutrient content from Tesco's own brand dairy milk. Data available on Tesco.com
# Reference nutrient content from one or more of the following brands: Rude health, Plenish, Milklab Milkadamia , Elmhurst, Bornal. Please also note that the nutrient content of each product varies slightly across different brand.
^Except for rice milk, all other grains-based milk I managed to find on the market contains sunflower oil.