Which Kind of Milk Is Best for You: Rice, Soy or Almond?

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A cup of soy milk surrounded by loose soybeans.
A cup of soy milk surrounded by loose soybeans. (Image: Kenishirotie/iStock/Getty Images)

The various nondairy milk alternatives each have their pros and cons, with no one milk necessarily being the best for all purposes. Allergies and food preferences may steer you toward one over the other. Just make sure you read the nutrition label -- different brands' milks can have different nutritional value. No matter which type of plant milk you choose, go for varieties with little to no added sugar.

Fat and Calorie Content

If you're looking for a low-calorie, low-fat milk alternative, unsweetened almond milk may be the best option. It has just 30 calories and 2.5 grams of fat per 1-cup serving. Original soy milk has 110 calories and 4.5 grams of fat, and original unsweetened rice milk has about 120 calories and 2.5 grams of fat per serving. Unsweetened soy milks may have as little as 60 calories per cup. Chocolate-flavored milk alternatives usually have the most sugar and calories, then strawberry, followed by vanilla and original-flavored sweetened varieties.

Protein Content

The best milk alternative for people looking for a relatively high amount of high-quality protein would be soy milk, with about 8 grams per cup. Other milk alternatives don't contain all of the essential amino acids. Almond and rice milk have just 1 gram per serving. Most Americans get plenty of protein in their diet, however, so this doesn't necessarily mean you should avoid the lower-protein options for milk alternatives.

Vitamin and Mineral Content

Although most milk alternatives aren't naturally high in vitamins and minerals, manufacturers often fortify them so they have a similar vitamin and mineral content to dairy milk. Read the labels, as the exact micronutrient content varies by brand. Almond milk is a good source of vitamin E, with 10 percent of the daily value, and also provides some magnesium. It is usually fortified to provide about 45 percent of the DV for calcium, 25 percent of the DV for vitamin D and the same amount of vitamin B-12, riboflavin and zinc found in cow's milk. Fortified nondairy milks typically provide anywhere from 0 to 30 percent of the DV for vitamin D and from 10 to 45 percent of the DV for calcium.

Allergies and Sensitivities

Rice milk or some other vegan milk options -- hemp milk and oat milk -- may be the best options for people with allergies, as soy and nuts are two of the more common allergens. Some versions of rice and oat milk are also gluten-free, making them good choices for people with celiac disease who can't or don't want to drink dairy milk. Even people who don't have allergies may have a sensitivity to ingredients in milk alternatives, according to an article published on the Today website in July 2014. If you experience an adverse reaction to one milk substitute, try one of the others in small amounts to see if you can tolerate it better.

Taste and Uses

Milk alternatives also vary greatly in taste. Hemp milk can taste a bit grassy, rice milk is usually sweeter than cow's milk and nut milks have a nutty flavor, as you might expect. People tend to enjoy the taste of almond, hazelnut and coconut milk more than that of hemp or rice milk. The Eat Simply website recommends soy milk as the most versatile; oat milk and almond milk for cereal; hazelnut, coconut and almond milk for coffee; and coconut milk and almond milk for smoothies.

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