What's the Healthiest Nut Milk?

By Holly Bieler
Updated on 06. Oct. 2020

There's no bigger fad right now than nut milk, the lactose-free, slightly bougie alternative that's definitely worth that $1 surcharge. And while the science between their health benefits over cow's milk is shaky, many kinds of nut milks do have some significant stores of vitamins and minerals. While others, as it turns out, are just water. Below, we've put together a handy guide for your next latté.

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It was not so long ago that a request for soy milk was enough to merit a condescending side eye from your local barista. Fast forward to today, and any coffee dispensary worth their salt has a veritable menu of plant-based milks to choose from, with new iterations seemingly coming out by the week. However when it comes to plant-based milks (also called mylks), not all varieties are created the same. From flavor to creaminess, each nut milk offers something different, and in the case of nutrition, some offer nothing at all. Below, all you need to know about which plant-based milks are healthy, and which aren’t.

MYLK                                Calories (8 oz.) Protein Fat Carbs Fiber
Oat Milk 120 3 g 5 g 16 g 2 g
Almond Milk 40  2 g 3 g 1 g <0.7g
Hemp Milk 83 4.7 g 7 g 1.3 g <0.7g
Soy Milk 80 7 g 4 g 4 g 3.2 g
Coconut Milk 50 0 g 5 g 2 g 0 g

Oat Milk

Oat milk is the current plant-based milk du jour, with sales increasing nearly 700 percent between 2018 and 2019. It’s increasing popularity is largely due to oat milk’s consistency, which fans tout as creamier and more dense than most nut milks, and replicating the texture of cow’s milk most closely. This is because oats absorb water easier than nuts do, making them particularly well-suited for the process of plant-based milk production, wherein an ingredient is blended with water and sieved through a cheese cloth to yield the mylk. Nuts like almonds or cashews don’t tend to absorb water incredibly well, meaning that less of the actual ingredient makes it into the mylk product. Oats, on the other hand, absorb the water much more efficiently, meaning your consuming more of the actual oat product when you drink oat milk than you would almonds when you drink almond milk. 

While this makes for a richer mylk, it also means that oat milk contains more calories and carbs any other variety of plant-based milk. One cup of unsweetened oat milk contains around 120 calories per glass and 16 g of carbs on average, compared to around 30 calories and 1.5 g of carbs for almond milk.

However oat milk isn’t without its benefits. It contains a good amount of fiber, including beta-glucans, a type of soluble fiber which supports cardiovascular health, as well as more of the powerful B vitamin riboflavin, which promotes overall bodily health, than other nut milks and even cow’s milk. It also contains no nuts, obviously, as well as no soy or gluten, making it a good option for people with allergies.

Soy Milk

Soy milk is the original mylk, and still the most widely-used plant-based milk in the U.S. Its most prominent nutritional benefit is its high protein content; at 7 g per glass, soy milk contains more than 2 times more protein than almond milk and oat milk, and just 1 g less than cow’s milk. It’s also naturally high in potassium, a powerful mineral which helps regulate fluid balance and support a healthy nervous system.

The drawbacks associated with soy milk mainly center around the soy bean’s production, which tend to come from genetically modified plants, a concern for some. Soy bean farms are also infamous for using large amounts of pesticides, which can get into the soy milk.

Coconut Milk

Made from a mixture of water and grated coconut meat, coconut milk has a fragrant, slightly sweet flavor. Its taste has made coconut milk a more popular mylk in recent years, especially as a plant-based milk alternative for those with nut allergies.

However, coconut milk doesn’t have a ton of nutritional value to offer. Unlike most other mylks it contains no protein, but more fat than any other plant-based milk, with 5 grams of fat on average, per cup, compared to 3 grams in almond milk. Many varieties also contain the thickening agent carrageenan, which can cause stomach problems in those with sensitive digestion. 

Almond Milk

Almond milk is another mylk OG. Among the most popular nut milks, almond milk is the least caloric, containing about 40 calories on average per cup, compared to 80 calories for soy milk and 120 calories for oat milk, and is low in carbs, containing 1 g per cup. It also contains less saturated fat than cow’s milk but more unsaturated fats, which are good for heart health.

On the downside, almond milk’s low calorie and fat intake points to lower amounts of more important nutrients. Almond milk is low in protein, with about 2 g per cup, and doesn’t contain calcium like some other nut mylks. Like coconut milk, almond milk also has carrageenan, an additive that can inflame a sensitive digestive system. 

Hemp Milk

Produced from whole hemp seeds, hemp milk might be the least-known mylk on this list, but has some health benefits that shouldn’t be overlooked. While it’s relatively low in calories, at around 87 calories per glass, hemp milk is high in unsaturated fats, which help promote heart health, and contains 4.7 grams of protein per glass, which is more than almond milk or coconut milk.  It’s also a rare plant-based complete protein, containing powerful amino acids that are necessary to the body and generally only found in animal products.

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Actually, cashew milk is the least caloric. It's not listed in this article, but it has 25 calories per cup.