The many options of dairy and non-dairy products out there can be overwhelming. That’s especially the case if you’re thinking about weight loss or weight management.
Reviewing the nutrient benefits of different milk alternatives can help you make the healthiest choice for your body and lifestyle.
Everyone’s nutritional and health needs are different. And you should discuss any change in diet with your health care provider.
Traditional Dairy Nutrition
It is good to keep the nutritional benefits of cow’s milk in mind. All fat levels of milk — from whole milks with 4% milk fat to skim milk with less than 1% milk fat — are pasteurized and fortified with vitamin D. Some research suggests that cow’s milk also provides beneficial antimicrobial effects through host-defense proteins that help with immunity.
The protein in cow’s milk also can help in building lean muscle. This burns calories more efficiently, even when you are at rest.
If you are no longer drinking milk regularly, you should still get these nutrients into your diet. These benefits include:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin D
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What Are Milk Alternatives?
Milk alternatives blend plant material in water. This makes them a great option for anyone with an allergy or lactose intolerance. They generally have fewer calories, lower fat content, and more water content. But they don’t have the same nutritional content as cow’s milk. They may lack:
- Vitamin D
Some milk alternatives are fortified with added vitamins and minerals. That’s why it’s so important to always read the nutrition label to ensure you are getting the nutrients your body needs. Look for low-sugar, high-calcium, and high-vitamin options with a smaller ingredient list.
Types of Plant-Based Milk Alternatives
You can find many different plant-based milks, including:
Nutrient Highlights in Milk Alternatives
The nutritional content of plant-based milk alternatives varies based on the specific type of milk.
Oat milk and cow’s milk are similar in calorie count. But other plant-based alternatives like almond, rice, coconut, hemp, and cashew provide lower-calorie options.
Most alternative milks are lower in fat. Exceptions are hemp and coconut milk, which have higher fat contents.
Almost all plant-based milks are lower in sugar, except oat and hazelnut.
The milk alternatives are almost all lower in protein than cow’s milk. Soy, pea, and flax often have higher protein content than other alternatives.
Most milks have similar sodium contents, but coconut milk can be lower in sodium.
You can find this nutrient in banana and pea milks.
Almond, pea, and flax milk have good levels of calcium. But always check the nutrient label, as other milks can be fortified with it.
The Best Milk for Weight Loss
There is no one perfect solution to losing weight. Beyond milk choice, many other factors can affect your ability to lose weight. Those include the rest of your diet, genetics, lifestyle, exercise habits, and more. But some milk alternatives can help with weight loss based on their nutritional content.
This milk is low in calories and carbohydrates. It comes packed with lots of nutrients like calcium and vitamin D. But it also has less protein — so that needs to come from somewhere else in your diet.
This is a possible milk for anyone with blood sugar issues. It contains fewer calories than other nut-based milks. It also contains anacardic acid, which prevents fat accumulation when fat cells are forming. But it is on the lower end of protein content.
The saturated fat content and fatty acids can help reduce body weight, help you feel full, and increase insulin sensitivity to enhance weight loss. It also has a lower sodium content. But it can be rich in fat and carbohydrates, so limit your intake.
Flax milk is a cholesterol-free, low-sugar, and low-calorie alternative. It is good for heart health with its omega-3 fatty acids.
The high protein in hemp milk helps prevent cravings by making you feel full longer. Its lower calories and beneficial fatty acids are great for heart health and reducing inflammation to promote weight loss. And unlike other options, you get all nine essential amino acids to build protein for tissue growth and repair.
Oat milk is richer in vitamins and minerals like calcium, potassium, magnesium, vitamin B12, and vitamin D. It has a soluble fiber that can absorb water and slow digestion. That helps you fill up faster and stay full. But it does have more calories than other plant-based milks.
Soy milk has more balanced nutritional content. It usually has less sugar and fewer calories. It leaves out extra saturated fats and cholesterol, and it often has the fatty acids and vitamins you need. With its higher protein content, it also helps suppress your appetite and promotes a healthy metabolism.
What Plant-Based Milk Alternative Is Best for Me?
Remember, every type of milk affects different people in different ways. You should first gauge your preferences, tolerances, and weight management goals. That can help you determine what dairy or non-dairy products to use as part of your daily meal plan.
Also, moderation is key. Check out and follow the serving size of milk and milk alternatives. See what each item offers to fuel you on your way to better health.
You should speak with your health care provider about your health goals and how to safely approach weight loss. A registered dietitian can answer any other questions you have about milk and milk alternatives.
At UPMC Nutrition Services, our dietitians can help answer your questions about nutrition. They can provide answers and counseling for your individual nutritional needs. To find care near you, visit our website.
Edibel Quintero, RD. Best Milk for Weight Loss: Choosing the Healthiest. HealthReporter. Link
Jessica Ball, M.S., RD. The 7 Healthiest Milks, According to a Dietitian. EatingWell. Link
Ruben Castaneda and Elaine K. Howley. Which Milk Is the Healthiest? U.S. News & World Report. Link
Sanae Ferreira. Going nuts about milk? Here's what you need to know about plant-based milk alternatives. American Society for Nutrition. Link
Sandee LaMotte. Drink this type of milk to keep you and the planet healthy. CNN. Link
About UPMC Nutrition Services
Nutrition is vital for maintaining your overall health. UPMC Nutrition Services offers comprehensive diet and nutrition counseling on a variety of topics, including eating disorders, weight management, and heart disease. Our team provides medical nutrition therapy for chronic conditions such as celiac disease, cancer, and diabetes. UPMC’s network of registered dietitians is available to help guide all patients toward a healthier life.