Milk and other dairy foods contribute calcium to the average diet. Certain people, such as those who are vegan or lactose-intolerant, however, can't drink cow's milk. Rice, soy and almond milk are nutritious swaps for cow's milk, and some varieties are just as good of a source of calcium. These milk alternatives also supply other key nutrients, and comparing them side by side can help you make the choice that's best for you.
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Calories, Fat and Protein
An 8-ounce serving of original or vanilla rice milk contains 130 calories and 2 grams of fat, of which none is saturated. That same serving supplies 1 gram of protein, as well. Eight ounces of soy milk, which comes in plain and vanilla flavors, has between 70 and 90 calories and 4.5 grams of fat. Soy milk contains between 5 and 9 grams of protein per serving, too, which is similar to the amount in a serving of cow's milk. Original almond milk contains 60 calories and 2.5 grams of fat, and the same amount of vanilla has 70 calories and 2.5 grams of fat. Chocolate almond milk has 100 calories and 3 grams of fat per serving, and unsweetened almond milk has 35 calories and 2.5 grams of fat per 8-ounce serving.
Vitamins and Minerals
Rice milk supplies 30 percent of the daily value for bone-building calcium per 8-ounce serving, but that's added calcium as rice is not a natural source of calcium. Soy and almond milk only supply about 2 percent of the daily value. The exception is chocolate almond milk, which doesn't contain any calcium. While soy milk doesn't supply any vitamin D, a nutrient necessary for calcium absorption, an 8-ounce serving of rice or almond milk, in any flavor, is fortified with one-fourth of the daily value of vitamin D. Rice milk delivers 10 percent of the daily value of vitamin A, and rice, soy and almond milk supply small amounts of iron, a nutrient necessary for red blood cell production, as well. Almond milk also supplies vitamin E. Read nutrition labels to determine if the brand of milk you choose is fortified with these, and other, essential nutrients.
Sugar and Carbs
Unsweetened almond or soy milk don't contain any added sugar, and rice milk is naturally sweet, which means it doesn't contain any added sugar either. An 8-ounce serving of original soy milk contains between 6 and 9 grams of sugar. Eight ounces of original almond milk has 7 grams of sugar, which is equal to 1.75 teaspoons, and the vanilla has 10 grams of sugar per serving, which is equal to 2.5 teaspoons, and the chocolate has 16 grams of sugar, or 4 teaspoons, per serving. Consuming more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day for women and more than 9 teaspoons for men can lead to unhealthy weight gain, which raises your risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, according to the American Heart Association. Rice milk contains 27 grams of carbs per serving while a serving of plain soy milk contains 4 grams. Sweetened almond milk contains between 8 and 19 grams of carbs per serving while unsweetened versions have between 2 and 3 grams.
Limiting your intake of sodium to 1,500 milligrams or less per day is one way to lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. Rice milk contains 60 milligrams of sodium per 8-ounce serving. Soy milk has between 85 and 115 milligrams of sodium per serving and almond milk contains between 140 and 190 milligrams of sodium per eight ounces.
Making Alternate Milks Part of Your Diet
Rice, soy and almond milk are available in the refrigerator section of most large supermarkets and health foods stores. Make the unsweetened varieties the type you choose most often since they don't contain added sugars. The occasional glass of chocolate or vanilla is acceptable in an otherwise healthy diet. If allergies are a concern, rice milk might be the best choice since it's less likely to be an allergen compared to almond and soy. Use the milks in baking recipes or in smoothies as ideas to incorporate them in your diet.
- Pacific Foods: Non Dairy Beverages
- American Heart Association: Knowing Your Fats
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Protein
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Calcium
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Vitamin D
- American Heart Association: Sugar 101
- American Heart Association: Sodium and Salt