Comparing dairy free milks

More and more people are choosing a dairy free diet and, in response, the range of dairy free milks is growing. But there’s more to dairy free milk than just the taste. Many dairy free milks are low in saturated fat, cholesterol-free, packed with vitamins and calcium. Some are even lower in kilojoules than similar dairy milks.

It’s important to consider the nutritional value of each product in the context of your overall diet.
 

Why go dairy free?

There are many reasons people choose to go dairy free.

Lactose intolerance

Some people cannot digest lactose, a type of sugar found in dairy milk, because they don’t have enough lactase, which is a digestive enzyme, in their gut. Poorly digested lactose can cause bloating, gas, tummy pain and diarrhoea. In this case, it’s best to limit foods containing lactose, including cow’s milk, soft cheeses, and some yoghurts.

Milk allergy

Some people experience an immune reaction to the proteins in dairy milk. Like lactose intolerance, they can also have stomach pain or diarrhoea, but may even experience a skin rash, breathing difficulties, vomiting or hives. A milk allergy can be far more severe than lactose intolerance, and it can even be life-threatening. Therefore it is best to avoid all milk-based foods. If you believe you have a milk allergy, it's essential to consult your doctor.

Ethical and environmental

Many people choose to avoid dairy products because of ethical and/or environmental considerations around the way they are produced.
 

What dairy-free milks are available?

Many of the wide variety of dairy free milks available are great with cereal, in smoothies, meals, hot drinks, creamy sauces, custards and desserts.

Soy milk

- contains more protein than most dairy free milks. Most soy milk brands are also fortified with similar levels of calcium to dairy milk. Some, including Sanitarium’s, also contain vitamins D, B2 and B12, potassium and phosphorous.

Almond milk

- lower in kilojoules than dairy milk, and also low in saturated fat. It has lower amounts of protein than soy and not all brands contain similar levels of calcium to dairy milk. Varieties with no added sugar are also available.

Coconut milk

- has higher amounts of saturated fat (from the coconut) and compared to many other dairy free milks, is lower in calcium and protein. Varieties with no added sugar are also available.

Rice milk

- most brands are fortified with calcium. Rice milk is low in saturated fat, but also low in protein. It also tends to have a high level of natural sugar, almost double that of soy milk.

Oat milk

- low in saturated fat but it also has lower protein. Not all oat milks are calcium-fortified and may not be suitable for those sensitive to gluten.

Lactose-free dairy milk

- cow’s milk with the lactose removed through processing. It still contains all the nutrients of cow’s milk, including calcium and protein – but is unsuitable for those with a milk allergy.

What to look for on the pack?

Calcium

When you reduce your intake of dairy milk, you could risk running low on calcium, the major “building block” for your bones. So as a guide, choose dairy free milks that are fortified with about 300mg of calcium for every cup (250ml) – this will help you meet more than 30% of your daily recommended dietary intake in each serve.

 

Milk alternative

Quantity

Calcium content

Dairy milk, low fat*

1 cup (250ml)

273mg

Soy milk, regular, calcium-fortified (Sanitarium So Good™ Regular)

1 cup (250ml)

400mg

Soy milk, low fat, calcium-fortified (Sanitarium So Good™ Lite)

1 cup (250ml)

300mg

Almond milk, calcium-fortified (Sanitarium So Good™ Almond Milk Original)

1 cup (250ml)

300mg

Coconut milk, (Sanitarium So Good™ Coconut Milk Unsweetened)

1 cup (250ml)

188mg

*Source: NUTTAB 2010, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand.                                                         

Studies show the calcium absorption from cow’s milk is comparable to that of calcium fortified soy milk. Don’t forget to also fill your diet with other calcium sources, including calcium-fortified breakfast cereals, tofu, soy beans, almonds, figs and leafy green vegetables.

Protein

Dairy milk and other dairy products can be an important source of protein. Where possible, choose dairy free milks with higher protein levels.

So Good™ soy milks contain similar levels of protein compared to dairy milk, as seen in the table below. In addition, the quality of the soybean protein is similar to that of animal protein. Almond milks typically have lower protein levels than dairy and soy milks.

 

Milk alternative

Quantity

Protein content (g)

Dairy milk, low fat*

1 cup (250ml)

9.5g

Soy milk, regular (Sanitarium So Good™ Regular)

1 cup (250ml)

8g

Soy milk, low fat (Sanitarium So Good™ Lite)

1 cup (250ml)

7.8g

Almond milk (Sanitarium So Good™ Almond Milk Original)

1 cup (250ml)

1.4g

Coconut milk (Sanitarium So Good™ Coconut Milk Unsweetened)

1 cup (250ml)

0.5g

*Source: NUTTAB 2010, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand.

However, there are a wide variety of plant foods that are a source of protein, to help ensure protein needs are met over the day. Additional sources include peanut butter, legumes and examples include:

  • 1 Tbsp Sanitarium crunchy peanut butter provides 6g protein
  • 130g small can of baked beans provides ~6g protein* 
  • 2 Weet-Bix™ (without milk) provides 3.7g protein
  • 1 egg (~50g) provides ~6g protein*
  • 1 small handful of mixed nuts (~30g) provides ~4g protein*

Vitamin B12

Vegetarians and vegans can be at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency. The daily recommended dietary intake for vitamin B12 is 2.4 micrograms (the symbol on packs is µg) per day. Vitamin B12 is essential for nerve function and cell formation and helps your body produce energy. The B12 from fortified dairy free milks is well absorbed, so drinking or cooking with them is an easy way to make sure you’re getting enough. If you feel your B12 intake may still be too low, a daily supplement may be a good option. Speak to your doctor or dietitian if you’re unsure.

Milk alternative

Quantity

B12 content, micrograms (µg)

Dairy milk, low fat*

1 cup (250ml)

1.5µg

Soy milk, regular (Sanitarium So Good™ Regular)

1 cup (250ml)

1µg

Soy milk, low fat, (Sanitarium So Good™ Lite)

1 cup (250ml)

1µg

Almond milk (Sanitarium So Good™ Almond Milk Original)

1 cup (250ml)

1µg

Coconut milk (Sanitarium So Good™ Coconut Milk Unsweetened)

1 cup (250ml)

0µg

*Source: NUTTAB 2010, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand.

Vitamin B2

Soy and almond milks are fortified with vitamins B2 and B12 - with one serve (250mL) providing 25% and 50% of the RDI respectively. Vitamin B2 helps reduce fatigue, supports vision and nerve function and helps to maintain skin and unlock energy from foods we consume.

Milk alternative

Quantity

B2 content, milligrams (mg)

Dairy milk, low fat*

1 cup (250ml)

0.55mg

Soy milk, regular (Sanitarium So Good™ Regular)

1 cup (250ml)

0.43mg

Soy milk, low fat, (Sanitarium So Good™ Lite)

1 cup (250ml)

0.43mg

Almond milk (Sanitarium So Good™ Almond Milk Original)

1 cup (250ml)

0.43mg

*Source: NUTTAB 2010, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand.

Fat and saturated fat

If you’re worried about your energy intake or cholesterol, choose dairy free milk alternatives that are lower in kilojoules and saturated fat, but still high in protein and calcium. As a guide, low-fat milks have about 1.5g of fat or less per 100ml. Keep in mind that low-fat varieties are unsuitable for children under 2.

Milk alternative

Energy (kJ) per 100ml

Total fat per 100ml 

Total saturated fat (g) per 100ml

Dairy milk, low fat*

212kJ

1.2g

0.8g

Soy milk, regular (Sanitarium So Good™ Regular)

273kJ

3.5g

0.4g

Soy milk, low fat (Sanitarium So Good™ Lite)

171kJ

0.9g

0.1g

Almond milk (Sanitarium So Good™ Almond Milk Original)

123kJ

1.4g

0.1g

Coconut milk (Sanitarium So Good™ Coconut Milk Unsweetened)

142kJ

3.4g

2.2g

*Source: NUTTAB 2010, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand.

Phosphorous

So Good™ regular soy milk contains 100mg/100mL of phosphorous, nearly identical to that of regular fat dairy milk (9). So Good™ almond milks and coconut milk contain less phosphorous. Phosphorous is required for normal teeth and bones and normal energy metabolism.
 

Milk alternative

Quantity

Phosphorous content, milligrams (mg)

Dairy milk, low fat*

1 cup (250ml)

245mg

Soy milk, regular (Sanitarium So Good™ Regular)

1 cup (250ml)

250mg

Soy milk, low fat, (Sanitarium So Good™ Lite)

1 cup (250ml)

250mg

Almond milk (Sanitarium So Good™ Almond Milk Original)

1 cup (250ml)

186mg

Coconut milk (Sanitarium So Good™ Coconut Milk Unsweetened)

1 cup (250ml)

123mg

*Source: NUTTAB 2010, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand.

Vitamin A

So Good™ soy milk is a source of vitamin A, similar to regular fat dairy milk. Vitamin A is necessary for normal vision, iron metabolism and skin structure and function.
 

Vitamin E

Almond milk is a naturally occurring source of vitamin E, with So Good™ Almond Milk containing 15% of the recommended daily intake per serve. Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant in the body by protecting polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) from oxidation.
 

Sugar

There’s a range of dairy free milks with different amounts of sugar. Sugar is usually added to make the taste profile similar to dairy, but there are many unsweetened varieties also available.

So Good™ Almond Milk Unsweetened, Coconut Milk Unsweetened, and Almond and Coconut Milk Unsweetened all contain no added sugar. As well, all of the So Good™  soy milk range is low in sugar - for those looking to reduce sugar in their diet.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has released guidelines on limiting the amount of added sugars to 10% of an average adult’s total energy intake, equating to approximately 12 teaspoons of added sugar a day. To give an understanding, 1 serve of So Good Almond Milk original provides 8.3g/serve of added sugar, which is approximately 2 teaspoons.

Energy - For people concerned about their energy intake, So Good™ Unsweetened Almond milk and Almond and Coconut milks contain 60% less calories than lite milk and Original varieties contain 1/3 less calories than lite dairy milk.
 

Try different products

The best dairy free milk for you will depend on your overall diet and the amount of calcium, protein, B12 and fat you're getting from other foods.

You could consider a variety of dairy free milks for different purposes – such as soy milk on your cereal for extra protein and calcium; almond milk for smoothies; and coconut milk for baking or tasty desserts. This can keep your meals interesting, tasty, nutritious and fun!

  • National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand. Calcium. [Internet] 2014 [cited 2016 August 5]; available from: https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/calcium
  • Food Standards Australia and New Zealand. NUTTAB 2010 Online Searchable Database. [Internet] 2010 [cited 2016 August 5]; available from: http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/science/monitoringnutrients/nutrientables/nuttab/Pages/default.aspx
  • Tang AL, Walker KZ, Wilcox G, Strauss BJ, Ashton JF, Stojanovska L. Calcium absorption in Australian osteopenic post-menopausal women: an acute comparative study of fortified soymilk to cow’s milk. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr 2010; 19 (2).
  • National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand. Vitamin B12. [Internet] 2014 [cited 2016 August 5]; available from: https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/ca