The Fresh Beet: Non-Dairy Milk–Which is the Healthiest?

By  //  September 2, 2015

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Like the isle full of eggs, the milk isle is just as daunting. I mean really, how many milks are there!?

soy, almond, hemp, coconut, rice, oat

Don’t get me wrong, I love me some soy milk and and I absolutely adore a homemade nut milk every now and then. But when the shelves are flooded with different brands and odd ingredients, it’s hard to know which is best for you. Keep these points in mind when buying non-dairy milks.

1) Ingredients. Store bought non-dairy milks often contain thickeners, stabilizers and emulsifiers in the form of xanthum gum, gellan gum, carrageenan, guar gum, locust bean gum, and gum arabic. Often times, one of these gums will replace carrageenan, a substance of concern I’ve discussed in the past (the research on carrageenan is limited, but it does demonstrate a harmful effect on the intestines like inflammation and cell death).

Chris Kresser, M.S., L.Ac is a globally recognized leader in the fields of ancestral health, Paleo nutrition, and functional and integrative medicine.

Chris Kresser gives a good low down on the safety of these gums and to summarize, unless you have digestive issues or have a sensitivity to these gums, there is no reason to avoid them. He goes as far as ranking them (from best to worst):

  • gum arabic – least likely to create digestive symptoms, and it even stimulates the growth of beneficial bacteria
  • guar gum & locust bean gum – derived from a food instead of a bacterial exopolysaccharide, and it isn’t produced using common food allergens(like xanthum gum)
  • xanthum gum
  • Avoid tera gum and gellan gum – have the least amount of information on these
  • Avoid Carrageenan – as I mentioned.

2) Sugar Content. Many of these milks are sweetened with cane sugar, so be mindful of that. Look for “unsweetened” varieties or treat the sweetened milk as you would a dessert.

3) Protein. Almond, coconut, rice, hemp and oat milk are naturally low in protein, averaging around 4 grams per 1 cup serving.  Don’t count on these to make a protein rich breakfast. Soy milk on the other hand has 7-8 grams of complete protein per serving; a good plant-based substitute for cows milk. If you’re worried about GMOs or “genetically modified organisms,” look for the GMO-free label.

Not too bad, right? Become familiar with your milk’s ingredients so you can feel good about what you’re buying. And as always, homemade milks are best. They won’t offer that same thick and creamy consistency because you’re not adding gums; but it will make you appreciate its true flavor.

The takeaway:

  • Avoid carrageenan, tera gum, gellan gum and xanthum gum.
  • Be mindful of the sugar content.
  • With the exception of soy, don’t count on these milks to provide you with protein.


Ashley Galloway, MS, RD

Ashley Galloway, an Indialantic native who graduated from Holy Trinity Academy, received her Master’s degree in Nutrition from Florida State University and has since worked as a clinical dietitian in a variety of settings from pediatrics to adult kidney transplant to nutrition research. She currently works on the frontline of preventative care as the campus Dietitian for the College of Charleston in South Carolina.  Ashley started a food blog called The Fresh Beet, which is a space she uses to share her passion for healthy cooking and to teach others how to live healthier lives using nutrition as medicine.