Skip to main content

Are all dairy alternatives created equally? 

As we’ve seen a paradigm shift away from dairy products to a more plant-based approach in almost every aspect of our nutrition (as seen by the revised Canadian Food Guide), you may be wondering, are all dairy alternatives created equally? Or are some more nutritious than others? In this blog post, I’ll be answering some of these common questions. 


What types of dairy alternatives are there? 

There are several different types of dairy alternatives available on the market now, here are some common examples: 

  • Soy milk 
  • Nut milks: Almond milk, cashew milk
  • Oat milk
  • Rice milk
  • Coconut milk


What are the nutritional differences between these milk alternatives? 

Most dairy alternatives differ both from cow’s milk and from one another. The main differences are between the caloric content, protein, fat and carbohydrate content. The calcium and vitamin D content can also vary largely. Below is a table to give a general idea of the nutritional differences between different types of dairy alternatives. 


Type  Composition Calories* Protein* Fat* Carb*
Cow’s milk (1%) 
  • Mainly water, some fat and some protein
110 kcal 9g 2.5g  13g 
Soy Milk 
  • Made of soybeans
  • Is one of the only milk alternatives with all the essential amino acids 
100 kcal 7g 4g 4g
Nut milk (almond and cashew)
  • Mainly made of water and ground almonds or cashews
  • Has the lowest calories out of all the milk alternatives 
25- 50 kcal <1g 2.5g 1g 
Oat Milk
  • Made from water and oats 
  • High in fiber 
130-150 kcal 4-5g  4-5g  16-19g 
Rice Milk
  • Water and brown/white rice
  • Has a higher glycemic index (raises blood glucose levels) 
120-140 kcal 1g 2.5g 23-25g
Coconut Milk 
  • Made from water and coconut flesh
45-70 kcal 0g 4.5g  1g

* These numbers are from specific brands of dairy alternatives, and they do differ from brand to brand 


What to be aware of?  

  • Check to see if your dairy alternatives are fortified with calcium and Vitamin D. Calcium and Vitamin D are vital nutrients that are found in cow milk. 
    • 1 cup of cow’s milk will contain around 30% of the daily required amount of calcium, and 45% of the daily value of Vitamin D
    • Fortified dairy products often contain less Vitamin D (10-25% of daily value), but are often fortified with the same amount of calcium as found in cow’s milk
  • Be aware of added sugar in dairy alternatives. Cow’s milk contains naturally occurring sugar called lactose, which makes up the majority of the carbohydrate content found in cow’s milk. However, dairy alternatives may contain added sugar that is not naturally occurring. Be sure to check the ingredients! 
  • Be aware of your protein requirements. All milk alternatives contain less protein than cow’s milk, as seen above in the table. Soy milk is the only dairy alternative with a complete protein, or a protein with all of the essential amino acids. For this reason, ensure that you are eating enough protein sources in your diet if you are using dairy alternatives. 
  • Dietary specifications. Some milk alternatives may contain allergens such as soy, nuts, and gluten, ensure that you check the label and ingredients list before buying them. 



Dairy alternatives are created as a great plant-based option, however there are certain things that you should be aware of when picking an alternative (taste, fortification, macronutrient breakdown etc.). Drink the beverage that makes you feel your best and that you enjoy the most!