The Plant Milk Guide: How Vegan Milk Compares To Dairy

Written by: Jase Quelch


Time to read 5 min

When it comes to vegan alternatives, nothing has been more widely embraced quite like plant-based milk.

Walk into any major supermarket in the US and you’ll see rows of different plant milks, in many cases outnumbering traditional cow’s milk.

Vegan milks embody the cultural shift we are in, where informed consumers are choosing more healthy, sustainable and ethical products.

But what exactly are plant-based milks? Will they really replace dairy milk? And how do plant milks compare to traditional cow’s milk?

which is the best plant based milk

What Are Plant Milks?

Plant milk provides a more sustainable, ethical, and healthy alternative to dairy.

Due to the vast benefits, plant milk popularity has soared in recent years. This has led to more plant milk hitting the shelves and a decline in dairy consumption (1).

When it comes to vegan milk, consumers also have more options. Plant milk comes in many different options from almond to oat all with unique textures, tastes, and benefits.

The Different Types of Plant Milks:

  • Oat milk
  • Almond milk
  • Soy milk
  • Coconut milk
  • Rice milk
  • Hemp milk
  • Cashew milk
  • Pea milk
There are dozens of other plant milks popping up, but these are the most common.

Oat Milk

non dairy oat milk

Oat milk is perhaps the creamiest of all the plant milks. Its thick creamy texture means it’s one of the closest plant-based milks to resemble dairy milk.

Oat milk is quickly becoming a favorite non-dairy alternative to milk with popular brands like Oatly disrupting the traditional milk industry. Currently, oat milk is the fastest growing plant milk when it comes to popularity, edging out soy milk as the second most consumed plant milk, behind almond milk (2).

As snack box curators, Vegancuts often works closely with oat milk brands who make regular appearances in the Vegan Snack Box.

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Almond Milk

is almond milk healthy

Almond milk was the first plant milk to hit the mainstream and has held up as the most popular plant-based milk since.

Many cafes and restaurants embraced almond milk first due to its surge in demand, accessibility, and health benefits compared to dairy. Almond milk remains the most widely used plant milk.

It is made from soaking almonds in water. While almond milk has a generally low carbon footprint, the amount of water it requires to produce it has raised sustainability concerns.

Almond milk is widely known as a healthy milk choice. But while it is still far more environmentally friendly than dairy, there are more sustainable plant milks out there (3).

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Soy Milk

plant based soy milk benefits

Despite losing ground to oat milk, soy remains one of the most popular vegan milk options.

Its creamy taste, high protein nutrients, and easy accessibility make soy milk a great option for many transitioning to a plant-based diet as it resembles cow milk in many ways.

Soy milk is also a very sustainable milk choice. Its carbon footprint is similar to almond milk, but without the high use of water.

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Coconut Milk

what is coconut milk like

Perhaps the most distinct of all the plant milks is coconut milk.

The creamy alternative has a higher fat content than a lot of plant-based milks making it popular with baking and thickening up dishes like curries.

Coconuts do not require any deforestation to produce, in the contrary, they require more trees. This coupled with low water requirements and emissions, makes them a great sustainable option.

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Rice Milk

plant milk made from rice

While rice milk hasn’t hit the popularity levels that soy, almond, and oat have, it is still firmly on the non-dairy radar of many consumers.

This is because rice milk is a good alternative for those with nut allergies or for those who do not like the nuttiness of nut milks. Instead, rice milk has a watery consistency and natural sweetness to it.

Rice milk isn’t the most sustainable milk alternative option and ranks on a similar scale to almond milk. Rice milk doesn’t require as much water, but does produce more emissions than almond milk.

However, its environmental impact is relatively low in comparison to dairy.

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Plant Milks Vs Dairy

Oat Milk Nutrition Per 100 ml

Energy – 46 cals

Fat – 1.5g

Sat Fat – 0.2g

Carbs – 6.7g

Fiber – 0.8g

Protein – 1.0g

Sodium – 39mgs

Vitamin D
Vitamin B12

Source: Oatly

3.25% Whole Milk Nutrition Per 100 ml

Energy – 60 cals

Fat – 3.3g

Sat Fat – 1.9g

Carbs – 5.3g

Fiber – 0g

Protein – 3.2g

Sodium – 40mgs

Vitamin D
Vitamin B12

Source: Nutrition Data

Almond Milk Nutrition Per 100 ml

Energy – 17 cals

Fat – 1.51g

Sat Fat – 0.1g

Carbs – 0.59g

Fiber – 0.3g

Protein – 0.64g

Sodium – 2mgs

Vitamin D
Vitamin B12

Source: Fat Secret

What Is The Most Sustainable Plant Milk?

best plant milk for the environment

Plant-based milk is a fantastic way to reduce your environmental impact. Dairy milk’s amount of land use, water use, and emissions leave every plant milk in the dust.

With that said, any transition to plant-based milk is a positive move for the planet.

However, each plant milk differs in its environmental impact. For example, while almond milk produces the fewest emissions, its high water usage holds it back.

With all things considered, the most sustainable plant milk would likely be oat milk and soy milk.

Here is our list of plant milks ranked by sustainability.

1. Oat Milk

2. Soy Milk

3. Coconut Milk

4. Almond Milk

5. Rice Milk

Which Plant Milk Is Healthiest?

A lot of people transition from cow’s milk to plant milk for the health benefits. But what exactly are the benefits of choosing vegan milk?

Cow milk contains all the necessary ingredients a calf needs to grow into a big, bulky adult cow. It is truly nature’s own weight gainer.

This works great for baby cows, not so much for humans.

calf drinking cows milk

Dairy has also numerous links to various cancers, including prostate cancer (5).

So, transitioning to plant-based milk is better for us – but which is the best?

It’s important to remember ‘healthy’ is often subjective depending on individual needs and goals. An athlete might consider ‘healthy’ differently to someone looking at reducing their weight significantly.

That aside, when you break down each plant milk by the value of nutrients contained and with fewer calories, almond milk, and soy milk stand out.

plant based milk health benefits

Oat milk and coconut milk contain more fat and calories, but oat milk contains a high percentage of Vitamin D and B12.

As with any dietary choices, nutritional balances are essential to a healthy diet.

Interested In Plant-Based Milks?

Plant milk is widely available nowadays from most grocery stores. At the very least, almond and soy milk should be easy to find.

You might need to search a little further afield to find specialty plant milk like hazelnut, macadamia, or hemp milk.

At Vegancuts we often include a unique, harder-to-find, plant milk regularly in our Vegan Snack Box.

vegancuts march snack box with oat milk

Use the coupon code tryplantbased to claim a $5 discount on your first box.

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