Even if you don’t need to for health reasons, you may have dabbled in the world of nut milks.
Once thought to be mostly for the lactose intolerant and “granola” crowd, these milk alternatives, sometimes called mylks, have taken grocery stores and coffee shops by storm.
Though nutritionally a very different product than cow’s milk, nut milks offer a number of health benefits that make them an appealing option.
In this guide, we’ll explore some of the pros and cons of nut milks, take a look at how several varieties compare, and weigh in on which ones are healthiest.
Though nut milks don’t offer the protein content of traditional dairy, they boast plenty of nutrition of their own.
Ounce for ounce, nut milks have almost universally lower calories than cow’s milk, and many of them have at least as much (or more) calcium and vitamin D. Many nut milks even contain fiber, a nutrient you won’t find in cow’s milk.
They’re also naturally vegan, and — unless you have a nut allergy, of course — quite allergy-friendly.
Plus, for those looking to cut back on carbohydrates, nut milks are a no-brainer. Most brands contain just 1 to 2 grams of carbs per cup, compared to 12 grams in 1 cup of cow’s milk.
For use in common foods and recipes, nut milks offer impressive versatility. Home cooks can often use them with a one-to-one ratio to cow’s milk in muffins, breads, puddings, and sauces, with little impact on flavor.
And neutral-flavored nut milks make a lighter choice on cereal or in your morning coffee.
Though they do offer many advantages, nut milks aren’t a perfect food.
One major concern is their environmental impact. It takes 3.2 gallons of water to produce just one almond (meaning 10 almonds = 32 gallons), leading many critics to call almond milk an unsustainable choice.
Additionally, many nut milks contain fillers with controversial reputations, such as carrageenan or guar gum. And nut milks may simply be too expensive for many consumers, with price points far higher than cow’s milk.
Still, with numerous options now commonly available, there’s plenty of room for experimentation to find your favorite dairy alternative. Here’s a snapshot of how several varieties of nut milks measure up.
For further breakdown of nutritional value, here’s a handy table.
For reference, 1 cup of 2 percent cow’s milk contains 120 calories, 5 grams of fat, 8 grams of protein, and 12 grams of carbs.
|Nut milk (1 cup)||Calories||Fat||Protein||Carbs|
|Almond milk||30–40 cal||2.5 g||1 g||1 g|
|Cashew milk||25 cal||2 g||less than 1 g||1 g|
|Macadamia nut milk||50–70 cal||4–5 g||1 g||1 g|
|Hazelnut milk||70–100 cal||4–9 g||3 g||1 g|
|Walnut milk||120 cal||11 g||3 g||1 g|
|Peanut milk||150 cal||11 g||6 g||6 g|
With all this info, you may be wondering: What’s the healthiest nut milk?
There are many ways to measure the healthiness of foods, and each of the above nut milks fulfills different nutrient needs.
For overall nutrition profile, however, almond milk and cashew milk top our list.
In an extremely low-calorie package, one cup of each contains approximately 25 to 50 percent of your day’s calcium and 25 percent of your daily vitamin D. Both also pack a hefty dose of vitamin E: 50 percent daily value in cashew milk and 20 percent in almond milk.
Though cashew and almond milk are both low in protein, many health experts believe Americans get more than enough of this macro in our diet. So for most of us, skimping on protein in a nut milk shouldn’t be a problem.
On the other hand, if you have specific dietary needs, such as requiring extra protein or higher-than-average calories, another nut milk might be better for you.
And if you’re allergic to peanuts or tree nuts, unfortunately, you’ll need stay away from all nut milks. Try a soy, coconut, or hemp milk instead.
If certain nut milks aren’t available where you live, or if you’re a curious cook, you might try making your own. A DIY version of your favorite could save you money — and may not be as difficult as you think.
After all, in general, nut milks are made by the simple process of soaking nuts in water, then straining.
Check out these how-to guides for making nut milks at home:
- Almond milk recipe via The Kitchn
- Cashew milk recipe via Cookie and Kate
- Macadamia nut milk recipe (with chocolate and berry options) via The Minimalist Baker
- Hazelnut milk recipe (with chocolate options) via A Beautiful Plate
- Walnut milk recipe via The Clean Eating Couple
- Peanut milk recipe via National Peanut Board
Not into DIY? Choices abound for commercially-prepared nut milks, as you’ve probably noticed at your local supermarket.
Here are a few top picks:
As always, just remember to check nutrition labels and read ingredient lists as you enjoy these lower calorie “mylk” beverages.
Sarah Garone, NDTR, is a nutritionist, freelance health writer, and food blogger. She lives with her husband and three children in Mesa, Arizona. Find her sharing down-to-earth health and nutrition info and (mostly) healthy recipes at A Love Letter to Food.