A Buyer's Guide to Milk Alternatives

Don't have a cow: milk can come from many sources.

Nine out of 10 glasses of milk consumed in the United States come from cows, but increasingly, Americans are “milking” other options. For instance, sales of goat’s milk more than doubled from 2003 to 2007 and the demand for “alterna-milks” (made from soy, rice, almond and even hemp) is at an all-time high. Though you may drink these plant-based milks in place of what Elsie produces, “Technically, these drinks aren’t really milk,” says Catherine W. Donnelly, Ph.D., of the University of Vermont. “Milk is a secretion from mammary glands and plants don’t have mammary glands.” What’s more, plant-based milks don’t contain lactose, the sugar found in milk, and with the exception of almond milk, they naturally contain only negligible amounts of calcium. And, though many are fortified with calcium and vitamin D, they may not be as nutritious.

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Milk/"Milk" Comparison chart (per 1 cup)*








Vitamin D


80-150 (nonfat to whole)

0.5-8 g fat/
0-5 g saturated

8-9 g

12-13 g

0 g

30% DV

25% DV


90-150 (nonfat to whole)

2.5-8 g fat/
1.5-5 g saturated

7-8 g

9-12 g

0 g

30% DV

Up to 30% DV



2-6 g fat/
0-0.5 g saturated

4-12 g

5-15 g

0-4 g

4-30% DV

Up to 30% DV


110-120 2.5 g fat/
0 g saturated
1 g 20-24 g 0 g 2-25% DV Up to 25% DV


60-80 2.5-4.5 g fat/
0-0.5 g saturated
2-9 g 5-11 g 0-4 g 20-30% DV Up to 25% DV


110-130 3-7 g fat/
1 g saturated
4-5 g 6-20 g 1 g 2-46% DV Up to 25% DV

*Data reflects a sample of 20 readily available milks/“milks.” For plant-based “milks,” we included only plain varieties—both sweetened and unsweetened, when available.

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