Choosing a Plant-based Milk Alternative

Written by UConn Dietetics Student Sydney Hodges

oat, coconut, soy, almond, and cashew milk jugsDairy can be classified as products from the milk of mammals.  This includes cow’s milk which is offered to us in a variety of fat levels (skim, 1%, 2%, whole (all cream included). The dairy aisle can be quite confusing because in the last twenty years or so, numerous plant-based “milk” alternatives have shown up on the shelves (almond, oat, cashew, coconut, and soy).  Plant-based milk alternatives are a great non-dairy option for individuals who may experience GI discomfort after consuming dairy, however there are some key differences between cow’s milk and plant-based milk beverages that are important to know! 

Differences in Plant-Based Milk Beverages and Dairy Cow’s Milk

What Your Body Gets from Cow’s Milk 

Cow’s milk is a great source of protein and calcium.  Protein and calcium are two nutrients that promote healthy bone and muscle development during growth.  One 8 oz cup (don’t start a sentence with a number) of cow’s milk provides 8 grams of protein and 300 mg of naturally occurring calcium.  Milk is also a natural source of vitamin D which is important because vitamin D enhances intestinal absorption of calcium.  Cow’s milk is an excellent source of calcium because Vitamin D and Calcium interactions will promote maximum absorption of these nutrients in the body. 

What Your Body Gets from Fortified Plant-Based Milk Beverages

One 8 oz cup of plant-based milk beverages including cashew, almond, coconut, or oat milk provides 0-2 grams of protein and 300-470 mg of calcium.  One 8 oz cup of soy milk contains 7 g of protein and 450 mg of calcium.  The 7 g of protein provided by soy milk makes it an adequate source and most like cow’s milk when focusing on the nutrients within all the plant-based beverages.  While focusing on the amounts of calcium that plant-based beverages provide, it is also important to consider the type of calcium being provided.  All plant-based milk beverages, including soy milk, require fortification of calcium.  The added calcium to plant-based milk beverages is a rock calcium, usually calcium carbonate or calcium citrate.  The body only absorbs around 30% of ingested rock calcium.  

Smoothies are a tasty way to get in at least 1 cup of cow’s milk or plant-based milk alternative. 

Check out this yummy and nutritious smoothie recipe: 


Berry Smoothie Recipe 

½ cup frozen strawberries

½ cup frozen blueberries 

1 tbsp chia seeds 

½ cup vanilla Greek yogurt 

1 cup cow’s milk 


This material is funded by the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

This institution is an equal opportunity provider.