The Healthiest Dairy-Free Milk Is Soy, Study Says

Plant-based milk is having a moment. Everywhere you look, a new type of milk alternative is trying its luck on grocery shelves, ranging from almond to soy to banana. A team of researchers from McGill University conducted a study to decide once and for all which milk delivers the most nutritional bang for your buck. According to their data, none of these vegan alternatives truly lived up to the nutritional value of real milk — but some are healthier than others.

The research team looked into the four most popular plant-based milks on the market: almond, soy, rice, and coconut milk. They compared the unsweetened varieties of each.

The number one contender? Soy milk.

Soy milk outdid the others with its balanced nutritional profile, offering protein and phytonutrients, which have been known to stave off cancer. There has been some controversy over the healthfulness of soy in the past. But the popular vegan protein has not been shown to be harmful to people's health in recent studies.

Rice milk had a bleak nutritional profile, making it one of the least healthy options for daily use. It offered a solution for people who are allergic to dairy, almond, and soy — a rare combination — but that was pretty much it. The milk has little to no nutritional benefit other than carbohydrates and sugar.

Coconut milk was low in calories, but also low in protein. However, the researchers noted that coconut milk has been linked to lowering "bad" cholesterol counts in some studies, improving overall cholesterol numbers.

And finally, they evaluated almond milk, the dairy-free favorite. Almond milks have larger amounts of healthy fats and can help lower cholesterol. Plus, most almond milks have some protein — though nowhere near as much as real milk.

In summary, the researchers concluded that the best milk for your diet depends on what you're looking for. Need more protein? Choose almond. Experiencing allergies? Rice is your best bet. Want something low-carb and low-cal? Opt for coconut.

But of all the dairy-free milks out there, soy is your most balanced option. Once you've picked out your milk, browse our dairy-free ice cream recipes to stock your freezer with treats, too!