As non-dairy milks continue to gain popularity, many consumers are confused - which one to choose? While both rice milk and almond milk are common milk substitutes for vegans, vegetarians, people who avoid dairy and those with lactose intolerance or casein allergies, there are some important differences between these two milk substitutes. Read on to find out which is a better choice for your needs.
Facts About Rice Milk
Rice milk is a milk substitute made by blending milled rice and water. It is naturally sweeter-tasting milk due to the carbohydrate content. Eight ounces contain about 120 calories, 2 grams of unsaturated fat and 1 gram of protein. It is higher in carbohydrate, with about 24 grams in the unsweetened variety. On its own, rice milk contains little calcium, little protein and no vitamins, so most manufacturers fortify it with calcium, vitamin A and vitamin D to increase the nutritional content. For the best nutritional value in rice milk, look for the word "enriched" for added nutrients. Rice milk can be a great choice for people with multiple allergies such as dairy, nut and/or soy or who are on a protein-restricted diet.
Facts About Almond Milk
Almond milk is made from finely ground almonds and water, strained to remove skins and sediment. Eight ounces contain about 60-90 calories, 2-3 grams of unsaturated fat and 1 gram of protein. It is lower in carbohydrate than rice milk at about 8 grams in the unsweetened variety. Almonds themselves contain protein in the whole form, but almond milk is not a good source of protein or calcium though it does naturally contain vitamin E. Be sure that your almond milk has been fortified in calcium and vitamin D to better match the nutritional content of regular milk; a product that has been enriched will better match the nutritional value. Be sure to avoid almond milk if you are allergic to this type of nut.
Which Is Better?
Either milk is appropriate for someone avoiding dairy if they are choosing a product that has been enriched with certain nutrients like calcium and vitamin D. Because these items are naturally lower in protein, seek other dietary sources to meet your needs. Note that these non-dairy milks may be an appropriate choice for people on protein-restricted diets. Be sure to check the ingredients of any non-dairy milk for unnecessary added ingredients like sweeteners, thickeners or preservatives. Choosing an unsweetened product will cut sugar intake by several grams and you can expect to find more sugar in the flavored varieties such as chocolate. Be sure that any non-dairy milk you choose has been fortified with calcium and vitamin D and that you make up for the lesser protein content with other forms of dietary protein to meet your needs.
Ginger Hultin, MS, RD, LDN is a Chicago-based dietitian who specializes in integrative oncology. With a Master's degree from naturopathic Bastyr University, she practices plant-based nutrition and specializes in lab interpretation and appropriate supplementation. Ginger also had a passion for fitness and maintains both group fitness and personal training certifications.