When it's time to make a smoothie or eat your cereal, going dairy-free has never been easier. But with an abundance of options, are you choosing wisely? Here's what to pour if you want...
...More Protein: Soy Milk
"Soy is a complete protein, supplying all nine essential amino acids," says Karen Ansel, R.D.N. Concerned about testosterone levels? University of Minnesota researchers found that soy intake won't affect hormone levels or sperm count.
Choose: A brand made with organic soybeans (try Eden Foods), not soy protein isolate—it has fewer nutrients.
Bonus: The chocolate flavor has fast-acting carbs, perfect for after a workout.
But Be Warned: Milks using GMO soy (about 90 percent of the market) have been linked to prostate cancer.
• • •
...Fewer Calories: Almond Milk
Nuts are soaked for six to eight hours, drained, and then blended into water, hence the rich flavor without the calories (just 30—less than a third of skim or soy).
Choose: One that's unsweetened, unflavored, and fortified with vitamin B12 (which helps turn food into energy), like So Delicious.
Bonus: The fat in almond milk is monounsaturated, which lowers the risk of heart disease.
But Be Warned: It doesn't pack a lot of protein (just one gram).
• • •
...Good Fats: Coconut Milk
From the grated meat of a coconut, this milk—the kind in a carton, not a can (which is for cooking)—is high in saturated fatty acids and medium-chain triglycerides (4.5 grams per cup), which are easily digested and provide a quick source of energy.
Choose: A variety that's unsweetened and fortified with calcium and vitamin D, like Silk.
Bonus: It's a good source of magnesium, which may reduce blood pressure, and lauric acid, said to fight infections. It's also low-calorie (45 per cup).
But Be Warned: Even good fats need to be consumed in moderation.
• • •
...Added Carbs: Rice Milk
Made by running steamed brown rice through a mill, rice milk contains three to four times as many carbohydrates per cup as other options, making it a solid choice pre-gym.
Choose: A version fortified with calcium and vitamins A, D, and B12, like Rice Dream.
Bonus: It's filled with antioxidants that boost your immune system and vitamins like niacin that help manage your cholesterol. Plus, it's hypoallergenic.
But Be Warned: It's higher in calories than other alternatives, coming in at 120 per cup.
• • •
...Essential Omega-3S: Hemp Milk
Hemp milk, which is derived from shelled hemp seeds (but—sorry, potheads—has zero THC), contains essential omega-3 fatty acids that help fight heart disease and arthritis.
Choose: One with less than 12 grams of sugar per serving; try Tempt.
Bonus: It contains potassium, magnesium, and less sodium than any other dairy alternative.
But Be Warned: It may be light on calories, but it's also light on protein—and high in fat.
• • •
...Extra Calcium: Dairy Milk
Dairy's garnered a bad reputation of late. However, "cow's milk is a very nutrient-dense beverage," says Janet Bond Brill, R.D.N. One serving includes 300 milligrams of calcium.
Choose: Organic; it can be 60 percent higher in omega-3 fatty acids.
Bonus: It's a great source of complete protein (eight grams).
But Be Warned: Whole milk has a lot of saturated fat and cholesterol (why most nutritionists vote for skim) but is seeing a resurgence among the health-conscious since two Harvard Medical School researchers pointed out it's more filling.
• • •