Smoothies – what are your milk options?

Not sure which kind of milk to use for your smoothie? Health365 compares a few of the most popular types.

When it comes to the basis for smoothies, cow’s milk still seems to be a firm favourite among Australians. But did you know that there are many other milk options to choose from? Think soy, nut, rice and coconut milk… delicious and nutritious.

According to nutritionists, each type of milk has its pros and cons – your choice will depend on your health, diet, nutritional needs and personal taste preferences. The major advantage of popular alternatives such as almond, rice and soy milk is that people with allergies or intolerances can now also enjoy smoothies.

When deciding which milk is best for your smoothie, the most important thing is to make sure it’s calcium fortified, says Dr Kellie Bilinski, practising dietician and nutritionist in private practice in North Western Sydney.

As a spokesperson for the Dieticians’ Association of Australia (DAA), Dr Bilinski says that milk for smoothies must contain at least 100mg calcium per 100g. What’s more, adults should consume 2½ servings of dairy foods each day. On average, it’s best to use about half a cup of milk per smoothie.

“In the long run, it really comes down to which taste of milk you prefer,” she adds. “Any milk would be fine to use in a smoothie, and you can even combine different types if you like, as long as you remember that dietary guidelines recommend using reduced-fat varieties and milk that’s calcium fortified.”

Options to choose from
Dr Bilinski and other nutrition experts break down the most popular alternative milk options as follows:

  • Soy milk, made from soy beans, is the most nutritionally comparable to cow’s milk. With the highest protein content of all the dairy-free milks, this plant-sourced milk is also a good source of potassium, vitamin A, vitamin B12, vitamin D and calcium when fortified.

    Soy milk is a good choice if you’re a vegan or if you’re lactose intolerant. Weight watchers will also enjoy the fact that soy milk provides fewer kilojoules than whole milk, and is low in saturated fat. It has roughly the same kilojoule content as skim milk. This cholesterol-free milk is good for people with heart conditions, but those with thyroid problems shouldn’t consume excessive amounts.

    Some people take a while to get accustomed to the distinctive flavour of soy milk, but there are flavoured versions available.

  • Nut milk: Unless it’s fortified, nut milk (e.g. almond milk) usually contains much less calcium and protein than cow’s milk. It’s also lower in saturated fat and kilojoules.

    Almond milk, specifically, is made from ground almonds and has loads of antioxidant-rich vitamin E. While it contains less protein than cow’s milk, it’s still a better source of protein than rice, oat or quinoa milk. If you’re kilojoule conscious, choose unsweetened almond milk.

    Nut milk is a good choice if you’re lactose intolerant or if you don’t eat dairy foods.

    Contrary to popular belief, nut milks are not equivalent to a handful of whole nuts as they contain less than 10% nuts.

  • Rice milk is quite low in protein (0.3% protein compared to 4% in cow’s milk), so don’t rely on it to fill you up or give you a protein boost.

    Made from crushed rice and water, it’s the most hypoallergenic milk, so it’s an excellent choice for people with nut or lactose allergies or intolerance. Be sure to choose a product with added calcium and vitamin D if you want to keep your bones strong.

Many people like the mild flavour and the fact that this milk is easily digestible. Take note that rice milk has a high carbohydrate content, so steer clear of it if you have diabetes.

  • Quinoa milk is similar to rice milk in terms of nutrition. It contains very little protein (0.05%), but is a good alternative for people who don’t like soy milk. It’s also a good option for folks who are allergic to nuts and cow’s milk.

Quinoa milk is pricey if you consider that it’s pretty low in nutrition. Using it in conjunction with other dairy-free milks is a more cost-effective option.

  • Coconut milk may look like milk, but that’s where the likeness ends. High in saturated fat and kilojoules, it’s best not to consider coconut milk as an everyday food, says Dr Bilinski.

Coconut milk doesn’t contain calcium either – a big disadvantage.

  • Oat milk contains a type of fibre called beta-glucan, which can help lower cholesterol. Like the other grain-based milks, oat milk is low in fat. It’s also low in protein, so it’s not as filling as other options.

    Oat milk is good for people who have nut or soy allergies. However, if you’re sensitive to gluten, it might be best to give this type of milk a miss.