Milk alternatives are on the rise and have been for a while. At the same time, the vegetarian and vegan diets are becoming more popular by the day. These milk alternatives are touted for their smaller environmental impact, vegan friendliness, and/or for their health benefits. But that's not always true. 

The reason we still consistently support milk alternatives and more conscious eating habits, is because they offer the chance to be kinder to the Earth and advocate for more environmentally-friendly practices. Continuing to support traditional dairy options does not.

What inspired this article was this BBC article about milk alternatives, which has very insightful graphs and even a fun calculator that tells you the environmental impacts of a specific food you enjoy. I was inspired to round up the characteristics, health benefits, and prices of milk alternatives for a more holistic approach to the topic, so here we go!


Price: ($ -- $$$)

Water required to produce: (💧 --💧💧💧💧💧)


Dairy milk - $, 💧💧💧💧💧

Let's review the impacts of good ol' dairy milk so that the alternatives can be put into perspective. Dairy milk has the most water-intensive production needs -- requiring nearly double the amount of water that the most water-intensive milk alternative, almond milk, requires. It's full of calcium and often fortified with other vitamins and healthy fats. The main problems with the dairy industry are the amount of agriculture and land used for cows and the waste and greenhouse gases that come from it. The insane animal cruelty within the dairy industry is a whole other conversation.

Almond milk - $$, 💧💧💧

While this is the most popular milk-alternative choice by consumers, you should note that, out of all milk-alternative choices, almond milk requires the most water to produce. In terms of land used to produce it, it is about the same as other alternatives, but it creates the least amount of emissions. Although almond nuts are rich in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory nutrients, healthy fats, and protein, almond milk is not nutrient-rich, due to the fact that it only contains 2% of almonds. It has no saturated fats or cholesterol.

Soy milk - $$, 💧

This alternative has many nutrients similar to milk, mainly, protein, carbohydrates, macronutrients, and fat. It lacks calcium and is not that healthy, especially since lots of sugar is added to plant-based milks. And since soy plants are already a popular crop, lots of pesticides and large areas of land are dedicated to growing it already.  But it is a familiar flavor for many and comes in many variations, so it remains a popular alternative.

Oat milk - $$$, 💧

Although many health benefits are attributed to oats, it is similar to some milk-alternatives in the sense that you would need to consume a large amount of it to experience any real benefit from it, for instance, its cholesterol-fighting nutrients. It lacks the protein and minerals in dairy milk, though you can find ones that fortified with them. It is slightly eco-friendly, since requires very little water to farm, but takes a great deal of energy to produce oat milk.

Rice milk - $$, 💧💧

This milk is slightly higher in carbs than other alternatives (and cow's milk), but it is often fortified with calcium and vitamins, unlike other alternatives. It's free from saturated fat and cholesterol, and is most similar to cow's milk in terms of sweetness and texture. However, it uses a good amount of water and varieties of rice that are less environmentally damaging are often GMO's and may not be safe. 

Other Milk Alternatives to Look Into

While these milks are not as popular among consumers and their impacts are not as well researched, they're worth trying if you have allergies to other milks or want more options.

Coconut Milk ($$, 💧) is low in calories and provides small amounts of vitamins and protein. It is considered to have very little environmental impact, due to the carbon-ingesting power of coconut trees, and requires little water, too. Watch out for the level of saturated fats in it though!

Hemp Milk ($$$, 💧) is associated with many health benefits and nutrients in it, mainly protein and healthy fatty acids. It has a low environmental impact, lower need for pesticides, and a low net-waste, as the plant can almost be used up completely.


In a nut-shell (pun-intended), many nut and plant-derived milks offer more options to being healthy and eco-friendly. Their nutritional differences to cow milk is often made up for by the brands fortifying the milk alternative with calcium, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. This all is tied to the larger conversation about veganism, whether we like it or not. It will take time for these alternatives to be as accessible and affordable as milk, but they are getting there and in terms of business, the world is ready for veganism to become mainstream. For now, their rise in grocery stores and online grocery sites won't slow down any time soon.