Low carb intermittent fasting is popular for a reason, it works. And while it’s still common practice to see ‘low fat’ products on the shelves of your local supermarket, there are also an increasing number of ‘low carb’ alternatives available including bread, ice cream, and even beer. But what about low carb milk? Most people consume a moderate amount of milk every day in their coffee, breakfast cereal or as a drink on its own. What are the alternatives for those on a low carb diet?
In the following article, we’ll take a closer look at some of the best low carb milk options available and give you our verdict, based on the nutritional profile, taste, and consumer pros and cons. But first we’ll take a closer look at why traditional milk isn’t a great fit for low carb.
How Many Carbs Are Found In Whole Milk?
Whole milk contains on average approximately 12g of carbohydrates per cup (8 fl. Oz. / 244mm). The caloric breakdown of whole milk is on average approximately 49% Fat, 30% carbohydrate and 21% Protein.
Carbs In Skim Milk
As you might imagine, low-fat/reduced fat or skim milk contains a slightly higher number of carbohydrates. The reason for this increase in the number of carbohydrates is due to the fact that once the fat is reduced the remaining macronutrients e.g. protein and carbohydrate content become higher in proportion.
What About Lactose-Free Milk?
Lactose-free milk contains the same amount of carbohydrates as whole milk, despite being lactose-free. This can be confusing if unaware of how lactose-free milk is produced as the majority of carbohydrate content found in milk comes directly from lactose.
Lactose for those unaware is a sugar found in milk made up of glucose (the primary sugar metabolised by the human body) and galactose (a monosaccharide sugar, found in dairy products).
However, just because lactose-free milk does not contain lactose does not mean these sugars are removed. Lactose-free milk simply contains an enzyme that separates the glucose and galactose molecules, meaning the carbohydrate content is still as high as whole or reduced-fat milk.
Dairy Milk Alternatives
Based on the quantity of carbohydrate found in whole, skim and lactose-free dairy milk, regular dairy milk is not always a viable option for those on a low carb diet.
So what’s the answer?
While there are some dairy milk alternatives available that as part of the manufacturing process more or less extract most of the carbohydrate content, in most cases, we need to look past the dairy industry and more directly at plant-based milk products, including the following:
- Almond Milk
- Soy Milk
- Flax Milk
- Coconut Milk
- Rice Milk
- Hemp Milk
- Pea Protein Milk
- Oat Milk
Sweetened or unsweetened?
Before you rush down to your local supermarket and stock up on one of the low-carb milk products listed above, it is important that you choose an unsweetened variety as almost all low carb milk products are available in both unsweetened and sweetened versions. Sweetened plant-based milk generally contains almost as many carbs as dairy milk.
What Is Fortified Low Carb Milk?
Most plant-based low carb milk products are fortified. This means vitamins that the product may be lacking are added during processing. This can be considered both a positive and negative development. For one, adding essential vitamins is beneficial for one’s health but there are also those that suggest supplementation of calcium, for instance, may also increase the risk of heart disease.
Carbs In Almond Milk
Unsweetened almond milk is arguably the most popular low carb milk alternative, with higher sales volume than soy milk which has waned in popularity in recent times. Almond milk is considered by many to be the best tasting plant based milk product and also contains zero carbohydrate content.
Almond milk is simple to make. It is produced by grinding almonds with water and then extracting the remaining almond content through a strainer. However, it’s not difficult to find in stores and the cost is comparable to standard dairy milk for the most part.
Unsweetened Almond Milk Nutritional Profile
As expected almond milk has a distinctly nutty flavor. Consumers often describe the taste as crisp and light. It typically has a thicker consistency than dairy milk and is relatively versatile, being equally effective as a dairy milk substitute in coffee and breakfast cereals along with baking. Like all low carb milk products, almond milk requires an adjustment period but for many is quite pleasant in coffee and on cereal.
- Lower in calories than dairy milk (30 calories for cup, compared to approx. 150 calories in whole milk)
- Fortified Almond milk is often a rich source of calcium and vitamin D
- Naturally high in vitamin E
- Considered a good source of iron
- Total almond content has been found to be as low as 2% in some case. This has resulted in several lawsuits
- Lacks much of the fiber and antioxidant content of almonds as it is removed during processing
- Can separate if left unattended for any length of time
- Almond milk contains phytic acid, which is known to limit mineral absorption.
Soy milk was first introduced to the US market in 1979. While it has remained popular, sales of almond milk now exceed that of soy milk. Soy milk is produced by soaking dried soybeans for at least three hours, then removing the water and skins of the soybean. A smooth texture is achieved by blending with water.
Soy milk is produced by soaking dried soybeans for at least three hours, then removing the water and skins of the soybean. It is then blended with water until a smooth texture is achieved.
Unsweetened Soy Milk Nutritional Profile (1 Cup/ 8.1 Fl. Oz)
Soy milk can differ in flavor depending on the origin of the soybeans used in the manufacturing process. It is described as having a strong aftertaste and is generally a creamier consistency than almond milk. Opinions vary considerably regarding the overall taste, however, many find the taste difficult to adapt to after making the switch from regular dairy milk.
Opinions vary considerably regarding the overall taste, however, many find the taste difficult to adapt to after making the switch from regular dairy milk.
- Higher source of protein than almond milk (7g per cup compared to 1g)
- Soy Milk contains all 9 essential amino acids. It is the only plant based protein that is a complete protein source.
- A rich source of vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) and Vitamin B12 which aids in red blood cell function.
- Lactose free
- May lower the risk of heart disease
- Low in cost.
- Soy products have their fair share of detractors with a number of health implications cited. I have included a number of these below
- Soy food allergies are fairly common.
- Symptoms include skin reactions and abdominal pain
- Contains high levels of Phytic acid which limit mineral absorption
- 90% of soy-based products are genetically modified. You may feel strongly about GMO’s if so soy milk is a product you may prefer to avoid.
- Many people find the taste unappealing.
Flax milk is cold pressed flax oil, combined with filtered water.
Unsweetened Flax Milk (1 Cup/ 8.1 Fl. Oz) Nutritional Profile
Unsurprisingly, flax milk has a slightly nutty flavor and tastes much like flax seeds. The flavor is not as strong as other low carb milk varieties. As a result it is more of a neutral, uncomplicated flavor. Making it a better option when used as an ingredient as opposed to a stand alone drink.
Some claiming flax milk is by far the best tasting low carb milk product available. Others say the taste is far inferior to almond milk.
- May control menopause symptoms
- Lower in calories than almond, soy, and Coconut milk.
- A source of omega 3 fatty acids (more information below)
- Creamy texture
- Flax seeds also contain Phytoestrogens. Please see above for more information on Phytoestrogens.
- Flax seeds contain omega 3 acids. Omega 3 fatty acid sources such as seafood are used far more efficiently by the body.
- Low in calcium, unless fortified.
You can produce coconut milk by extracting the white fleshy part of the coconut, grating and soaking in water. Subsequently the coconut cream floats to the top and skimmed off leaving the coconut milk.
Unsweetened Coconut Milk (1 Cup/ 8.1 Fl. Oz) Nutritional Profile
As you may have guessed, coconut milk tastes very much like coconut. Although the taste is considerably weaker than you might expect.
- Good source of Medium-chain triglycerides (saturated fatty acids) which are a good source of energy
- May boost your immune system thanks to its antimicrobial properties
- A good source of antioxidants which fight free radicals that may cause cellular damage in your body
- Good source of dietary fiber.
- Higher in sugar content than soy, almond or flax milk
- Often sold in cans which raise a number of health concerns including the use of BPA’s and guar gums
- High caloric content which may result in weight gain
- May increase the effects of Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
The Best Low Carb Milk Alternative?
In my opinion, almond milk represents the best choice if you are in the market for a low carb milk product as a replacement for dairy milk. The taste is more appealing than that of soy, coconut or flax milk. And, while soy milk has the edge when it comes to protein content, concerns over phytoestrogens in both soy and flax milk, while inconclusive may be a cause for concern.
Almond milk is also significantly less calorically dense than coconut milk. This may be important if you are watching your weight.
If not perturbed by the perceived concerns over phytoestrogens, soy milk (if you can handle the taste) is a complete protein source. This may be more beneficial depending on your requirements.
Where To Buy Low Carb Milk
The good news is, low carb milk is enjoying continued popularity. It’s found in most major supermarkets as a result. Almond milk is a particularly popular low carb milk option with brands including Silk, Pacific Foods, and Blue Diamond Almond Breeze enjoying favourable reviews from consumers.