While the exact numbers vary slightly by production method, according to the USDA, your average one cup (8 oz) serving of cow’s milk clocks in at 102 calories and 8 grams of protein. That’s for 1% reduced fat.
The number of grams will be the same regardless of whether it’s skim, 1%, 2%, or whole 3.25%.
Sounds great, but what isn’t are the adverse health effects of dairy. Specific to the protein content is the fact that 80% is casein and 20% is whey.
The latter is considered great for bodybuilding, even though farts from protein supplements seem to be guaranteed with that particular type.
Casein is not popular a supplemental source nor should it be. It’s singled out as one, if not the very worst, form of protein in the The China Study.
Not to mention the cholesterol in dairy milk, versus the vegan replacements which contain absolutely zero.
The health benefits of plant based are something you already know. But even as a vegan, there is an Achilles heel you have to admit about many of the processed foods and that is their lack of protein.
Again, we emphasize the word processed. Beans, lentils, grains, and nuts can provide you with plenty. The bad news is that even good vegan milk alternatives fail miserably in one category… amino acids.
Whether you’re talking about almond milk, or something less common like cashew, hemp, flax, or coconut milk, it’s probably 1 gram of protein per serving, if not less. That’s even with premium brands like New Barn and Califia Farms almond milk.
Depending on whether it’s unsweetened or sweetened, each serving is 35 to 70 calories, some even higher. Obviously, that means you would have to drink a lot – both in volume and in calories – to obtain a decent amount of protein.
Plus when you hear how much almond is actually in almond milk, it’s as little as a 2% concentration. Or at least that’s what the research in a lawsuit against Almond Breeze and Silk alleges. So rather than getting those calories from healthy nuts/seeds, you might getting a fair amount from fillers which aren’t exactly known for having nutritional benefits.
In its natural form, soy milk is the best competitor versus dairy milk. With 7 grams of protein per serving and 80 calories per cup for the unsweetened, it actually contains more protein per calorie than what you get from cow milk. The problem?
- Soy has a high amount of phytoestrogens, which makes it a terrible choice for guys to drink in excess.
- If you’re a girl or don’t mind a little plant estrogen, you’re still stuck with the fact that it isn’t a balanced source of the Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) valine, leucine, and isoleucine.
- Non organic soy might be processed using hexane and other nasty chemicals. Not to mention, it’s one of the most prevalent GMO crops.
Whether you’re a man or woman, getting a splash of soy in your caffè latte is not a problem. But guzzling gallons of it as a post-workout nutrient is far from ideal.
Based on these considerations, the top contenders will be soy free and high protein. So who lives up to those standards?
What follows are the 3 best plant based milk brands with protein. Based in Los Angeles, we are exposed to all of the brands both big and small, so we know them all. Upon our research and personal reviews of actually using them on a daily basis – including for fitness – these brands have cemented a place in our hall of fame.
Review: Orgain almond milk
This isn’t your run of the mill almond drink. Your jaw will drop when you see the nutrition facts for it…
- lightly sweetened vanilla = 100 calories and 10 grams of protein
- unsweetened vanilla = 70 calories and 10 grams of protein
That’s not a typo! You’re literally getting 10x the amount of protein as the non dairy milk brands Silk, Almond Breeze, So Delicious, Califia Farms, Whole Foods 365, and Trader Joe’s private label.
So Delicious Protein Plus 5x did have 5 grams per serving, but they discontinued that product in 2016. All of their lineup is now the same as the other guys – a dismal 1 gram for an 8 ounce glass.
The source of Orgain’s abundance is a blend of brown rice and pea proteins which they use in their vegan milk.
It’s gluten free, soy free, non GMO, and doesn’t use artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. That’s fairly common though. What is uncommon is the fact that Orgain is organic.
You may not have noticed this before, but the major brands are mostly non-organic. Yes, silk does have a USDA certified organic version, but it’s only sold at warehouse clubs, not normal grocery stores.
Each cup of Orgain also provides you with:
- 25% of your daily value for calcium
- 25% for vitamin D, in the form of D2 sourced from mushrooms/fungi
- 15% for iron
- 60% for phosphorus
Now for the bad news.
Even in LA, we never see this brand for sale. Which is particularly crazy considering that their headquarters is only 70 miles away in Irvine.
It seems the big muscle of the big brands have elbowed their way into that much sought after refrigerated space at the supermarket. Letting the little guy in doesn’t seem to be happening.
What we do see is some stores like Whole Foods and specialty health grocers carrying the vanilla or chocolate Orgain protein shake. It’s premixed.
We see that sold in their supplement aisle and unfortunately, you may need some supplemental income to pay for the prices those stores charge for it.
There is some very good news.
Even if you can’t find it for sale locally, you can buy it online. This is a shelf-stable product. It does not need to be refrigerated until after it is opened.
Review: Ripple milk
This company was started in 2014. One of the guys was a co-founder of Method Soap, so obviously he’s been making natural products for a while now. Ripple was backed by VC money, with a whopping $13.6 million just to get it off the ground.
Does Ripple milk contain soy? Nope. How about almonds, cashews, or other tree nuts? It’s allergy friendly since it’s nut free. Not to mention, gluten free and non GMO.
So what do they make it out of? For the original unsweetened version, here are the Ripple ingredients:
Water, Pea Protein, Organic Sunflower Oil. Contains less than 0.5% of Vitamin A Palmitate, Vitamin D2, DHA Algal Oil, Calcium Phosphate, Potassium Phosphate, Sunflower Lecithin, Natural Flavors, Sea Salt, Organic Guar Gum, Gellan Gum.
In other others 99.5% of the ingredients are water, pea protein, and sunflower oil. Thickeners and emulsifiers aside, the other ingredients are vitamins, minerals, and DHA. Most noteworthy:
- 45% of your daily value of calcium
- 30% for vitamin D (in the form of D2)
- 15% for iron
- DHA omega fatty acid
That last item on the list is very unique. It has to be derived from algae and is not cheap to include. For that reason, the price point of $5 is a bit more palatable.
But keep in mind the cost of Ripple is typically $5 ($4.99, to be precise). We regularly see that price point here in Los Angeles, as well as a few weeks ago during a quick stop at a Whole Foods in Orlando.
That’s $5 for 48 ounces, not the typical 64 ounce carton size you are accustomed to with the most popular plant based milk brands, which are Silk, Almond Breeze, and So Delicious. That means you’re paying $5 for 25% less than how much is in the half-cartons of those aforementioned brands.
Using the milk for coffee is affordable, since that doesn’t take much. But if you need a good plant based milk for cereal, this one can get costly for the whole family to use.
Especially for kids, since they have the metabolism to get away with 2 or 3 bowls of cereal!
When you run the numbers and calculate the price per ounce, unfortunately it does mean you’re paying the equivalent of $6.67 for a half gallon. That’s about double the price of those other guys.
How much protein is in Ripple is far more than double though. Try 8x, as in 8 grams of protein per cup.
It is coming 100% from yellow peas.
If you compare the amino acid profile of brown rice vs. pea, you will see that while it’s far better than soy, the rice derived source gives you more BCAAs and a better overall comparability to whey.
In short, yellow pea is an excellent source, but not the best vegan source of protein.
The 8 grams for an 80 calorie serving is great for bodybuilders and those trying to get cut or lose weight. That’s for the unsweetened version, which is what we recommend.
For 100 calories, the sweetened Original Ripple has half the sugar versus dairy milk, but it’s still 6 grams which is unneeded, in our opinion.
The vanilla Ripple tastes excellent, but it’s a whopping 12 grams of sugar. They don’t make it in an unsweetened version. We have never purchased Ripple chocolate milk because even though it looks delicious, it’s hard to justify the 17 grams of sugar.
The point we are trying to make is that the best Ripple flavor is the unsweetened. Does it taste as good? Obviously not, since there’s not sugar. But it is very smooth and doesn’t have that grainy texture on your tongue like some of the cheap plant based alternatives do. It actually tastes like real milk.
If you want to satisfy your sweet tooth, add some monk fruit sweetener to it. For chocolate milk, you are going to have to do it yourself like we did in this photo. By the way, the only reason you see original in that was because it was all that was available for sale at Whole Foods (more on that complaint below).
While we applaud the unique inclusion of DHA in the ingredient, keep in mind that all of their flavors only have 32 mg per serving.
How much omega 3 per day? For EPA and DHA, the USDA cites 250 mg but in other countries like Japan, it’s over 2,100 mg per day for a 18 to 29 year old male, as an example. Even the World Health Organization pegs the minimum at 200 to 500 mg per day.
So based on the relatively low amount they use, you can’t rely on Ripple as your primary source of EPA. Consider these other vegan EPA and DHA sources.
Given the price point, we really think they ought to increase how much DHA they use.
Where to buy Ripple pea milk? Whole Foods will be your best bet, in their refrigerated section. In Los Angeles, their inventory is hit or miss in terms of carrying the unsweetened. They seem to have it in stock about half the time at their El Segundo location. Sprouts Farmers Market might be a more reliable seller if there’s one in your neck of the woods.
Target also has Ripple for sale, at least in the SoCal area. At the Manhattan Beach Target, the recently jacked up the price to be the same as Whole Foods. Previously, they had it at for sale at prices ranging from $3.59 to $4.29.
As far as the mainstream grocers like Kroger and Safeway, we haven’t seen or heard of any locations in the entire U.S. selling it. Forget Walmart, Costco, and those types of places.
Meijer carries it though, at least in Michigan and Ohio when we checked there. We wish Meijer was in Cali, what a great store!
There is a potentially dangerous complaint we have about Ripple and it is the type of plastic they make their cap out of. It breaks apart and that can get into your cereal or shake when you pour the liquid out.
Initially, we thought this was due to our own fault of over-tightening the cap. But even with only loosely closing it, we still suffer with the problem, as seen in the photo here.
They really need to fix this ASAP, as this major design flaw has been unresolved for at least a year now.
Review: Good Karma flax milk
This we only recommend with a caveat. Why? Flax seeds are hyped as a superfood, but most people are unaware of the potential side effects which might exist if you consume too many.
We are talking about the phytoestrogen in flax. It makes soy look like a moderate source in comparison.
How much phytoestrogen is in flax? 379,380.4 µg worth in 100 grams (or about 3.5 ounces) of the seed.
Compare that to the #2 highest food – raw soybeans – which test out at 103,920.0 for the exact same weight.
If you’re a man and are concerned about this issue with soy, then certainly you should be exuding even more caution when it comes to this alleged superfood.
On the other hand, for women – especially those going through menopause – these estrogen-like compounds might actually offer health benefits. But when using plant based milk for babies, toddlers, and teens made out of this seed, one most wonder if it’s a good idea given their already wild hormone levels?
It’s hard to say one way or another. Good Karma, which is the largest milk brand that makes use of this seed, lists only “cold pressed flax oil” in the ingredients.
That means the actual seed and its proteins have been removed by at least some degree. It’s difficult though to evaluate it further without knowing (1) how refined their oil is, and (2) how much phytoestrogen is left in the oil.
At least for the men here at Superfoodly, we no longer drink Good Karma flax milk. Before continuing, we would like to see testing from an independent lab which shows how much (or how little) phytoestrogen exists is in their beverage.
Speaking of who it may or may not be ideal for, let’s go back to the topic of babies.
It’s important point out that no brand of vegan milk is an infant formula. Cow milk is unacceptable, too. Babies need important nutrients which you will only find in human breast milk or an infant formula specifically labeled for that use.
With the potential bad news out of the way, the good news is that Good Karma is one of the highest protein plant based milks on the market.
Not all of their flavors are rich in amino acids, but they have two which are named Flax Milk Plus Protein (previously called Protein Plus).
The vanilla unsweetened is only 50 calories and provides you with 5 grams of protein, plus 1,200 mg of omega 3’s in the form of ALA (our body converts ALA to the needed EPA and DHA, but it’s not an efficient process).
At 85 mg per cup, it is low sodium relative to most brands. How much calcium it has is 30% of your daily value. There’s 25% for vitamin D, 25% for vitamin B12, 10% for vitamin A, and 15% for phosphorus.
The protein in Good Karma is added and it comes from peas. While it is true that flax seeds are a good source of amino acids, they must not be using much. We say this because their regular unsweetened flax milk is 25 calories and has 0 grams of protein.
With almond based beverages, using too little of the nut is a drawback, but here we actually think it’s beneficial given the potency of phytoestrogens in flax.
Similar to Ripple, where you can buy Good Karma Protein Plus flax milk will be limited. It does have a better availability, but we still aren’t coming across it at the mainstream grocers. Even at Whole Foods, they seem to always have the other varieties, but the Protein Plus is often out of stock. Since this is a refrigerated product, you can’t order it online.
The brings us back Orgain. You can buy Orgain on Amazon and given that it has the highest amount of protein out of all of these vegan milks, it’s our preferred choice for bodybuilding and use with cereal.
The latter is very important since even the cereals which claim to have a higher amount of aminos are still providing too little for breakfast; a max of 7 to 10 grams typically. All the more reason why you need a good milk alternative to pair with them.