Plant-based milks, also called non-dairy milks or vegan milks, have been increasing in popularity thanks to their benefits for the environment, animal welfare, and human health. They can also be a great source of nutrition for vegans, people with lactose intolerance, or people who simply don’t like the taste of dairy milk.
But plant-based milks aren’t all created equal when it comes to their nutrient content, and this holds true for protein. If you’re concerned about getting enough protein, how can you choose the best high protein plant-based milk to meet your needs?
We’ll discuss the different types of plant-based milks below, which ones are the best sources of protein, and how to choose the best non-dairy milk overall.
Types of plant-based milk
Most plant-based milks are made from beans, legumes, grains, nuts, or seeds, although it seems like almost any plant can be turned into milk!
Plant-based milks made from beans and legumes tend to be the highest in protein per 1 cup (8 ounce) serving, and these typically include:
- Soy milk: 7-10g protein
- Pea milk: 8g protein
Milks made from other plants are generally not as high in protein. Surprisingly, milk made from foods like almonds and hemp seeds that are naturally good sources of protein don’t retain much of the protein due to how the product is filtered. These varieties are listed below with their protein content per 1 cup (8 ounce) serving, which can vary based on the brand:
- Hemp milk: 2-4g protein
- Oat milk: 1-4g protein
- Cashew milk: 1-4g protein
- Almond milk: 1g protein
- Banana milk: 1g protein
- Coconut milk: 0-1g protein
- Rice milk: 0-1g protein
- Flaxseed milk: 0g protein
- Plant-based milk blends that include one or more of the above non-dairy milks, such as an almond and coconut milk blend: 1-4g protein
High protein plant-based milk options
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1. Soy milk (7-10 grams protein per cup)
Soy milk is a classic, nutrient-dense, protein-packed alternative to dairy milk. Its high protein content comes from soybeans that are soaked, ground, boiled, and filtered, leaving some protein and small amounts of healthy fats and complex carbohydrates.
2. Pea milk (8 grams protein per cup)
Pea milk is a newer product in the non-dairy world, but has about the same amount of protein as soy milk. Pea milk is typically made from yellow peas, and is a great option for people with soy allergies. Ripple pea milk is one of the most popular brands.
3. Plant-based milks with added protein (6-10 grams protein per cup)
Some brands have recognized the desire for higher-protein non-dairy milks and have started adding extra protein (usually from peas) to non-dairy milks that have less protein, such as almond or oat milk. A few specific examples are:
- Ripple Oatmilk + Protein. This oat milk has added pea protein, providing 6 grams of protein per cup.
- Orgain Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk. This almond milk also has added pea protein, with 10 grams per cup.
- Good Karma Flax Milk with Omega-3 and Protein. This flax milk has 8 grams of added pea protein per cup.
Similarly, some products have a blend of two or more non-dairy milks to which extra protein is added. A good example is:
- Silk Almond with Cashew Protein Milk. This is a blend of almond milk and cashew milk with added pea protein, providing 8 grams per cup.
However, not all non-dairy milk blends with added protein actually pack that big of a protein punch. It’s always best to check the nutrition facts label to see how much protein a product actually provides. Take Silk Nextmilk, for example, which is a blend of oat milk and coconut milk with soy protein isolate that only contains 4 grams of protein per cup. This product is meant to mimic the flavor and texture of dairy milk, but is lacking in terms of protein.
Why choose a high protein plant-based milk?
The main benefit to choosing a plant-based milk higher in protein is that it makes it easier to meet your daily protein needs.
Fortunately, protein deficiencies in vegans are rare and vegans often get more than the recommended amount of protein1 per day. However, some experts believe the current Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of 0.8 grams protein per kilogram of body weight per day is inadequate2 for optimal health and maintenance of muscle tissue in adults 40 years of age and older.
Keep in mind that the RDA for protein is simply the minimum amount required to prevent an outright deficiency for the average sedentary adult, and not necessarily the “ideal” or “optimal” amount. If you’re physically active or are an older adult, you’ll need more protein than the RDA suggests. Considering this, it may be helpful to consume higher levels of protein to best support overall health.
Another benefit of protein is that it helps keep you full for longer periods of time. Using a high-protein plant-based milk in meals and snacks will help keep you satisfied and energized and can also help prevent excessive snacking on less nutrient-dense foods throughout the day.
What else to consider when choosing a plant-based milk
- Calcium. Calcium is essential for strong, healthy bones and teeth, so look for non-dairy milks with have been fortified with calcium. You’ll often see calcium listed in the ingredients as “calcium carbonate” or “calcium phosphate”.
- Vitamin D. Vitamin D is also important for bone health, as well as for immune function, reducing inflammation, and helping the body utilize energy efficiently. Vitamin D is not found in many plant-based foods, so fortified non-dairy milks can be a helpful source.
- Vitamin B12. Non-dairy milks are one of the few foods that are fortified with vitamin B12, which can be difficult to find on a vegan diet. Vegans can get enough vitamin B12 by consuming enough fortified foods and/or by taking a supplement.
- Flavor. If you try one brand of soy milk and hate it, don’t give up! It may take a while for you to find a brand you love. It may also take a while for your taste buds to adjust if you’re trying non-dairy milks for the first time. Each kind has its own flavor profile that is distinct from dairy, so find one that you enjoy on its own without expecting it to taste just like regular milk.
- Variety. Having variety in the foods we eat provides us with the many different nutrients we need for health, so one way to choose a non-dairy milk is to look at the foods you eat often and try to introduce some variety. For example, if you eat a lot of soy foods like tofu and edamame, try pea milk or flax milk with added protein. Similarly, if you don’t eat any soy, try adding soy milk to your diet.
- Added sugars. Many varieties of non-dairy milk contain added sugars, with chocolate or other flavors often containing the most. When including non-dairy milks as a regular part of the diet, choose unsweetened varieties or those with 6 or less grams of sugar per serving as a general guideline.
A note about oat milk and added sugars
Often the nutrition facts label on a carton of oat milk will list added sugars, even when there are no sweeteners listed in the ingredients list. How is this possible?
Some oat milk is produced using oats which have been broken down into smaller carbohydrate pieces, effectively acting the same way as added sugars would. You may see some oat milks labeled as “0g sugar” or “zero sugar” – the oats used in these products do not undergo the same kind of processing and do not contain added sugars.
This shouldn’t be overly concerning for most people and it certainly doesn’t mean you need to avoid oat milk. That said, this information can empower people who wish to avoid added sugars or who need to pay close attention to managing their blood sugar levels to choose the best oat milk for their needs.
There are some wonderful high-protein plant-based milks out there, with more and more choices becoming available as non-dairy products increase in popularity. To get the most nutritional bang for your buck, I recommend choosing soy milk, pea milk, or non-dairy milks which have extra plant-based protein added to them.
With so many options, you’re sure to find one you love!
Want to read more about plant-based protein? Check out my article comparing pea protein vs. soy protein!
- Melina V, Craig W, Levin S. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016 Dec;116(12):1970-1980. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2016.09.025. PMID: 27886704.
- Lonnie M, Hooker E, Brunstrom JM, Corfe BM, Green MA, Watson AW, Williams EA, Stevenson EJ, Penson S, Johnstone AM. Protein for Life: Review of Optimal Protein Intake, Sustainable Dietary Sources and the Effect on Appetite in Ageing Adults. Nutrients. 2018 Mar 16;10(3):360. doi: 10.3390/nu10030360. PMID: 29547523; PMCID: PMC5872778.