Picture of different sources of plant milks. High Protein Plant-Based Milk: Top Picks! Veg Out With Maria.

During menopause, maintaining adequate protein intake becomes increasingly important due to the natural decline in muscle mass that often occurs with age and hormonal changes. To help combat sarcopenia (the involuntary loss of skeletal muscle) and maintain strength and vitality, consuming enough protein becomes crucial.

For those who choose a plant-based lifestyle, it becomes important to know the best ways to up your protein intake. Enter plant-based milk. Today, there are so many plant-based milk options to choose from! They are not all created equal, however, especially when looking at protein content.

This blog post explores some of the concerns about cow’s milk and the top high-protein picks for plant-based milk alternatives. In addition, we look at other ingredients like added sugars, oils, and additives so that you can make an informed choice to better support your health.

Concerns About Cow’s Milk

As far as protein content goes, cow’s milk is high in protein, typically containing around 8 grams of protein per cup (240 ml). However, this can vary slightly depending on the type of cow’s milk (whole, skim, etc.). Cow’s milk is also a good source of calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and B vitamins and is enriched with vitamin D.

Concerns

We won’t get into the ethical and environmental concerns related to the dairy industry here. But, from a nutrition perspective, one of the downsides of cow’s milk is the saturated fat and cholesterol content which are linked to cardiovascular health concerns. Additionally, a majority of people are lactose intolerant, experiencing digestive discomfort such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea due to lacking the enzyme to digest the lactose sugar present in milk.

Another factor impacting digestion is a major protein found in cow’s milk called casein. A1 and A2 are two different variants of the protein casein found in cow’s milk. The A1 variant has been linked with inflammation, digestive problems, and even some chronic diseases1,2.

Although controversial, another concern is that milk can often contain growth hormones and antibiotics that are used to treat dairy cows. The use of rBST (bovine growth hormone) is widely used in the United States and it is not required to be labeled. This practice, however, has been banned in the European Union, Canada, and many other countries.

The use of rBST in dairy cows has been shown to increase the concentrations of IGF-1, a protein naturally found in milk3. Although the science is mixed, higher blood levels of IGF-1 have been associated with increased risk for pre-menopausal breast cancer among other types of cancers4, 5.

Plant-Based Milk Alternatives

Because of the mentioned downsides of cow’s milk, many people choose plant-based alternatives. Some of the pros of plant-based milk are that they are cholesterol-free, lower in saturated fat, naturally lactose-free, and free from casein. Some (not all) are also fortified with calcium, vitamin D, and other vitamins and minerals, making these milks a nice addition to a plant-based diet.

Many of these plant-based milks, however, are much lower in protein in comparison to cow’s milk. Almond milk and macadamia milk, for example, contain mostly water and only 1g of protein per 8 oz cup (240ml). There are a few exceptions, however, which we will cover next.

Some plant-based nut milks add soy protein isolate for an additional punch of protein. I feel like it’s kind of cheating – like adding protein powder to your milk, so I did not include these in my top picks.

High Protein Plant-Based Milk: Top Picks!

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Picture of 4 different brands of soy milk with white background and soy beans in the top left corner. high protein plant-based milk. Veg Out With Maria

1. Soy Milk

A longstanding top pick for high-protein plant-based milk just happens to be one of my favorites. Soy milk! At 7-12g of protein per 8oz cup (240ml), soy milk is a high protein champ that also comes with isoflavone benefits. For more on soy, I recommended taking a look at the blog Pros and Cons of Soy.

Edensoy* dominates with 12g of protein per serving while West Life* (West Soy) and Pacific Foods* offer 9g of protein per cup. What I love about these options is that they only contain two ingredients: soybeans and water. The downside to this is that they are not fortified, so these options will be lower in vitamin D and calcium.

Silk* contains 7-8g protein per 240ml (1 cup) serving. Unlike the others, it is fortified with vitamins and minerals but also contains gums, salt, and natural flavors. It is pretty easy to find and tends to be cheaper.

Soy milk contains naturally occurring fat from the soybean which is low in saturated fat. Most soy milk is organic, non-GMO, and does not contain added oils. Choose the unsweetened variety for no added sugar. Soy milk is creamier, has a slightly nutty taste, and is naturally a little sweeter than other plant-based milk.

2. Pea Milk

Picture of Ripple pea milk in a bottle and carton and Califia Farms Complete pea milk with a white background and peas in the left-hand corner. High protein plant-based milk. Veg Out With Maria

Pea milk is another high-protein plant-based milk option that has been gaining popularity. Ripple* is the most popular brand of pea milk boasting 8g of protein per 8 oz cup (240ml). Califia Farms Complete Pea Protein milk is a blend of pea, chickpea, and fava bean protein.

Many people like the creamy and thicker consistency of pea milk in comparison to other plant-based milks which are often more watered down. Don’t worry, it doesn’t taste like peas. The taste and consistency is actually pretty comparable to cow’s milk with a more neutral flavor.

The thing I don’t like about pea milk is that it is usually made with added vegetable oil, sugar, and phosphate additives so even though it’s high in protein it’s not necessarily my favorite.

3. Flax Milk

picture of Manitoba and Good Karma Flax milk with a white background and flaxseeds in the top lefthand corner. High protein plant-based milk.

Regular flax milk is a good source of plant-based omega 3s but usually does not contain protein. There are a couple of exceptions, however. Manitoba Flax Milk* (from Canada) contains 4g protein per 250 ml (1 cup). This brand also provides 3g of ALA omega 3s per serving!

Good Karma Unsweetened Flax Milk + Protein* contains both flaxseed and 5g of pea protein with 1200mg plant-based Omega 3 fatty acids per 1 cup serving. These flax milks are a creamy, neutral-tasting plant-based milk alternative.

Both of these brands do contain phosphate additives and natural flavors but can be a great allergen-friendly choice and I love the fact that they also provide a good amount of ALA omega 3s.

4. Hemp Milk

hemp milk

A less popular option and maybe more difficult to find is Hemp milk. Hemp milk is made from hulled hemp seeds and water. Hemp seeds come from the Cannabis sativa plant. Unlike marijuana, however, hemp milk will not get you high! It contains only trace amounts of the compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

I couldn’t find many brands offering hemp milk. Pacific Foods Hemp milk* is the main option in the U.S. It does come with phosphate additives, gums, and natural flavors. Interestingly, the sweetened version contains more protein than the unsweetened version at 5g of protein per 240 ml (1 cup) serving in comparison to 3g for the unsweetened.

Hemp milk is a good nut-free alternative that has a creamy texture with a nutty, earthy flavor and offers a nice balance of omega 6 and omega 3 healthy fats.

5. Oat Milk

Oatly super basic oat milk and Elmhurst milked Oat milk with only 3 ingredients.

Oat milk is usually low in protein (around 1g per serving) and often contains added oils, sugar, and phosphate additives. For these reasons, I often don’t recommend oat milk. There are a couple of exceptions, however.

Oatly came out with a Super Basic version containing just water, oats, sea salt, and citrus fiber. No additives, oils or sugar, but it does contain natural sugar from the processing of the oats. It contains 3g of protein per 240ml (1 cup) and has a sweeter flavor than some of the other plant-based milks.

Elmhurst* is another brand of oat milk that only contains 3 ingredients (water, oats, salt) and 3g protein per serving. Although oat milk is not really high in protein, these brands offer a middle-ground option if you happen to love oat milk. Note these milks are also not fortified.

6. Almond Milk?

higher protein almond milks: Clifia Farms, Three trees, Elmhurst. Veg Out With Maria

Most almond milk – along with macadamia, rice, and coconut milk – are low in protein (0-1g per 1 cup serving). This is because they contain mostly water. I found some good exceptions, however, with great ingredients that you can feel good about.

Califia Farms makes a 3 ingredient unsweetened almond milk that contains 3g of protein per 240ml (8 oz cup). Three Trees almond milk contains only almonds and water with 4g protein per cup.

Elmhurst* is the top pick with 5g of protein per 1 cup serving and only two ingredients (water, almonds). Not bad for an almond milk! They also make cashew and walnut milk containing 3g of protein per serving.

Summary

Plant-based milk alternatives can vary in protein content depending on the source and brand, but we covered a few high-protein options that make my top picks! Soy and pea milk are naturally the highest in protein with certain flax, hemp, oat, and almond milk varieties offering a decent amount as well.

Who wants cow’s milk when you can have a healthy, cholesterol-free, lactose and casein-free option? Many plant-based milks have added calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin E in addition to offering anti-inflammatory beneficial nutrients such as isoflavones (soy) and omega-3s (flax and hemp).

Another great thing about plant-based milk is that it comes in a wide range of flavors and varieties, catering to various dietary preferences, allergies, and taste preferences.

Overall, high-protein plant-based milk offers a versatile and nutritious alternative to cow’s milk. Whether you add it to your cereal, oats, smoothies, creamy sauces, or use it in baking, these plant-based milks are a convenient source of additional protein.

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