There are a few different ways to make an iced coffee drink for yourself. If you're looking for something relatively low calorie and low on sugar, we've covered a handful of different methods you can use over here.
One issue many people encounter is that even a standard iced coffee can have a lot of sugar in it, and that's even if you're leaving out the actual sugar. The problem? Milk. Whole milk has 100 calories in a single cup, between the milk fat, proteins, and lactose sugars.
When you're looking for a healthy beverage to start the day, you've probably heard coffee can do wonders, but that's usually just about straight black coffee. Drinking iced coffee can be fine, but loading it up with whole milk is a sure-fire way to load up on calories. If you're trying to lose weight, that's not going to help.
The usual go-to solution to this problem is using a milk alternative. These days, there are a ton of them on the market, made out of all manner of plant-based ingredients you probably didn't even realize could produce milk. Indeed, "milk" is more about the color and texture than about the substance of the beverage, these days.
Two of the biggest milk substitutes you typically find for coffee are oat milk and almond milk. We'll talk about both of them, as well as about several of the other alternatives you might find.
The Milk Controversy
One thing to briefly touch upon before we dig in is the controversy over the term "milk" itself. All of these milk alternatives are not, in fact, milk. What we usually think of as milk is cow's milk, and the other milk you'll probably encounter in your life is human milk, fed to babies. We as a species consume a variety of other kinds of milk as well; goat milk and buffalo milk are often used for various dairy products, though we don't often drink them straight.
There's a significant lobby in the food industry to restrict the definition of what can be called "milk" to just animal milk, or even just cow milk. The milk industry doesn't want to dilute the term. Meanwhile, proponents of plant-based milk want to make it clear that these are milk alternatives.
What it all comes down to is where you stand on what milk is. Is the essence of milk a white-ish beverage you drink and add to other beverage mixtures? Or is it specifically a fat/protein/sugar-filled animal product? Bakers, for example, might not be able to use milk alternatives in many recipes simply because of the chemistry involved. On the other hand, if you never have the need to cook with it, any milk is fine as long as you like how it tastes.
We're not going to litigate this discussion, we're just bringing it a little closer to the public consciousness. If you have a strong opinion, feel free to discuss it in the comments, or bring it to your local legislators or send messages to the FDA. One way or another, the discussion will be put to rest eventually.
Now let's talk about the many milk alternatives you might decide to use in your coffee. We'll start with the two in the title – oat and almond – but continue on through many of the other options.
First up, we have oat milk. Oat milk is, at its most basic, just a mixture of oats and water. If you've ever soaked oats overnight, the liquid that is left over after the oats have absorbed most of it is the base of what oat milk is. However, commercial oat milk products often have a few additives, such as gums and salt, to give it the precise flavor and texture you associate with rich, hearty milk. The resulting beverage is sweet and milky, fairly similar to milk, though it lacks a certain rich punch that you get from the fat in whole milk.
A cup of oat milk is higher in calories than whole milk, at around 140-170 calories depending on the brand. The issue here is that the primary substance of oat milk is made up of two things: carbohydrates and fiber. Fiber is good! In fact, oat milk is high in beta-glucan, a type of dietary fiber that is very good for the gut. On the other hand, carbohydrates are typically less good.
Luckily, oat milk is generally healthy. Even though it's higher in calories than whole milk, it's lower in sugar, and it has a beneficial effect on LDL cholesterol. That beta-glucan binds to cholesterol before it can enter your bloodstream.
Most plant-based milk is essentially just a mixture of an extract, butter, or powder of a plant, and water. Almond milk is no exception. The beverage is generally made with almond butter and water, but may just be made with whole almonds as well. This gives different brands a range of different compositions, textures, and flavors.
Almond milk is very low calorie. A cup of almond milk is only about 30-35 calories (assuming no additives, like sweeteners or chocolate), and it's low in fat and carbohydrates.
Almonds are a great food to eat, but unfortunately, almond milk is mostly water. You still get a lot of vitamin E from it, which is a beneficial antioxidant and a powerful nutrient for your body. Most of the rest of the nutrients found in almonds are only in trace amounts in almond milk.
That's not to say you can't get fortified almond milk, but at that point, you're looking at a more engineered beverage, which has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Almond milk has one primary advantage, which is that it's extremely easy to find. Most stores that carry milk will also carry soy and almond milk, while oat milk might be more difficult to locate.
Flavor-wise, almond milk gives a hint of almond to everything. If you're a fan of the flavor, it's great! Almond milk added to coffee gives it a bit of richness you don't otherwise get. You can also use it as a component in a mixed beverage with an Almond Joy flavor profile, without the calories of the candy bar.
If you've ever made rice at home, you've probably had to rinse it. You might think "ah, so this is what rice milk is" when you drain off that white liquid, but in fact, that's not correct. Rice milk takes the whole rice grain and mills it down into a powder and mixes that with water and a few additives to thicken it and give it the right texture.
Rice milk is mild and slightly sweet, but largely neutral. This makes it good base milk. It is, however, somewhat comparable to oat milk; 120-130 calories per cup. It's higher in carbohydrates than cow's milk but lower in protein and fat. In fact, rice milk is probably among the worst milk substitutes for anyone trying to go keto or fighting diabetes; it's very high on the glycemic index.
Why do people drink rice milk, then? The main reason is biological. Many milk alternatives are nut-based, and some people have nut allergies. Rice milk is as close to hypoallergenic as you can get.
Soy milk is probably the first alternative milk to hit the market and is one of the most common alternatives. It's made with soybeans, though some brands use soy protein isolate instead of the whole bean, and as with most milk alternatives, it may have thickeners added as well.
Soy milk is slightly lower in calories than cow's milk, but still higher than almond milk, at around 80-90 calories per cup. It is, however, low in carbohydrates, and higher in protein than most other milk alternatives. This makes it closer to "real" milk than many of the other options on the market.
Soy is important because it's a nutritionally complete protein, meaning it gives you the amino acids your body wants from protein. Many other kinds of milk don't have this kind of protein and don't adequately fuel your body.
Some people are wary of soy milk because it contains a chemical called phytoestrogen, which is "plant estrogen". People think this is similar to the hormone estrogen, and that consuming it will affect your body, in extreme cases even leading to gender dysphoria or biological problems.
The truth is, this is all false. There's zero evidence to suggest that consuming large amounts of soy affects your hormones. It's mostly a grift made up by people who want to sell their own supplements in the soy space. Soy milk is a fine alternative to normal milk, and there's no reason to worry about the chemicals it contains.
Coconut milk is a very old and very delicious beverage, made from the water and flesh inside a coconut. It's very creamy and rich, and has a very strong flavor, while still only having around 45 calories per cup. Many people love coconut milk, or coconut in the form of MCTs (Medium Chain Triglycerides), a popular keto supplement.
Coconut milk is fine for a lot of people, but it can also be too strong for some. It's very much a love or hate milk replacement, and depends entirely on whether or not you like the taste.
Other Milk Alternatives
Believe it or not, we've only scratched the surface here. There are tons of milk alternatives on the market. Here's a rundown of some you might see:
- Cashew Milk: Similar to almond milk, but even lower in calories, and richer. 25 calories per cup.
- Hemp Milk: Great for vegans, this milk has complete proteins and moderate calories, around 60 per cup.
- Pea Milk: A newcomer to the milk alternative world, this milk is similar to soy milk in manufacturing, and has around 70 calories per cup.
- Other Nut Milk: There is still more alternative nut milk, including peanut, walnut, macadamia nut, pistachio, hazelnut, and even pecan milk. These are rare and harder to find, though.
- Banana Milk: Rich, creamy, and very sweet (due to high sugar content), banana milk is nut-free and 60 calories per cup.
If none of the traditional milk alternatives work well for you, feel free to investigate some of these alternatives. Frankly, though, you're probably fine going with one of the big types, unless you have special dietary conditions like allergies to consider.
Which Option is Healthiest?
First, let's discuss what the healthiest option is between the two primary milk alternatives we mentioned in the title. Almond milk and oat milk, head to head. Which is better?
Almond milk is dramatically lower in calories than oat milk. It's much lower in nutrients, though. So, which option is healthier depends largely on your goal.
If you're using iced coffee as a way to suppress your appetite and lose weight, we recommend two things. First, use a fortified coffee (like our skinny iced coffee powder) to give you plenty of useful nutrients while suppressing your appetite. Second, use something like almond milk as a mix-in and liquid. This gives you more flavor without loading you up on calories.
On the other hand, if you're looking for a beverage that operates as a meal replacement shake, you'll want something with some bulk to it. Oat milk is the better of the two for that scenario; you still need some amount of calories, even if you're trying to lose weight. After all, you don't want to send your body into famine mode, where it packs on weight under the assumption you'll need it to survive!
If you consider the other kinds of milk on the market, you're given a lot of choices. Soy milk is good for neutral, plant-based milk with low calories. Coconut milk is great for low-calorie milk with a strong flavor, but only if you like that flavor. Other kinds of milk can vary wildly.
Now it's your turn. Have you tried out our skinny iced coffee? If so, what did you make it with? What's your favorite milk substitute to use? Let us know in the comments!