The keto diet is an ever-popular lifestyle that many have turned to for weight loss and a slew of other health benefits. But when it comes to which foods are keto-friendly, some are more questionable than others. While dairy is certainly allowed on the diet, the key is to make sure it’s a low-carb dairy – since the keto diet operates around limiting your intake of carbohydrates.
When it comes to milk, most dairy milk simply has too many carbs (and too much sugar) to be considered keto-friendly. But that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck! Today, the grocery store shelves are stacked with a plethora of alternative milk options. From the popular go-tos like almond milk, oat milk, and coconut milk, to the more obscure choices like macadamia milk, pea milk, and hemp milk, there’s no shortage of non-dairy milks that you can enjoy any way you please.
The question is: which ones are keto-friendly, aka which milks are low-carb…and which of those is the best choice for someone on the keto diet? Let’s break it down so you know which milk to grab next time you’re strolling through that chilly aisle.
How the keto diet works
First, it’s important to understand how the diet itself is designed. The idea of the keto diet is to keep your body in a state of ketosis, which essentially means it will turn to its fat source to burn energy rather than the carbohydrates it’s stored up.
To achieve and maintain a ketogenic state, the keto diet focuses on a very limited carb intake (to help deplete the body’s supply), a very high fat intake (to be used for energy), and a moderate protein intake. Generally, most people need to keep their carb intake somewhere below 50 grams of net carbs per day to maintain ketosis.
Since it’s crucial to monitor how many carbs you’re consuming (as well as compensating with high amounts of healthy fats), most people on the keto diet pay attention to overall net carbs. Net carbs are calculated by subtracting a food’s fiber and sugar alcohol content from its total carb content.
Which milks are keto-friendly?
There are definitely milks that should be avoided on keto, and cow’s milk is a big one. Since one cup contains 12 grams of net carbs, it’s hard to fit a glass of milk or bowl of cereal within your daily carb limit. While heavy cream and half and half are lower-carb dairy choices, their net carbs are still much higher than other non-dairy options and they don’t make for the best milk substitutes due to their thick consistency – but they can work if you want to stick to something dairy-based.
However, if you avoid dairy, the low-carb options open up tremendously. There are tons of keto-friendly milks available – mostly of them nut milks or seed milks that contain 2 grams of carbs or less per serving. All of these low-carb options work well on a keto diet, so how do you know which one is best? It ultimately comes down to the overall composition of carbs, fat, and protein that will mirror what the keto diet aims for: low carb, high fat, moderate protein.
Here’s a full nutritional breakdown of keto-friendly milks on the market, considering the main factors: total carbs, total fat, protein, and overall net carbs (once fiber is accounted for). Keep in mind that these are all in reference to the unsweetened versions of each milk – since added sugar is a no-go for keto, and will only pack on more carbs.
|Per cup |
(237 ml/8 oz.)
|Total carbs||Total fat||Protein||Net Carbs|
|Almond Milk||1 g||2.5 g||1 g||1 g|
|Coconut Milk||2 g||4 g||0 g||1 g|
|Cashew Milk||1 g||2 g||1 g||2 g|
|Flax Milk||2 g||3.5 g||8 g||1 g|
|Hazelnut Milk||1 g||9 g||2 g||1 g|
|Hemp Milk||1 g||4.5 g||3 g||0 g|
|Macadamia Milk||1 g||5 g||1 g||0 g|
|Pea Milk||1 g||4.5 g||8 g||2 g|
|Pistachio Milk||3 g||3.5 g||2 g||2 g|
|Sesame Milk||2 g||5 g||8 g||1.5 g|
|Walnut Milk||1 g||11 g||3 g||1 g|
The final verdict: hemp milk
And the keto-friendly winner is…hemp milk! This seed milk not only boasts 0 grams of net carbs per serving – which is obviously ideal for those on a keto diet – but it’s also ideal when it comes to fat and protein content. With 4.5 grams of fat per serving, it offers a substantial amount of healthy fats while also containing a moderate amount of protein (3 grams per serving).
Made by soaking and grinding hemp seeds, which come from the cannabis sativa plant, hemp milk offers a balanced nutritional profile that doesn’t eat into someone’s carb count. And it comes with other benefits, too: it contains omega fatty acids that can help improve your skin and reduce inflammation, and it contains essential amino acids that reduce cholesterol levels and protect against heart disease. It’s also a good source of phosphorus and zinc, and rich in vitamins A, D, and B12.
That said, admittedly hemp milk is a newer, more obscure addition to the plant-based milk party, so it isn’t always the easiest to find. If you have a hard time getting your hands on it, there are several “runners-up” that also make for excellent keto-friendly milks: macadamia milk, walnut milk, and almond milk are all great low-carb, high-fat, moderate-protein choices. Just remember to avoid as many additives as possible, and stick to unsweetened!
Cow’s milk is generally not considered keto-friendly, since one 8-ounce serving comes with 12 grams of net carbs. While you could technically enjoy it once in a while or in small amounts depending on your carb intake, it contains too many carbs and sugars in one serving to be considered a keto-friendly food.
If you’re looking for an alternative to cow’s milk that’s still dairy-based, your best options will be either heavy cream or half and half. Heavy cream contains around 6 – 7 grams of net carbs per cup, while half and half contains 8 grams of net carbs per cup.
Many unsweetened plant-based and non-dairy milks have a low carbohydrate and sugar content. The milk choice with the fewest amount of carbs is hemp milk, which has 0 – 1 gram of carbs per serving.