Milk may not be considered a particularly sugary beverage – and it’s certainly no soda or sports drink. But various types of milk do tend to pack in a lot of sugar per serving, whether that sugar is natural or additive, and sometimes it can sneak up on you.
If you’re watching your sugar intake or just prefer to avoid it for any reason, this is definitely something to look out for when choosing your go-to type of milk at the grocery store. Most dairy milk includes a substantial amount of carbs and sugar by nature, and many plant-based milk alternatives are often sweetened with added sugar (some a lot more than you’d expect).
If you’re on the hunt for the milk that’s lowest in sugar, you actually have lots of options! You just need to know what to look for. Almond milk is the best choice for a naturally low-sugar milk, but there are plenty of other varieties of plant-based milk available that contain 0 grams of sugar per serving – the trick is to look for unsweetened.
The milks that are lowest in sugar will obviously be those that contain no sugar at all. Almond milk naturally has no sugar, so as long as you choose an unsweetened product this nut milk is a great choice for a milk alternative that’s naturally sugar free.
It’s also worth noting there’s one brand that actually makes a sugar-free cow’s milk, which is the first of its kind. Maple Hill Creamery’s Organic Zero Sugar Milk is an organic whole milk that uses a filtering process to remove the milk’s natural lactose, sugar, and carbohydrates, resulting in zero grams of sugar.
But luckily, with many unsweetened versions of various milk alternatives available, there are lots of products on the market that are sugar free. You just need to make sure the carton says unsweetened; otherwise the milk will either contain its natural sugars, or more often than not, be sweetened on top of that.
From unsweetened coconut milk, to oat milk, to sesame milk, there are a plethora of non-dairy, plant-based milk alternatives that come with both no natural sugar and no added sugar. Here’s a full list for unsweetened varieties to look out for next time you’re grocery shopping online or perusing the dairy aisle.
- Maple Hill Organic Zero Sugar Milk
- Unsweetened almond milk
- Unsweetened coconut milk
- Unsweetened almond-coconut milk
- Unsweetened cashew milk
- Unsweetened oat milk
- Unsweetened walnut milk
- Unsweetened macadamia milk
- Unsweetened hemp milk
- Unsweetened flax milk
- Unsweetened sesame milk
- Unsweetened pea milk
- Unsweetened sunflower seed milk
Milk and sugar: natural vs added
There are two different types of sugars to consider when it comes to milk. The first is the natural sugar found in dairy milk, which is called lactose. This is a naturally occurring sugar that makes up around 2% to 8% of milk content, which you’ll find in varying amounts in virtually every type of mammal milk – from cow’s milk to goat’s milk to sheep’s milk. However, these sugars aren’t necessarily all “bad”; they are simple sugars that come hand in hand with other nutrients and help provide the body with energy.
While dairy milk usually doesn’t contain added sugar, which is a good thing, these natural sugars typically amount to around 11 or 12 grams per serving. That’s true for all types of milk, regardless of its fat content – so whole milk, low-fat milk, and skim milk will typically call contain the same amount of naturally occurring sugar.
Plant-based milks on the other hand, whether the source is nut, seed, grain, or legume, can often contain both natural sugar and added sugar. Most plant-based milk will contain less natural sugar than dairy milk, but manufacturers often compensate by producing the milk with a significant amount of added sugars, which have no nutritional value. So if you want to avoid this, be sure to check the “added sugars” line on the nutritional label and pay special attention to the ingredient list.
Almond milk doesn’t contain any natural sugar, so this makes a great choice for a low-sugar milk. However, many unsweetened varieties of plant-based milk also contain zero grams of sugar per serving, including unsweetened coconut milk, oat milk, hemp milk, flax milk, cashew milk, and pea milk.
Cow’s milk typically contains around 12 grams of sugar per one-cup serving. This sugar is made up of lactose, the naturally occurring sugar found in dairy milk.
Skim milk does not typically have less sugar content than whole milk. The sugar content in dairy milk remains roughly the same amount, regardless of fat. So whether it’s whole milk, low-fat milk, or skim milk, most cow’s milk contains around 11 grams or 12 grams of sugar per serving.