It is common for people to replace cow’s milk with a plant-based option. However, more and more options are available in the supermarket, so I thought today I’d share my personal take on two of the most popular and long-standing options: Soy milk and coconut milk.
Coconut milk and soy milk have a lot of similarities, and a LOT of differences – and it’s important to make sure you’re getting the right stuff for you. I’ll cover all the details to help you decide what makes the most sense for you.
Comparing soy milk vs coconut milk
Soy milk and coconut milk offer different nutritional values and features. First, let’s talk about the nutritional information for each – summarized in the table below:
|Per cup||Soy Milk||Coconut Milk|
|Total Sugars (g)||1||<1|
|Saturated fat (g)||0.5||4|
Let’s caveat here that nutrition information will vary widely for different brands and formulations (e.g. sweetened vs. unsweetened). I chose to compare the unsweetened version of two popular brands (Silk for soy milk and So Delicious for coconut milk).
In the grand scheme of daily diets, soy milk and coconut milk are reasonably similar nutritionally speaking, but soy milk provides more calories based on containing more protein and fiber.
Now, let’s talk a little about diets and allergens for both milks.
|Dietary Approach||Soy Milk||Coconut Milk|
|Allergens||Yes||Yes (tree nuts)|
|Gluten-free||Yes (depending on manufacturing processes)||Yes (depending on manufacturing processes)|
Both options are suitable for a person following a vegan lifestyle. However, since protein can be a little bit of a struggle once you’ve cut out all meat, soy might be a slightly better option.
Both coconut milk and soy milk are keto-friendly with one net carb each (two of soy milk’s three carbohydrate grams come from the aforementioned fiber) and are lactose-free.
Finally, both are made from gluten-free ingredients. However, during manufacturing, they might contain additives that are not gluten-free. Read the nutritional label thoroughly and check for any gluten-free certifications. (A friend of mine has already done the hard work for coconut milk, so you can just follow her recommendations to save time.)
Key differences between soy milk vs. coconut milk
- Soy is higher in protein
One of the biggest differences between soy milk, and coconut milk is the protein content. While coconut milk’s protein rounds to zero, soy milk has 7 grams per cup!
Soy is considered a high-quality protein since it contains all the essential amino acids your body needs, unlike other plant-based options like rice protein.
Thus, for people following a plant-based approach, drinking soy milk can help them reach their protein requirements.
- Coconut milk might promote weight loss
Coconut milk has MCT oil (medium-chain triglycerides), which can have some weight loss properties.
For example, a study showed that those who consume MCTs over LCT (long-chain triglycerides) had greater fat-burning properties resulting in a one-kilogram loss compared to only 600 g with the LCTs.
But I’ll leave this to the doctors and scientists to debate.
Depending on where you live, where you shop, and any special promotions, the two cow’s milk alternatives can vary in price. For those on a tight budget, it can save money to watch out for deals and be willing to switch between the two.
Ingredients in soy milk vs coconut milk
At their core, soy milk and coconut milk use soy and coconut, respectively, at their base. Of course, the specific ingredients added beyond that will differ by brand. (One of many reasons I prefer making my own coconut milk – that way I know exactly what’s in it!)
In both cases, you’ll probably find both a sweetened and an unsweetened version. Generally I favor the unsweetened because you can then sweeten it to your own specs – plus, again, you’ll know exactly what you’re putting in your body.
Other additives like carrageen, lecithin, flavors, vitamins, and various minerals frequently get added. Like I said, always best to check the label.
Soy milk vs coconut milk taste
Soy milk and coconut milk also differ in taste.
Soy milk has a sweeter, creamy, and more mild taste. On the other hand, coconut milk has a richer flavor and a much heavier mouthfeel. It has some sweet notes with a nutty aftertaste.
If you want to replace milk with a plant-based option, coconut milk will generally provide a more similar consistency than soy milk.
Cooking with soy milk vs. coconut milk
The milk you use depends on the food you are cooking and what you want to achieve.
For example, since soy milk has a higher protein content, it might be a better option for baking and can be used pretty effectively as a cow’s milk substitute for general cooking.
If you want a richer option for smoothies, shakes, soups, or sauces, coconut milk is better. Note that in most cooking recipes, though, canned coconut milk is better vs. ready-to-drink carton coconut milk.
Yes, you can substitute soy milk for coconut milk. However, keep in mind that they have different nutritional values and properties. While you can replace them in smoothies or drinks. They are not interchangeable in recipes.
It’s really close. For the brands I compared, soy milk had 4 grams of fat while coconut milk had 4.5 grams of fat.
Soy milk has more calories than coconut milk, 80 calories per cup vs. 45 calories per cup.
You can drink soy milk every day. It provides you with high-quality protein, so it can make it easier to reach your protein goals. However, if you drink too much soy milk (more than 2-3 glasses per day) it might lead to stomach problems, diarrhea, and bloating.