The first order of business when beginning a keto diet is to identify high-carb foods and eliminate them from your life. This is easy at first (bread, gone, mashed potatoes, also gone), but as you narrow down your macros and get more precise, everything falls under scrutiny, including milk. Many keto recipes call for heavy cream, but is that the same as drinking full-fat milk? And what about the carb count of skim milk? We have the nutritional details on dairy and non-dairy milk products so you can decide which of them works best for you.
Unless you have a lactose tolerance or are keeping a vegan keto diet, plenty of dairy products are welcome on keto. Whether you’re consuming grass-fed butter, ghee, cream cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, or sour cream, you’re getting keto-friendly healthy fats and protein. In fact, heavy cream is part of many keto recipes and sauces, and even safe for ordering a keto coffee at Starbucks.
What makes heavy cream different from skim or 2% or full-fat milk? The difference is the percentage of butterfat in cow’s milk products.
Butter itself is about 80% butterfat.
Buttermilk (like Greek yogurt) is a fermented dairy product that traditionally was made up of the liquid leftover after churning butter from cultured cream. Its butterfat percentage depends on the kind of cream used to make it (buttermilk can come in whole, 2%, and skim versions as well). Half-and-half is made up of half light cream and half whole milk with about 12% butterfat content overall.
That answers some questions about the differences between dairy products, but what about their carb content when it comes to keto?
Short answer: you can drink milk on keto, but it is not keto-approved. It’s all about the sugar and carb intake. Lactose is the sugar content of milk, and the amount of lactose in each product changes its net carbs.
Let’s take a look at that list of dairy products one more time, this time focusing on carb content (based on one liquid cup of each at about 240 ml, or 8 fluid ounces).
It’s basically an inverse of the amount of butterfat: the more fat content in a milk product, the less sugar and the more suitable it is for keeping you in ketosis. Skim milk is not keto, but heavy cream is (in moderation).
That leaves us with another question to answer: what about non-dairy milk options?
Keto is a high-fat, low-carb diet designed to switch your body from relying on glucose (sugar) for fuel to using ketones (from fat) instead. That description makes it clear that keto dieters should be consuming high-fat and/or low-carb foods.
Still, if you don’t like black coffee drinks or you need some kind of milk-type liquid for your overnight oats or chia seed pudding, here are the ratios of fat-to-carbs in dairy-free milk alternatives.
Almond milk is a nut milk made by blending almonds and water, then straining out the solids (or by combining almond butter with water until it’s smooth enough to pour). Its creamy texture is similar to that of milk, and its lack of dairy makes it suitable for those who are lactose intolerant (though not, of course, for those with nut allergies).
The above numbers are based on unsweetened almond milk, so be sure to check the nutrition label of sweetened or flavored milks to make sure there are no artificial sweeteners—natural sweeteners like stevia or erythritol would be suitable for keto drinks, but the added sugars in Blue Diamond Almond Breeze Vanilla flavor jump the carb count to 14 grams for the same fat content as the unsweetened vanilla version.
Soy milk or soya milk is made by soaking soybeans, then grinding and boiling them, and then straining out any remaining solid particles. It’s a natural byproduct of processing tofu and provides protein content similar to milk without the lactose content.
Again, the sugar-free version is better for keto, as Silk Vanilla Soymilk has 3.5 grams of fat and 12 grams of carbs compared to the unsweetened organic version thanks to added sugars.
Coconut milk along with coconut oil and concentrated MCT oil are keto diet plan staples, used frequently in keto coffee and for intermittent fasting. Full of natural fats perfect for meeting your keto macronutrient goals, coconut milk is the liquid extracted from the shredded pulp of mature coconuts.
Once more, there is a disparity between unsweetened and Original So Delicious Coconut Milk, the difference between 2 grams of carbs per cup and 8 grams. Just keep that in mind when you meal plan and write down your food list for the grocery store.
Cashew milk is another nut milk just like almond milk, with a similar fat-to-carb ratio in unsweetened versions. It’s also pretty easy to make at home according to these instructions from Traci at Vanilla and Bean, in case you want to know exactly what goes into your milk alternative as you pursue your health and weight-loss goals.
Hemp milk is made from hemp seeds soaked with water, then strained. It is soy-, gluten-, and lactose-free, and as a seed milk it’s also safe for those with nut allergies. Hemp milk is full of essential fatty acids that so many of us don’t get the proper ratio of in the modern world—drinking hemp milk is an easy way to consume more seed nutrients.
Unsweetened hemp milk vs. Pacific Foods Original formula is once more a pretty stark distinction, with a difference of 1 gram of carbs and a whopping 19 grams. If you’re looking for the closest beverage possible to a zero-carb milk alternative, always choose unsweetened.
So a cup of whole milk is not suited to a keto diet, but other dairy products are still allowed and encouraged, and if you’re looking for something to make a keto-friendly latte, there are plenty of milk alternatives that are allergen- and sugar-free. You’ll find the most health benefits for the lowest carb content in unsweetened milk alternatives, and with so many varieties available, you’re free to whip up smoothies and enjoy your coffee break each day without worry.