When it comes to the keto diet, dairy is a tricky category. The focus of the keto diet is to get you into ketosis, and that's only attainable if you're following a low-carb, high-fat, moderate-protein diet, and unfortunately (if you love carbs), that means limiting your carb intake significantly.
And, while cheese is encouraged on the keto diet as it's pretty low-carb and high-fat, milk is higher in carbs and lower in fat. So, the question is, can you drink milk on the keto diet?
Can I drink milk on the keto diet?
The short answer is no because if you're sticking to the restrictive carb limit of fewer than 50 grams of carbs a day, it's probably not in your best interest to drink dairy milk, as 1 cup of whole milk has about 12 grams of carbohydrates. That being said, if you do opt for a glass of dairy milk, whole milk is your best option, as skim milk and low-fat milk have a lower fat content with the same amount of carbs, making it even less effective while on keto.
Low-carb alternative milks.
An excellent option for those craving a cup of milk who don't want to use their carbs is to give these unsweetened low-carb milk alternatives a try:
- Macadamia milk: 1 gram of carbs/cup
- Hemp milk: 1.3 grams of carbs/cup
- Soy milk: 1.6 grams of carbs/cup
- Almond milk: 1.99 grams of carbs/cup
- Flax milk: 2 grams of carbs/cup
- Coconut milk: 3.38 grams of carbs/cup
- Oat milk: 9 grams of carbs/cup
If you're nuts about nuts, you're in luck. Unsweetened macadamia milk has only 1 gram of carbs per cup and 5 grams of fat. The smooth, slightly sweet taste of the macadamia milk makes it a perfect addition to cereal, smoothies, or lattes. Fortunately, some other nut-based milks including unsweetened cashew milk and unsweetened hazelnut milk are also 1 gram of carbs per cup, so feel free to experiment with these other tasty nut-based options.
Unsweetened hemp milk is perhaps a less popular alternative than almond and oat milk but should not be overlooked especially for those on keto. One cup of unsweetened hemp milk contains about 1.3 grams of carbs and 7.3 grams of fat compared to sweetened hemp milk, which contains about 7.2 grams of carbohydrates. So, unsweetened hemp milk goes a long way and keeps the carbs to a minimum.
Unsweetened soy milk is another low-carb option that gets the green light for those on keto. One cup of unsweetened soy milk contains 1.6 grams of carbohydrates and 1.7 grams of fat, so it's a little lighter on the fat but extremely low-carb, making it a great option. You'll want to be wary of sweetened soy milk as 1 cup contains about 12 grams of carbohydrates (the same as whole milk) and 3.5 grams of fat. As with the other alternatives, you'll want to determine how much of your carb limit you want to allocate to milk alternatives.
Unsweetened almond milk is a great option for those on keto as 1 cup of almond milk has only 1.99 grams of carbs, so you're getting way more milk for fewer carbs. You'll want to be careful with sweetened versus unsweetened options as sweetened almond milk contains about 13.18 grams of carbs per cup. Either way, there are many delicious almond milk brands out there and tons of ways to use them—smoothies, chia puddings, and oatmeal, so get creative.
Perhaps you've had flaxseeds on top of your acai bowl or in a smoothie, but how about flax milk? This milk alternative is new to the scene and so far has been a hit in the mbg office. Besides being eco-friendly and high in omega-3 fatty acids, this milk is a great option for those on keto. One cup of unsweetened flax milk contains 2 grams of carbohydrates and 3.5 grams of fat. It's worth giving this new alternative a try and seeing for yourself if it's worth the hype.
Coconut milk is a delicious alternative, but you'll want to be sure that you're grabbing an unsweetened product if you're looking for the least amount of carbs possible. One cup of sweetened coconut milk is about 6.66 grams compared to 1 cup of unsweetened, which has 3.38 grams of carbs. A cup of unsweetened coconut milk contains 11.86 grams of fat, so you're adding to the keto cause.
It's all the craze, so we're not surprised it made this list too. Besides being incredibly tasty and the perfect addition to a latte, 1 cup of unsweetened oat milk is 9 grams of carbohydrates and 7 grams of fat, so it's a little higher up there than some of the other options, but if you can't go without it, it's possible to include it in your carb count for the day. If you do choose sweetened oat milk, you'll want to be aware that a cup of sweetened almond milk contains about 24 grams of carbohydrates.
What types of milk or milk alternatives should I avoid on keto?
To make the most out of your carb limit for the day, you'll want to avoid whole, skim, low-fat, and Lactaid milk (milk without the lactose for those who are lactose intolerant) as they all contain 12 grams of carbs per cup, which is higher than milk alternatives.
If none of the alternatives are doing the trick, go for a cup of whole milk because while it has the same carb count as the other dairy options, it is the highest in fat, so you'll at least contribute to your high-fat quota for the day.
- Lactaid milk: 12 grams of carbs/cup
- Whole milk: 12 grams of carbs/cup
- Skim milk: 12 grams of carbs/cup
- Low-fat milk: 12 grams of carbs/cup
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Caroline Muggia has a B.A. in Environmental Studies & Psychology from Middlebury College. She received her E-RYT with Yoga Works and is a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. A writer and environmental advocate, she is passionate about helping people live healthier and more sustainable lives. You can usually find her drinking matcha or spending time by the ocean.