It’s wonderful that we have so many milk substitutes. And
non-dairy milk offers a lot of benefits! But there are a few problems
to watch out for.
Other than soy milk, many of the other plant-based milks
have a common issue. To save money, manufacturers often skimp on the
“base” product and use thickeners to keep the result from being overly watery. Then,
they add “natural flavors,” synthetic vitamins, and sugar.
When choosing milk substitutes, remember that not all
products are created equal. Things like the nutrition profile, ingredients,
environmental impact, added sugars, and best uses differ significantly between
varieties, as you shall soon see.
1) Soy Milk
Soy milk offers one of the biggest protein bangs
for your buck, coming in at seven to 12 grams per cup. Some brands use
highly processed soy protein isolate to achieve this, while others use whole
soybeans. I prefer less processed foods, so favor the brands made from whole
Soy milk is also often fortified with calcium and vitamin
B12. Current research indicates that soy isoflavones lower cancer risk.
How to use it? Soy is great for baking, cooking, or drinking
Note: If you want to avoid glyphosate contamination or GMOs
foods, make sure to go organic with all soy products.
2) Almond Milk
Almond milk has less than a gram of protein per cup, but it
boasts 50% more calcium than a cup of cow milk. Almonds are rich
in vitamin E, an antioxidant good for your brain, blood, and skin.
Many commercial almond milks are pretty watery, only
containing around 2% almonds, so I prefer making my own.
And it’s great in smoothies!
Some people have raised concerns about the amount of
water it takes to grow almonds. And this is a real concern, especially
because water-stressed California grows most of the world’s almonds. It takes about 920 gallons of water to make one gallon of
almond milk. That’s more than other varieties of non-dairy milks — but still,
it’s no more than it takes to produce cow milk.
3) Cashew Milk
Cashew milk has unsaturated fats that are good for
your heart, as well as anacardic acid, which may have anti-cancer
effects. Cashews also contain lutein and zeaxanthin which benefit your
Cashew milk is creamy and makes a great base for soups,
sauces, and oatmeal. Cashews use fewer resources than almonds and are grown in areas that are less stressed for water.
4) Coconut Milk
Coconut milk in a carton is a watered down beverage,
different from the thick cream you find in cans for making many Asian dishes.
While coconut milk is rich in saturated fat, these are
mostly medium chain triglycerides, which have mixed evidence
when it comes to impacts on heart health.
Coconut milk contains very little protein.
As for the environmental impact, coconuts can sequester carbon in soil, which is a
very good thing. They don’t require much water, but for many of us, they may
have to be transported from far-away tropical places.
5) Hemp Milk
Hemp milk has a buttery, nutty flavor.
Hemp naturally contains calcium, so it doesn’t require the
fortification that other milk substitutes might. However, many commercial
varieties contain added thickeners and flavoring agents.
Hemp is fast-growing, resistant to many diseases, and needs little water.
Hemp milk doesn’t fare so well in coffee, but it can be used in cooking,
baking, over cereal, or in smoothies.
6) Quinoa Milk
Quinoa offers more protein
and fiber than most other grains, is naturally gluten-free,
and contains all the essential amino acids.
It’s also rich in iron,
magnesium, and zinc.
Milk made from quinoa has a distinct flavor and is a bit
nutty — good for cereal and warm oatmeal. It doesn’t have a whole lot of quinoa
in it, however, so the nutritional value it provides is limited,
and it usually comes with thickeners, sweeteners, and flavors.
7) Oat Milk
It can be difficult to find low-sugar oat milk.
Many brands use gums and oils to enhance texture.
Oats are high in soluble fiber like beta-glucan, which benefits blood
sugar, as well as digestive and heart health.
Oat milk froths well and makes a nice latte, and it works well in both sweet
and savory dishes.
8) Rice Milk
One of the original milk substitutes, rice milk is
non-allergenic, but it doesn’t offer much in the way of nutrients.
Some brands contain a lot of sugar, and rice has a high glycemic index. Rice is also at risk for
Rice milk is thin, so you may need thickeners if using in recipes.
9) Pea Milk
This one sounds strange, but don’t worry, the milk isn’t
green like peas.
Pea milk contains a comparable amount of protein to
soy, though isolated pea protein is used to create a non-pea flavor. It has a slight
aftertaste, and some pea milks have added oils.
Pea milk has a third of the saturated fat and 50%
more calcium than cow’s milk.
It’s also more eco-friendly, as peas use little water or
fertilizer compared to almonds, dairy, or soy.
10) Flax Milk
A new kid on the block, flax milk is made by mixing
Omega-3-rich, cold-pressed flaxseed oil with water.
It’s free from the top eight allergens for those who
cannot consume lactose, soy, or nuts.
The downside is that flax milk naturally contains no
protein and has poor flavor (so it’s usually sold with a lot of
natural flavors added).
If you find a protein-rich variety, it’s because of the
addition of pea protein. Flax milk can work well for cereal, baking, or adding
to your coffee and tea. But it’s really just flax oil, water, and the addition
of thickeners, flavorings, or proteins. I love flaxseeds,
but the commercial flax milk offerings on the market so far have not impressed
3 Ingredients to Watch Out for When Choosing a Milk
Though some brands take a minimalistic approach, many
commercial varieties use more ingredients than you may like. Below are some you
might want to avoid:
Cane Sugar — Many milk
substitutes contain added sugar, and it’s often the second listed
ingredient (ingredients are listed in the order of most to least amounts in a product). To
avoid upwards of six grams of sugar per cup, choose unsweetened.
Carrageenan — Carrageenan is derived from
red seaweed and added to foods like yogurt, soymilk, and ice cream to
thicken them and prevent separation. Some studies have linkedcarrageenan to inflammation, gut
irritation, and even cancer. Some brands have started removing this
ingredient per consumer request, but many still use it.
GMOs — Most genetically engineered foods
have been created by Monsanto (now Bayer) to withstand Roundup, a
widely-used glyphosate-based herbicide they manufacture. Glyphosate
is a probable human carcinogen. And it’s not just used on GMO
crops, like soy. It’s also increasingly being
used as a desiccant on non-organic oats, barley, and other cereals to dry
the crop out before harvest. The good news is that foods grown organically
are GMO and glyphosate-free.
Note: Choose certified organic non-dairy milks to
ensure that you’re not getting a dose of unwanted chemicals or GMOs.
How to Use (and Make!) Non-Dairy Milk
Instead of buying milk substitutes at the store, you can
also make your own plant milk. It will contain far fewer ingredients than many
store-bought varieties. And it will be free from additives, like oil and
How do you make non-dairy milk?
The process involves soaking, draining, blending with water
(and flavorings or sweeteners), and straining out the solids through a
cheesecloth or nut milk bag.
Homemade milks will stay fresh in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.
You can also get a useful machine to make the process
even easier. The Almond Cow is a plant-based milk maker that allows
you to create milk from any nut, seed, or grain in minutes with easier cleanup
and no nut milk bags required. The machine uses a cold blending process to
protect the nutrients, so no heat is applied. You can check it out here. (Use the code FOODREVOLUTION for
a special discount.)
You can use milk substitutes in place of anything you
would make or eat using dairy. That includes creamer for coffee,
buttermilk (by mixing with some lemon juice) in recipes, in cereal, and even to
add creaminess to soups and sauces.
Though very versatile, milk substitutes should never replace
breastmilk (or infant formula).
These products are not designed to sustain a developing
baby, and they should only be introducedafter
one year along with other solid foods. (You should never use cow milk as a
replacement for breastmilk or infant formula. The nutritional needs of human
babies and cow babies are profoundly different.)
The Future of Milk Is Plants
The consumer marketplace is changing fast, so much so that
plants are replacing the fading dairy industry. The option to buy milk
substitutes could save billions of animals, help save our planet, and greatly
benefit your health.
All you need to do is pay attention to a few details when
choosing the right milk for your household — or make your own — and you’ve got
a great alternative.
Cruelty-free, earth-friendly, and nutritious milk made with
the help of Mother Nature herself? I can’t think of a better way to replace