Milk alternatives have grown in popularity. A trip to the “milk” section of your local grocery store will make that clear.
And while cow’s milk boasts an impressive nutrient profile by being rich in protein and important vitamins and minerals, including calcium, phosphorus and B vitamins. Cow’s milk is not a suitable choice for everyone. There are several reasons why an alternative may be a good choice. These include milk allergies, lactose intolerance, dietary restrictions, and other potential health risks.
The good news is that there are many milk alternatives available. Now let’s get informed on the four that are the easiest to find .
Soy milk is made with either soybeans or soy protein isolate. Often it has thickeners and vegetable oils to improve taste and consistency. It typically has a mild and creamy flavor which can vary between brands. And while its mild flavor compliments most dishes, it doesn’t respond well to heat. This is why oat and almond alternatives are favored in coffee shops.
In terms of nutrition, soy milk is the closest alternative for cow’s milk. It is also one of the few plant-based sources of high-quality protein, which has all the essential amino acids. These are the amino acids that cannot be produced by the body and must be obtained from the diet.
Almond milk is made with either whole almonds or almond butter and water and has a light texture and a slightly sweet and nutty flavor. It can be added to coffee and tea, mixed in smoothies and used as a substitute for cow’s milk in desserts and baked goods.
It is one of the lowest-calorie nondairy milks available. A great choice for those looking to lower the number of calories they’re consuming. What’s more, almond milk is a natural source of vitamin E, a group of antioxidants that help protect the body from free radicals.
On the other hand, almond milk is a much less concentrated source of the nutrients found in whole almonds. This is because almond milk is made up of mostly water. In fact, many brands have only 2% almonds. These are often blanched with the skin removed, which reduces the fiber, protein, vitamin, and mineral content. To make the most of the nutrients and health benefits of almonds, choose brands of almond milk that have a higher content of almonds, around 7–15%.
Coconut milk is made from water and the white flesh of brown coconuts. Sold in cartons alongside milk and it is a more diluted version of the type of coconut milk that is usually sold in cans. Coconut milk has a creamy texture and a sweet but subtle coconut flavor.
It has the lowest protein and carbohydrate content of the milk alternatives. While it may not be the best choice for those who need more protein, but it would suit those looking to reduce their carb intake.
What’s more, around 90% of the calories from coconut milk come from specific saturated fats. Some believe these “good” fats may help reduce appetite, aid with weight loss, and improve blood cholesterol levels more than other fats.
Oat milk is made from a mixture of oats and water. But manufacturers often add extra ingredients such as gums, oils and salt to produce a desirable taste and texture. It is sweet and mild in flavor. It can be used in cooking in the same way as cow’s milk and tastes great with cereal or in smoothies.
Interestingly, oat milk is high in total fiber and beta-glucan. This is a type of soluble fiber that forms a thick gel as it passes through the gut. The gel then binds to cholesterol, reducing its absorption in the body. This helps lower cholesterol levels associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
Oat milk is also fairly inexpensive, and it can even be made at home to help minimize the exposure to any extra ingredients.
What to Consider When Substituting
With a wide range of milk alternatives available on grocery store shelves, it can be difficult to know which one is best for you. Here are a few important things to consider: added sugars, calcium content, added vitamin B12, unnecessary additives, and you overall dietary needs.
The Bottom Line
For many people, cow’s milk is a staple. However, there are reasons you may need or want to leave cow’s milk in the grocery store.
Fortunately, there are many great alternatives available, including the list above. When making your choice, try to stick with a choice that has the least unnecessary additives and sugars. But, do be sure that the alternative you chose is fortified with as many nutrients as possible to help maintain a healthy diet.
There is not one milk that’s ideal for everyone. Taste, nutrition, convenience, and cost of milk alternatives can vary considerably, so be sure to take your time and find the one that’s best for you.