Wondering if it’s time to swap your dairy?

The milk aisle might seem more crowded lately with lots of milk substitutes. A milk substitute is a liquid that replaces dairy. It is distinct from plant milk, which is used by those who want to avoid animal products for health or ethical reasons or because of taste preference.

According to the Food Allergy Initiative, allergy to cow’s milk is a common food allergy in infants and children.

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New products in the supermarkets

Soy and rice milk have been around for years, but “milk” made from nuts, seeds, grains, and coconut are gaining shelf space—and capturing the interest of health conscious consumers. Plant milks include rice, soy, hemp and flax seed milk; milk made out of nuts like almonds, cashews, and coconut milk also exist.

What milk substitute suits you?

Milk substitutes make life easier for vegans and people with dairy allergies and lactose intolerance, but how do you make a decision? Which one is right for you?

Let’s do a little comparison nutritionally

Rice milk

Pros

It’s one of the least allergenic beverages. This choice is best for those with soy and nut allergies, but it’s sometimes processed with the allergens, so check labels.

Low in calories only 67 per cup.

Doesn’t have cholesterol

Cons

Rice tends to take up more arsenic from the environment than other cereal crops, although this can vary according to the variety and method of production. The arsenic in rice also tends to be predominately the more toxic inorganic form, which has the potential to increase the risk of illnesses including cancer [1]. So rice milk can contain detectable levels of arsenic.

You don’t get much nutritional bang (protein 0 gr, 10mg calcium).

It’s too watery for coffee or tea

Soy milk

Pros

High in filling protein (8 gr of protein per cup)

Low in fat and sugar, but most of the store bought brands will have added cane sugar

Cons

Most soybeans are grown from genetically modified seeds, which has negative effects on health

Soybeans contain phytoestrogens, which mimic the body’s natural estrogen hormones. For men this can lead to a testosterone imbalance, infertility, low sperm count and increased risk of cancers [2]. For women, it can cause estrogen dominance, which has been linked to infertility, menstrual troubles. Scientists are still investigating soy’s potential link to breast cancer.

The high levels of phytic acid in soy inhibit the body’s ability to absorb important minerals, including zinc, calcium, copper, iron and magnesium (which many people are dangerously deficient in already).

The goitrogens in soy are potent anti-thyroid compounds that can lead to endocrine disruption and thyroid disorders. Infants on soy formula have a much higher risk of autoimmune thyroid disease

Hemp milk

Pros

The hemp seeds used to make this milk are rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fats, which are good for the heart and brain

 Has only 70 calories, good amount of protein (2g per serving)

– 30% to 50% of the recommended daily value for calcium

Doesn’t have cholesterol

Cons

It’s super pricey

Hemp has an earthy, beany-nutty flavor which can be an acquired taste

Most of the store bought varieties will have sugar added

Almond milk

what milk substitute suits you_2

Pros

Almond milk has a nutty hint, but its flavour is fairly neutral overall. It works in both sweet and savory (soup) dishes

It’s naturally lower in calories and fat than cow’s milk (it only has about 1/3 of the calories as 2% cow’s milk). Natural unsweetened almond milk would have about 50 calories, 1 gram protein and generous 45% calcium

Doesn’t have cholesterol

Good source of magnesium, selenium and manganese that are lacking in our diet

Cons

For some reason, it can be tough to find the unsweetened plain version, which has 0 g sugar, in grocery stores. Some brands are lightly sweetened, but others have the equivalent of almost two teaspoons.

Coconut milk

Pros

– Very tasty with a great texture, but not to be confused with the fattier stuff in cans, which is coconut cream.

Even in the unsweetened type, the coconut flavour supplies sweetness, so it is great in coffee/tea and sweet dishes

Has saturated fat high in so-called Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs) that are beneficial for gut health, thyroid, and even weight loss. So even it has about 4.5 to 5 grams fat, don’t get scared by it because it is easily metabolised by the body and quickly turned into energy rather than being stored as fat

Has about 16mg calcium per serving and about 6 gr of fiber

– Rich in lauric acid, a substance also found in human milk, which researchers have shown have anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties

– Rich source of potassium, containing approximately 630 mg per cup, compared to just 150 mg of potassium per cup of cow’s milk

Nut-free

Doesn’t have cholesterol

Cons

It doesn’t have lots of protein

Higher in natural sugar and carbohydrates

It can solidify and separate when refrigerated, depending on the brand, so if you like a cold glass of milk, it’s an inconvenient choice since you have to stir it and let it warm up to room temperature in order to drink it

Flax milk

Pros

Flax milk is the lowest in calories, making it the perfect base for a slimming smoothie snack

Nut free milk alternative

No cholesterol

It contains a good amount of protein and has an excellent fatty acid profile

Cons

You won’t find any energizing protein here

Relatively low in calcium, unless fortified

Some other milk substitutes not as much found in stores would be sesame, sunflower or cashew milk and quinoa or oat drink.

Check out The Plant-Based Dairy Alternatives Guide by Sharon Palmer, RD for a comparison chart detailing serving size calories, protein, fat, sugar content.

“Just because something is called milk does not mean it’s nutritious,” Katz says. “The devil is in the detail.” Katz, the director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, emphasizes it’s important to be careful about sugars or salt additives and to check labels to ensure nutrients like calcium and vitamins have also been added. The best way to have nutritious milk alternative is to make it yourself.  It is super easy and quick, you will have it always fresh and without nasties. You can find on my website www.vilmaswellness.com how to make nut milk like almond, cashew or coconut plus some great recipe ideas.

Read more from Expert Vilma Brunhuber.

References:

Consumer Reports

Medical News Today

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