Can milk really do a body good? Unfortunately, not every body. Especially those “bodies” with milk sensitivities or dietary restrictions. If you’re a vegan, if you’re sensitive to dairy products, or if you’re trying to cut out dairy products for weight loss or maintenance, there are many reasons to consider an optimal milk alternative to replace traditional dairy milk.
Often holistic healthcare doctors advise using milk alternatives and avoiding dairy for many reasons. The primary one being that studies have shown how difficult it is to digest milk. The process of pasteurizing milk breaks down the enzymes that would make it more easily digestible. But due to safety concerns, the pasteurization process takes precedence.
Drinking dairy milk has also been shown to increase the risk of ovarian cancer and diabetes. However, on the flip side, cow’s milk is believed to be one of the best food sources of calcium, which is needed to support healthy bones and teeth, and amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. Calcium is also vital to maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system.
So what’s a person with dietary restrictions to do? It’s no question you need to get a reliable source of calcium from somewhere. But it can often be super overwhelming and confusing to know which milk alternatives to reach for when you’re making the switch to non-dairy.
Thankfully, we’ve got you covered.
Since 2014, almond milk has been designated as the most popular milk alternative in the world. Almond milk is made from soaking ground almonds in filtered water. The water is then tossed, and the grounds are blended to a very fine consistency. The larger chunks are strained through a fine-mesh sieve, and the remaining liquid is the deliciously non-dairy almond milk.
It’s believed that almond milk may also be one of the oldest milk alternatives, with its existence traced back to the Middle Ages. Noble households who did not like animal milk would favor it as an alternative.
Almond milk possesses some of the same health benefits as the almonds they are derived from. Almonds are a superfood and the most nutritionally dense nut on the planet. One ounce of almonds can contain 6 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber, and several other beneficial vitamins and minerals including vitamin E, magnesium, calcium, riboflavin, and potassium.
Unfortunately, it’s quite tricky to put an accurate number on how many almonds make it into the final version of the milk, although most milk packages and producers indicate that almond milk contains only 2% of actual almonds. Because of this, the nutritional value of almond milk does become minimized exponentially. For example, instead of 6 grams of protein in fresh almonds, almond milk only contains about 1 gram. However, most manufacturers fortify the milk with additional nutrients, particularly calcium and vitamins A and D.
If you make your own almond milk, the nutritional composition is more likely to stay intact.
Almond Milk Recipe
It’s super easy to make fresh almond milk, and it’s possible that with this recipe you may not even reach for the prepackaged kind you can find at your local grocery store.
A word of caution though, fresh almond milk only lasts a few days in the refrigerator so it’s not something you’ll want to make in bulk. Just make what you think you’ll drink in a few days.
Also, the ratio of 1 cup almonds to 2 cups of water is pretty standard and will produce about 2 cups of fresh almond milk. It also makes the milk consistency similar to 2% milk. If you prefer thinner milk, use more water the next time you make it. For thicker milk, use less water. Feel free to experiment with different water to almond ratios to find the one that suits you and your preferences the best.
Soy has been harvested and grown in China since about 3000 BC. It was such a staple in ancient Chinese culture that it was once considered one of the five sacred crops. Soy milk is naturally lactose-free and as such has been a popular milk alternative for centuries. It’s lucky too, as much of the Eastern population is burdened with lactose intolerance. Thankfully, the popularity of soy milk is taking this ancient Chinese milk alternative into the mainstream.
In Chinese culture, soy milk is often used as a base for soups or to top a breakfast cereal. Soy milk is naturally low in fat and is comparable to 2% milk. It’s also high in protein and cholesterol free.
Soy milk is high in antioxidants that can provide a boost to your immune system. While raw soy milk is quite low in calcium, many nutrients, including vitamins A and D, are fortified into the commercially available versions of soy milk, making it a competitive milk alternative.
Soy milk is believed to help fight prostate cancer as well as several other types of cancer. It’s also a preventative for osteoporosis and as a relief from some symptoms of menopause including hot flashes and weight gain. It is worth noting, however, that there is evidence that soy milk has been linked to an increase in risk for breast cancer.
The elevated estrogen levels in soy are believed to contribute to this. According to Breastcancer.org, if you have recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, or if you have a family history of breast cancer, it is not advisable to consume large amounts of soy milk.
Rice milk is most commonly made from the grain of brown rice although it can also be made from other rice grains. Rice is pressed through a mill to strain the pressed grains. It can also sometimes be made using rice flour or by boiling a significant amount of rice in water. The cooked rice is then blended, and larger chunks are strained out of the “milk.”
Any sweetness found in rice milk is typically caused by the natural enzymatic process that turns carbohydrates into sugar, although many rice milk varieties are unsweetened.
Rice milk is the third most popular milk alternative, behind almond milk and soy milk respectively. It’s also an excellent option for those who have dairy, soy, and nut allergies or dietary restrictions. Rice milk is also significantly more hypoallergenic than all other milk products both dairy and otherwise.
While loaded with antioxidants and B vitamins, rice milk is pretty low in calcium as compared to some other milk alternatives. It’s also not an ideal choice for people with diabetes or those watching their carbohydrate intake as 1 cup of rice milk contains 33 grams of carbs.
It is, however, low in fat and cholesterol and can boost the immune system, as it is higher in manganese and selenium than every other milk alternative on this list.
Coconut milk may be the most nutritionally packed of all the milk alternatives. The milk is made by squeezing liquid from grated coconut meat. A thicker, more full-fat coconut milk (with about 20-22% fat content) is traditionally used in desserts or sauces that require a thicker consistency, whereas lower fat coconut milk (5-7% fat) is used as a standard milk replacement in smoothies, coffee, or other general sauces.
Coconut milk has been linked to several health benefits including helping to reduce the risk of certain cancers, lower blood pressure, prevent diabetes, maintain a healthy cardiovascular system, promote weight management, vision, and eye health, and improve memory and cognitive function.
Because of the high-fat content, it’s not recommended to consume as much coconut milk as you would regular dairy milk. One half or one-fourth of a cup will provide the benefits you’re looking for and will help you maintain a healthy weight or keep you on track with your weight-loss goals.
Regular dairy milk contains the milk sugar lactose. Lactose-free milk is essentially regular dairy milk with lactase added to break down the lactose. This makes it possible to drink dairy milk without experiencing the digestive and gastrointestinal issues that are common to those with dairy allergies, or lactose intolerance.
Otherwise, the milk is mostly the same as regular dairy milk, although the addition of the lactase tends to make the milk taste a bit sweeter. It also has a much longer shelf life than regular dairy milk at about 60-90 days.
Each of these milk alternatives is worth considering as you stroll the aisles of your grocery store on the hunt for a more agreeable milk replacement. It’s also worth trying them out in a smoothie or with your cereal. Each milk has a slightly different flavor profile.
Depending on your sensitivities you may be limited to which milk will work for you. If you can drink any of them, know that some taste a bit better heated up or in a sauce (like coconut milk) while others are perfectly fine cold (almond and soy milk). Perhaps consider throwing a banana and a scoop of Veggie Shake with a cup of soy, rice, or almond milk into your blender to help you figure out which one is right for you!