Milk does the body good, but not if you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of individuals who are lactose intolerant and cannot handle dairy products without serious bouts of discomfort, bloating, flatulence and much more. Cow’s milk has a multitude of health benefits and a large supply of crucial vitamins and minerals that “do the body good." Thanks to the high levels of vitamin D, calcium and vitamin K, milk is the spokesmodel for healthy and strong bones. But milk doesn’t stop there. Its laundry list of vitamins and minerals makes it apparent that milk is beneficial to more than just bones. Some of the notable nutrients in milk are iodine, riboflavin, vitamin B12, vitamin A, omega-3 fatty acids (linoleic acid), phosphorus and protein. Clearly, milk is something everyone wants to enjoy and reap the benefits from, so when non-dairy milk alternatives starting showing up in our supermarkets, there was no doubt that a new industry was born. Now more than ever, when you roam the diary aisle you are faced with more non-dairy milk alternatives than you can count, and it can get quite confusing. First it’s a good idea to clear up any confusion surrounding the word “milk." Milk is traditionally liquid that comes from a mammal used to feed its young, however it has now evolved to include the liquid that is pressed from any plant based sources as well, such as almonds, coconuts, hemp seeds, rice and soybeans, and is nutritionally superior to water. Now that we’ve cleared that up, it’s time to take them apart and find out what’s really in that “milk."
Almonds are a super-food, and one of the best plant based sources for protein and vitamin E. They contain a bountiful amount of healthy and essential fats as well as fiber, calcium and iron, which make them a good candidate for a non-dairy milk. Almond milk is definitely your go-to if you are looking for a milk that doesn’t irritate your skin because it's shown to help with skin problems, protect against sun damage and possibly have anti-aging properties. My favorite brand of almond milk is Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Breeze. With a low glycemic index, 23.5, this milk is ideal for diabetics or anyone looking to control their blood sugar after meals since it not only has half the calories of regular milk, but has one-sixth the carbohydrates and sugar too. Almond Breeze is a certified peanut-free facility and almond milk is naturally gluten-free, which makes it a good solution for individuals with known peanut allergies or Celiac’s disease.
There are two kinds of coconut milks that people have become familiar with: the canned milk and the refrigerated coconut milk. The canned version of coconut milk is extremely high in fat and is commonly used for cooking and baking, as it’s an integral ingredient in Thai cuisine. The refrigerated coconut milk, is actually good if you want to lose weight because it is low in calories and sugar free. Studies are showing that this version of coconut milk may actually aid in weight loss. When your body metabolizes the coconut milk, it may speed up your general metabolism allowing you to burn more calories. If you are looking for a good coconut milk, not canned, check out So Delicious Unsweetened Coconut Milk, they have plain and flavored varieties too.
Made from hemp seed, hemp milk is shown to possibly help with memory because it is packed with omega-3 fatty acids. Since two-thirds of your brain is made up of fat, hemp milk’s omega-3s provide the nutrients to help improve your memory and cognitive function. The omega-3s are also beneficial for your heart, making this a heart healthy product. Another problem the general public is facing with non-dairy milks is their flavor and texture - milk alternatives generally have a nutty taste or have a slightly thicker consistency. Hemp milk solves these problems with its more neutral taste and consistency, which most closely resembles that of cow’s milk. Other notable facts about hemp milk include that it has no known allergens, contains stearidonic acid (SDA) and gamma linolenic acid (GLA), which help convert the benefits of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, it contains all 10 essential amino acids (building blocks of proteins), it's naturally cholesterol free and is eco-friendly because it uses less water to harvest and there are no pesticides. I love adding Living Harvest’s Unsweetened Original hemp milk to my cereal in the morning to ensure I get my brain in work mode.
Made from organically grown, non-GMO brown rice, rice milk is another great alternative for those who have dairy or nut allergies, which restricts them from not only cow’s milk, but almond, coconut and soy milk as well. Rice milk may also be a good option for individuals with kidney complications who are advised to go on low protein diets since rice milk has only 1 gram of protein per serving. With no saturated fat and naturally cholesterol free this is definitely a go to for individuals with heart disease or whose family has a history of heart disease. Some great brands to check out are Rice Dream and Rich Rice Milk.
Soy milk is by far the most popular alternative to cow’s milk. Just be sure to check the ingredient label on your favorite soy milk product. We are becoming increasingly aware of the fact that many soy milks are not actually derived from the soy bean itself but rather isolate soy protein (ISP). The whole soy bean is what is actually nutritious and is a great source of protein, fiber, omega-3s and a multitude of vitamins and minerals. By using the whole bean, you get more isoflavones which have been studied to have many beneficial effects including potentially supporting heart and bone health, minimizing menopausal symptoms and reducing the risk of some forms of cancer. The soybean protein is a complete plant based protein, meaning it contains all of the essential amino acids that we cannot produce ourselves. However, soy protein is one of the eight most common allergens, so it's best to steer clear of this product unless you are not allergic to soy. Silk is one of the most reputable and well-known soy milk brands, and they have even come out with a new line of light soy milk products that are sweetened with all-natural Stevia. All of Silk’s products contain “no artificial colors, flavors or funny business,” are naturally cholesterol free and do not contain ISP. I love their Silk Light Original Soy Milk!
Just in case you still cant decide which one is right for you, here are the nutritional breakdowns of the “milks” we’ve discussed!