Healthspan November 16, 2017

The non-dairy milk and more market has increased by more than 155 per cent in the last four years, but are milk alternatives really good for us?

According to research by Mintel, one in five UK households has ditched cows’ milk in favour of the likes of coconut, hemp, nut or soya milk, and more than quarter of those asked said they thought that plant-based milks were healthier.

But how do they measure up compared to cow’s milk?

First-thing’s first: what are the benefits of milk?

Milk provides a whole host of nutrients, including:

  • Calcium – for healthy bones and teeth
  • Protein – to help build and repair muscle tissue
  • Potassium - to help maintain healthy blood pressure
  • Phosphorus – to help strengthen bones
  • Vitamin D – for healthy bones and teeth
  • Vitamin B12 – to help maintain healthy red blood cells and nerve tissue
  • Vitamin A - to help maintain the immune system; helps maintain normal vision and skin

So how do the non-dairy alternatives measure up?

Nut milks
From almond and hazelnut, to cashew and walnut, there is a dairy-free milk made from just about any nut you can think of. Generally, these types of beverages are made by grinding the nuts and using the liquid that is leftover.

Pros: Nut milks are generally lower in calories than dairy milk, and are often fortified with calcium and vitamin D that is normally found in cow’s milk.

Cons: Not suitable for those with nut allergies, nut milks contain only small amounts of protein. Some varieties often contain added thickeners too, which can be hard to digest for certain individuals. Flavoured varieties can also be high in added sugars, so it is best to look for unsweetened options to lower your added sugar intake.

Soy milk
Soy milk is most commonly made by soaking, crushing, cooking, and straining soybeans, leaving a high protein liquid behind.

Pros: Soy milk is high in protein, containing just as much as dairy milk. It is also full of iron, magnesium, and phytochemicals, and are often fortified with calcium and vitamin D.

Cons: Not suitable for those with soy allergies, and often contain added thickeners such as those found in nut milks. It is best to buy unsweetened and organic varieties of soy milk to avoid the use of GMO soybeans and added sweeteners.

Rice milk
Most commonly used by processing brown rice, dairy-free rice milk is an allergen-friendly choice for those of almost any dietary preference.

Pros: Free of most common food allergens, and suitable for those who follow a vegan, gluten-free, nut-free, and/or soy-free diet. Often fortified with calcium and vitamin D.

Cons: Higher in carbohydrates and low in protein than cow’s milk, rice milk is also generally thinner than most milk alternatives, and high in sugar if sweetened.

Oat milk
Another good alternative for those with dairy, nut or soy allergies is oat milk. Made by soaking, rinsing, and grinding raw oats together with water, and straining to leave behind a creamy milk alternative.

Pros: Suitable for vegans, and is higher in fibre and antioxidants than dairy milk. Often fortified with calcium and vitamin D. Easy and inexpensive to make at home.

Cons: Not suitable for those following a gluten-free diet, unless certified gluten-free oats are used. Higher in calories and carbohydrates and lower in protein than dairy and other milk alternatives.

Hemp milk
Hemp milk is made from the seeds of the hemp plant that are specifically suited for food production and consumption. High in protein and healthy fats makes it a great choice for vegans and vegetarians.

Pros: Plant-based source of a complete protein, and also contains omega-3 fats, antioxidants, and fibre. Hemp milk is often fortified with calcium and vitamin D, and is easily digested by most individuals.

Cons: Expensive and more difficult to find in grocery stores than other milk alternatives. Can contain added sweeteners and thickeners as well.

Coconut milk
Last but certainly not least is coconut milk. This thick and creamy beverage is made from grated and squeezed coconut meat, and is a common ingredient in a multitude of exotic dishes.

Pros: Lactose-free, and a good source of fibre, antioxidants, iron, and magnesium. A much thicker and creamier texture than most milk alternatives.

Cons: High in calories and fat. Coconut milk is mostly used in cooking or as a flavour enhancer, rather than a drink.

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