With the rise of vegan and plant-based diets, on top of increased awareness of dairy intolerance, alternative milks have quickly become popular among health-conscious consumers. Soy milk, almond milk, oat milk, coconut milk and hemp seed milk are some of the most sought-after alternatives to traditional cow’s milk.
Each of these milks has its own unique benefits that make it appealing to different types of people. However, there are also potential drawbacks associated with each type that should be considered before making a decision about which one is right for you. In this article we will discuss the pros and cons of the top 5 alternative milks so that you can make an informed choice about which one is best for your lifestyle.
- Decent macronutrient profile. Soy milk contains protein and is low in fat, giving it a good macro profile.
- Many varieties available. You can find many varieties of soy milk on the shelves: sweetened or unsweetened, flavored or unflavored, regular or organic.
- Neutral flavor. Unflavored soy milk has a neutral taste, so it works well on its own, with cookies, and even froths well for your morning coffee.
- Plant-based. Soy milk contains no animal products, making it a convenient option for people who prefer to eat plant-based.
- Often contains additives. It’s common to find preservatives, thickeners, and stabilizers in soy milk. Read labels to be sure.
- Probably GMO. Most soybeans are genetically modified, so people who avoid GMO foods may choose to stay away from soy altogether.
- Hormone concerns. Soy contains phytoestrogens, which are plant-based compounds that mimic estrogen. People who aim to keep an eye on their hormones may avoid soy for this reason.
- Possibility of chemical residues. Mass-produced soy crops also have a reputation for being heavily sprayed with agriculture chemicals, but that would vary between farms and locations. Organic soy milk is available for consumers who are concerned with chemical residues.
- Low in calories. Almond milk is generally lower in calories than dairy milk and some other non-dairy milks, which can make it a good option for people who are trying to watch their calorie intake.
- Low in saturated fat. Almond milk is low in saturated fat, which can help reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Lactose-free. Like other non-dairy milks, almond milk is lactose-free, which makes it a good option for people who are lactose intolerant or have a milk allergy.
- Contains vitamin E. Almond milk is a source of vitamin E, an antioxidant that can help protect the body from damage caused by free radicals.
- Low in protein. Almond milk is generally lower in protein than dairy milk, soy milk, and some other non-dairy milk alternatives. This means that it may not be the best option for people who are looking for a protein-containing alternative to dairy milk.
- May contain additives. Some brands of almond milk may contain added sugar, thickeners, and other additives that can affect the taste and nutritional profile of the milk.
- Not suitable for people with nut allergies. Almond milk is made from almonds, which can be a common allergen.
- May not be as environmentally sustainable as other non-dairy milks. The production of almonds requires a lot of water, which can make almond milk less environmentally sustainable than some other non-dairy milks.
It's important to read labels and choose unsweetened almond milk without additives, to minimize potential drawbacks.
- Creamy texture and flavor. Coconut milk has a creamy texture and a rich flavor that can add depth and richness to a variety of dishes, from curries to smoothies to desserts.
- Contains good fats. Coconut milk is high in medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), a type of fat that may help boost metabolism and improve brain function.
- Lactose-free. Like other non-dairy milks, coconut milk is lactose-free, which makes it a good option for people who are lactose intolerant or have a milk allergy.
- High in calories. Coconut milk is higher in calories than many other non-dairy milks, which can make it less suitable for people who are trying to watch their calorie intake.
- High in saturated fat. Coconut milk is high in saturated fat, which can increase the risk of heart disease if consumed in excess.
- May not be suitable for people with nut allergies. While coconut is technically a fruit and not a nut, some people with nut allergies may also be allergic to coconut, so it's important to talk to a doctor before incorporating coconut milk into your diet.
It's important to note that some brands of coconut milk may contain added sugars and other additives that can affect the nutritional profile and taste of the milk, so it's important to read labels and choose unsweetened coconut milk without additives whenever possible.
- Works well in coffee drinks. The mucilage in oat, which is a natural thickener, makes oat milk as froth-able as dairy milk.
- Similar mouthfeel to dairy milk. Oat milk is naturally a little thicker than a lot of alternative milks, which makes it satisfying in cereals or with your favorite cookies.
- Often fortified with nutrients. Some of the leading brands add vitamins and minerals which offers a nutritional benefit.
- Difficult to ensure that oat milk is free from gluten. If you’re following a gluten-free diet, know that oat milk may be processed in a facility that also processes wheat products. Additionally, it’s common for wheat fields to grow near oat fields, which could mean that wheat could make its way into an oat crop.
- May spike blood sugar. Oat milk contains one of the highest carb counts for alternative milks, and it also contains maltose, a natural sugar that has a higher glycemic index than glucose.
- Omega-3 fatty acid content. Hemp milk is higher in omega-3s in comparison to other alternative milks.
- Decent protein content. A lot of nut milks and oat milk don’t have much protein, so hemp milk is an attractive option if you’re looking for a protein-containing alternative milk.
- Contains healthy fats. Hemp milk contains more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats ounce-for-ounce than low-fat cow's milk options.
- Usually suitable for people with a nut allergy. Hemp is a seed so it is often an acceptable milk alternative for people with nut allergies. Check with your doctor to be sure.
- May contain traces of THC. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the psychoactive compound in the hemp plant from hemp seeds used to produce hemp milk. There may be trace amounts, which won’t cause mental effects, but you may want to avoid this if you get drug tested for work or if you are otherwise opposed to ingesting trace amounts of THC.
- Difficult to find in supermarkets or stores. Hemp milk is available in health food stores and in some grocery stores, but isn’t as common as other varieties of alternative milk.
- Has a subtle earthy flavor. Some people may find the earthy, nutty flavor off-putting, but hemp milk usually takes on the flavor of what you mix with it.
These non-dairy alternative milks can be used in place of dairy milk in a variety of recipes and can be enjoyed on their own as a beverage. It's important to note that some non-dairy milks may be fortified with vitamins and minerals to mimic the nutritional profile of dairy milk, while others may be lower in certain nutrients. They may also contain additives and preservatives, depending on the manufacturer. So, it's important to read the labels and choose the option that best fits your dietary needs.