Healthy Milk Alternatives
Plant based milks! Everyone has a favorite and they are quickly gaining popularity even in the non-vegan world. Approximately 65% of adults are considered lactose intolerant. Many more experience digestive distress upon consuming dairy products. Of course, anyone practicing a vegan lifestyle does not consume dairy products. The majority of adults are seeking an alternative milk in order to indulge in delicious creamy desserts, enjoy a bowl of cereal, or grab their favorite coffee shop drink without the high percentage of fat that dairy milk contains. Plant-based milks are the perfect solution!
The most popular plant-based milks are almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk, oat milk, and pea (yes, pea) milk. Each one is unique in its own way, and understanding the differences can help you to pick which is the best substitute for your diet. For instance, if you’re looking for healthy alternatives, it’s important to know that many of the popular brands can have added sugars and ingredients you do not need. The best way to pick a healthy, plant-based milk is to choose one with the least ingredients and look for the words “unsweetened” or “0g sugar added.”
- Almond milk is one of the most popular milk alternatives. Made from blending almonds and water together, it is easy to make at home. Many store bought brands also include emulsifiers and fortifying nutrients as well as countless flavors. Almond milk is one of the thinner plant-based milks, so not the best for creamier dishes and carries a nutty flavor wherever it is used. Almond milk is good for baking, cereal, smoothies, and coffee.
- Soy milk is made from pressing cooked ground soybeans. It is thick and creamy and feels more like dairy milk. While it is one of the most naturally nutritious alternatives, many people choose not to use it because it contains phytoestrogens. Studies are inconclusive as to whether or not the phytoestrogens affect hormone balance, but many people steer clear as there are milk alternatives that do not contain the plant compound. Those who do use soy milk enjoy it as an alternative to everything dairy milk can do, as it holds together in much the same way and naturally has one of the highest protein counts of the plant based milks. It works well in cooking, baking, coffee, cereal, smoothies, and anything else you can imagine.
- Coconut milk is a great option for anyone who has an aversion or allergy to nuts. Made from water and coconut cream, some brands can taste tropical, and, well…coconutty. It can also have a more subtle taste than other alternatives. It is creamy and comes in full fat and reduced fat options. The naturally sweet taste of coconut milk makes it perfect for an ice cream base, coffee “cream,” smoothies, and canned coconut milk is also a great base for soups. Many recipes call for canned coconut milk which has a consistency close to condensed milk, so be aware that the carton coconut milk may not be what you need in those situations.
- Oat milk is made from blending oats with water and straining so it is another easy one to make at home. It is thicker than almond milk and naturally sweet from the sugars in the oats. Oat milk doesn’t have an overpowering taste like almond or coconut milk, so it is a nice addition for both baking and heartier recipes like vegan mac n “cheese” or sauces. It’s becoming wildly popular as the go-to alternative milk in coffee shops. Pro tip: when baking, use a little less than you would if you were using cow milk because oat milk is starchier and may affect the texture of whatever you are baking.
- Pea milk is a newcomer to the plant based milks but is rising in popularity. It is as creamy as soy milk with fewer calories, and a milder taste than almond milk. It is made from pea protein isolate, water, and other emulsifiers such as sunflower oil, and guar and gellan gums. Pea protein is quickly becoming a favorite for a vegan source of energy and pea milk is no different. One serving can pack a whopping 8 grams of protein, compared to the 7 grams soy milk contains. When cooking and baking with pea milk, note that it has a much lower fat content than cow milk, so you may need to add in a plant based fat to maintain the same texture.
Plant based milks are growing and developing quickly as people are realizing the benefits compared to more traditional milks. With so many options and additional flavors, they can meet any need in the kitchen and can help you to maintain a healthy diet without sacrificing food options or taste.