No one likes to think about having to choose a milk substitute, but we’re pretty much all on a mission to live better, happier, healthier lives, right? In recent years, cow’s milk has been scrutinized for being unhealthy. This is true for many people who have lactose intolerance, of course, but beyond that there’s dairy protein sensitivity, casein intolerance and, of course, an awareness of the environmental impact of dairy farms. Due to the backlash against cow’s milk, manufacturers seem to come out with alternative “milk” products every day. Initially, there was soy milk but now you can find “milk” made from nuts, beans, seeds and about everything in between.
We looked at the nutritional profiles of a few milk alternatives and then talked taste to give you some perspective on what might be the best option for your family. As always, if you have dietary allergies or sensitivities of some sort, it’s best to consult your doctor or a registered dietician to get the best answers based on your specific needs.
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Variations on a Classic: Soy Milk
Soy milk first debuted on shelves in the United States in the very early 1980’s. It’s made from soy beans and is pretty mild in terms of flavor and has been used in Asia for hundreds of years. Traditionally, it’s made from just soybeans and water but what you see at the super market today has added sweeteners, oils, emulsifiers, and natural and artificial flavoring agents to make it a little sweeter, like cow’s milk. Soy milk has gotten a bit of a bad rap lately simply because soy is a phytoestrogen and may cause hormonal disruption if consumed in excess. In our experience, some sweet vanilla soy milk poured into your morning oatmeal isn’t going to hurt but, if you’re going through a carton every couple of days in addition to regularly eating other phytoestrogens, it might be time to discuss your diet with a professional. The great things about soy milk include lower fat, calories and cholesterol than whole milk but comparable protein per cup.
Bring on the Rice… Milk
Rice milk, one of the most popular milk alternatives, was the next big thing on the scene as lactose intolerance and veganism increased and milk alternatives gained popularity in the U.S. The flavor is sweet and mild but the milk tends to be thin and not as satisfying as the others because, well, sorry rice but you’re missing that delicious mouth-feel from fat! It’s filled with lots of energy boosting carbohydrates but is lacking in protein. Rice milk is available without added sugars though which is great if you’re trying to reduce your intake.
The Almighty Almond and its Milk
This milk substitute is mild in flavor but some really don’t like the nutty aftertaste or its texture. To remedy, manufacturers often add thickeners and emulsifiers which have come under scrutiny for maybe not being all that great for us despite being derived from things like seaweed. Almond milk, when purchased or made at home without added ingredients or sweeteners, is low fat, low cal and low carb. It’s kind of like slightly flavored water, really, not so much milk. Now, when you add thickener and some flavoring, it tastes amazing with a great mouth-feel (thank you healthy fat!) and a bigger nutritional punch than its counterparts: soy and rice. Obviously, those with nut allergies should use caution and, as with anything else, too much of a good thing is pretty much never a good thing.