A Guide to the Best Plant-Based Milk Alternatives

Updated: Oct 10, 2019



Give dairy cows a break and try plantbased milks. You may only be curious because you or your child has been diagnosed with a dairy allergy or intolerance. Or perhaps you are embracing a plantbased lifestyle and just want to see what all the fuss is about. Either way, you probably aware more and more people are turning their nose up at dairy and giving alternatives a go. That old adage "milk is good for you" isn't so, and here's why.


Farm to table, dairy has been a staple food source for decades, even being touted as “nature’s perfect food.” We've been told that it’s essential for strong bones, women's health and healthy kids. But we now know from the latest research, that dairy products like milk don't necessarily lead to improved bone health. That was one of the big selling points of milk. A Swedish study showed that when women drink more than 3 glasses of cow's milk per day, they increased their rate of dying over 20 years by 100%. Yikes!


Multiple studies have shown an increased risk of contracting type I diabetes, several cancers, high cholesterol, acne and pro-inflammatory conditions on a diet which includes dairy milk. No thanks.



Which Plant-Based Milk Alternative Should I Use?


So, if dairy isn't the end all and be all of calcium and nutrition, what do we use? Plantbased alternatives offer many healthy options for those with sensitivities or who are looking for vegan sources to swap dairy in recipes. The problem now is, that these types of products everywhere. So, should you try soy milk or almond milk? What is the real nutritional difference between coconut and oat? How do they all compare to cow's milk? Let's take a look and explore the alternatives...



Almond Milk


We found a winner! Almond milk is one of the better plantbased milk products to try. It is good for low carb diets with only 35 cal and 2.5 g of fat per serving. Those on a ketogenic diet or low-carb diets, will like almond milk due to it’s low in calories, carbs and sugars. Just one cup provides 45% of your calcium RDA, and 25% of your vitamin D RDA. Extras include magnesium and vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant, depending on the brand or if you make you own.


Store-bought almond milk can contain added sugars and chemical sweeteners, and while fortified with extra nutrients, these aren't easily absorbable. It is best to make your own if you can or be choosey. Find easy home made recipes here.



Coconut Milk


Not just for curries and desserts, coconut milk in a nutrient dense cow's milk substitute. It provides 10% of your calcium RDA and 30% of your daily vitamin D allowance. Unlike dairy, coconut contains zero protein, but 7 g of sugar, healthy fatty acids, vitamins B12 and A, and magnesium. This creamy milk alternative also contains lauric acid, a rare medium-chain fatty acid that is easily absorbed and the body can utilise for energy. Because of lauric acid, coconut milk can aid against infections and viruses.


Look for “cold pressured” varieties, preferably organic, without any added flavors. Coconut milk is rich in saturated fat, so it is best to use in moderation but otherwise makes a healthy alternative to dairy. You can use it in baking, for puddings, sauces and other dishes where you would use cow's milk. My favourite use is in chia pudding. Check out some recipes here.


Oat Milk


Just one cup of oat milk contains approximately 10% of the iron you need in the entire day, making it an especially good source for vegans and vegetarians. It delivers 35% of your recommended daily allowance (RDA) of calcium, 25% RDA of vitamin D and 30% RDA of riboflavin. Studies have found that drinking oat milk for just four weeks was effective in reducing cholesterol levels making it a great addition or substitute for those working to lower LHD cholesterol levels. This is due to a type of soluble fiber called beta-glucan present in oats which is retained when making oats into milk. Win!


Oat milk* is so simple to make you can do it yourself. You can find some awesome homemade recipes here. It is made by combining a cup of soaked, old-fashioned rolled oats in a blender with 3-4 cups of filtered water. Blitz and then squeeze the liquid through a cheesecloth to extract the "milk'. I like to add a pinch of ground turmeric or cinnamon, a drop of vanilla extract to give it some flavour. It is perfect for smoothies, in baking and even as a healthy latte!



Rice Milk


With rice milk, another popular alternative, you can expect about 120 cal, 2.5 g of fat, 1 g of sugar and 30% of your calcium RDA per serving. This watery milk substitute also provides 25% of your vitamin D RDA, as well as phosphorus and vitamins A and B 12. It’s made from rice, water and some fortified vitamins, but there is a major drawback to rice, the potential for arsenic poisoning. It also is not very nutrient dense nor offers any great benefits in making it a staple substitute.



Soy Milk


This fully vegan milk alternative delivers about 110 cal per serving, against just 4 or 5 g of fat. You receive 8 g of protein, 30% of your recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin D, and 45% RDA of calcium. Additional benefits include magnesium, phosphorus and vitamin B 12. However, there is a lot of chatter about how soy milk is actually bad for you. This is because 90 % of soy today is genetically modified.


Genetically modified foods (GMO) have been linked to many health problems because they kill off good bacteria in your gut, known as probiotics benefits, and also damage the working of your digestive system. Soy also contains phytoestrogens which act as estrogen mimickers in the body.


If you’re a woman or a breast cancer survivor like me, consuming foods that increase estrogen levels increase your risk of breast cancer, cervical cancer, PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) and other hormone imbalance-related disorders, and are best avoided.



Other Alternatives


There many alternatives such as cashew, flax seed, hemp and kefir, quinoa and pea milks, but the plantbased milks discussed above are the most popular. Remember though, most plantbased milk alternatives have less protein than dairy milk. Look for products with added protein, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium and other wonderfully healthy nutrients. As you can see, you have a lot of choices on a dairy-free or plantbased diet. Just make sure to read the nutrition label on any type of milk product you buy.


*Please note: The plantbased milk serving data in this article are basic averages, and depend on the brand and flavor you purchase.



Ingredients To Watch Out For


According to FoodRevolution.org the additives, fillers and preservatives often used in commercial plantbased milks are something you will want to be mindful of when choosing brands to use. I would also caution you to avoid brands with any of the following two unhealthy ingredients:


Cane Sugar


This sweetener is often listed as the second or third ingredient (ingredients are listed in the order of most to least amounts in a product). To avoid an excess of 6 grams of sugar per cup, choose unsweetened plant milks. You can always sweeten it yourself at home with a drizzle of raw, organic honey, drop of stevia, 1 tsp of homemade pear juice.


Carrageenan


Derived from red seaweed and added to foods like yogurt, soymilk, and ice cream, carrageenan is used to thicken foodstuff and prevent separation. Some studies have linked carrageenan to inflammation, gut irritation, and even cancer. Some dairy-free brands have started removing this ingredient per consumer request, but many still use it. Be sure to read the labels!


Do you pin?


Have you enjoyed learning about plantbased milks? Maybe you are inspired to try a few. If so, come follow me on Pinterest. You'll find heaps of plantbased recipes including how to make vegan milks at home right here.


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I understand how frustrating finding health can be. That is why I have dedicated my clinic to helping people overcome emotional eating and tap into the healing power of plantbased foods.

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