What to know when choosing non dairy milk alternatives

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Many of us have been drinking cow’s milk growing up and continue to do so as adults.
One very common argument is that it is not natural to consume it (cow’s milk is meant for rapidly growing calves, after all), and that humans are the only species that consume milk into adulthood. However, if you are vegan, lactose intolerant or simply trying to curb on dairy, there are so many delicious non dairy vegan milk alternatives available today which can be paired with your cereal or porridge, used for your café latte and smoothie or consumed as a beverage simply on its own.

No doubt, many of you are already fans of non dairy milk alternatives, which are widely available in the Middle East (scan the aisle at any supermarket and you’ll find them). So, whether you are a fan already or want to know more, we have rounded up popular milk alternatives you can review here to better understand what to look out for. Finally, we will mention an easy-to-make recipe, so you can prepare dairy free milk that is fresh and additive free (the best kind!) at home.

Widely Consumed Dairy Free Milk Types:

Soy Milk

This one is pretty popular and has been around arguably longer than the others. It’s a plant based drink made by soaking and grinding soybeans; it is basically a blend of the soy extract mixed with oil, water and protein. Soy milk is quite creamy (resembling cow’s milk) and has a pleasant taste that is slightly beany on its own (but less so when added to coffee or tea). It has a high content of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (the healthy fats) compared with saturated fat (the unhealthy type that can contribute to high cholesterol and heart problems). It is also lactose free and considered a good source of protein and fiber.

Having said all that, do note that soy milk is rich in isoflavones, which act like estrogen on the body (can affect hormone levels). However, moderate consumption is considered safe. You can read further regarding evidence of soy products consumption and health here.

Almond Milk

Like soy, this one is quite popular, too with a pleasant sweet and nutty taste and creamy texture. Almonds are naturally rich in Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant known to combat inflammation and stress in the body. Although almonds are high in calories, commercial almond milk is not surprising. This is because most brands add lots of water and very little almonds, which also makes the almond milk’s fat content similar to low fat dairy milk. Do note that most of the commercial brands have added sugar, so opt for the unsweetened type to avoid the extra sugar.

In addition, almond milk has significantly lower amounts of concentrated nutrients found in whole almonds – including protein, fiber and healthy fats – so choose a brand with a higher content of almonds (around 7-15%). Many producers also enrich their almond milk with Vitamin D (good for bones and teeth). Remember, you can easily make almond milk at home and reap the benefits of pure raw almonds (scroll down for our recommended recipe).

Rice Milk

Rice milk is either made from milled rice or brown rice with water. Of all the non dairy milk it is the least allergenic, so it is a safe option for those with allergies or intolerances to dairy, gluten, soy or nuts. It is also very high in carbohydrates and low in protein. However, store bought brands are normally fortified with calcium and Vitamins D and A (what it lacks). If you have diabetes, it is not recommended as rice milk has a high glycemic index (GI or 79-92), which means it is quickly absorbed in the gut and raises blood sugar levels. Another reason rice milk is not recommended for young children (under 5 years) is due to the growing concern about arsenic in food products made from rice. So, to play it safe, it is recommended to avoid large consumption for small children, those with diabetes and the elderly. Oh, and taste wise, it’s pretty mild and sweet with a watery consistency that is similar to skimmed milk.

Oat Milk

This non dairy milk with a silky texture and naturally sweet taste is made by blending oats (either steel cut or rolled) and water, then straining out the liquid. It works very nicely in smoothies, porridge and cereal or when added to coffee. Oat milk is pretty high in fiber and carbohydrates and is cholesterol free. It also has a low glycemic index (so its safe for diabetics). You will find that many store bought oat milk brands come fortified with vitamins, such as A, D, B2 (riboflavin), B12 and other minerals like calcium, making it a rich source of nutrients, but again watch out for added sugars. Oat milk is a good choice for those with dietary restrictions as it is vegan, and free from nuts, soy and lactose.

Coconut Milk

This versatile vegan milk is made from the pressed flesh of the coconut and has a slightly sweet and mild nutty flavor. Texture wise it is also pretty close to dairy whole milk. It’s a great compliment for your coffee and smoothies not to mention a great dairy-free alternative for cooking and baking. Coconut milk is not to be confused with the thicker type used in cooking, which is usually sold in cans. The down side with coconut milk is the high fat content (of which most is the saturated kind) and that it is high in calories. A cup of unsweetened coconut milk beverage usually has 50 calories. So, if you want to cut down on calories, have it in moderation, and alternate between other dairy free milk types. Also, like with other non dairy milk brands, it can come fortified with calcium and vitamins (A and D), which gives it additional nutrients.

Other Nut Milks

In addition to the aforementioned almond and coconut milk, there are a few nutty options you can try. Cashew milk is made from flavorsome cashew nuts that are rich in minerals like zinc and selenium. It also works nicely over cereal, and when blended into shakes and smoothies. However, it has a less nutty taste than other nut milks, but it is quite low in calories. Hazelnut milk, on the other hand, has a stronger distinctive taste which really packs a punch when added to hot chocolate or coffee. Hazelnuts (like almonds) are also a good source of vitamin E. Other nut milk alternatives can be those made of macadamia, walnut and peanut, which are not always easy to find in most retail outlets. If, however, you are allergic to tree nuts and peanuts, stay away altogether from nut milks and go for soy, coconut or even hemp or quinoa milk.

Nut milk (1 cup) Calories Fat Protein Carbs
Almond milk 30–40 cal 2.5 g 1 g 1 g
Cashew milk 25 cal 2 g less than 1 g 1 g
Macadamia nut milk 50–70 cal 4–5 g 1 g 1 g
Hazelnut milk 70–100 cal 4–9 g 3 g 1 g
Walnut milk 120 cal 11 g 3 g 1 g
Peanut milk 150 cal 11 g 6 g 6 g
Picture of Nut Milk Nutritional Value:  https://www.healthline.com/health/nut-milks-mylks-health-guide#nutritional-facts

Important Things to Consider when Buying Non Dairy Milk

1- Check the label!!!
As with anything you buy from a store, always read what’s mentioned on the package so you know what is being added. The big labels can be misleading or too general, so read the fine print that lists all the ingredients.

2- Added sugar
Manufacturers often add sugar to enhance flavor and texture of their non dairy milk. Try to go for ‘unsweetened’ or ‘no sugar added’ types and if sugar is listed see how much it has. Common names for added sugar can be: corn syrup or high fructose corn syrup, brown rice syrup, agave nectar, coconut sugar, barley malt, malt syrup, maltose and fructose.

3- Fortified Milk
Since nondairy milk is mostly water with small extracts of the plant or nut, it does not have enough nutritional value when compared to dairy milk. This is why most brands add vitamins (such as D, A and B12), along with calcium. Make sure the milk you buy has these vitamins and nutrients if you want them.

4- Additives
Again read the label carefully to see what additives are present in the milk you buy. Some non dairy milks may have additives like carrageenan and vegetable gums to get the thick and smooth texture of dairy milk.

5- Fair Trade and Environmentally Friendly
One reason to eschew dairy is that it has a negative effect on the environment. For example, it uses up a lot of land, fertilizers and water to grow food for the farm animals. Not to mention methane emissions from the animals themselves. However, by switching to non dairy, it does not necessarily mean that you are being entirely environmentally friendly, too. For example, in some countries soybeans are contributing to deforestation. Almond milk as well comes with its set of environmental ‘baggage’; almonds are known for being the thirstiest plant milk, consuming excessive amounts of water, and California’s highly commercialized almond industry has been associated with bee deaths. Then you have the coconut pickers in poor Southeast Asian countries being exploited with very low wages. Well, the list goes on and on if we nitpick into the practices of how the ingredients are sourced. This should not necessarily deter you from consuming commercially produced non dairy milk, but as consumers, it’s good to check where your milk is coming from and how they are made. That way you can make the most informed decision that’s right for you.

HOMEMADE VEGAN MILK RECIPES

Okay, let’s now look at a few simple (and super yummy) vegan milks you can easily make in your own kitchen with very few ingredients.

Let’s start with this winning recipe for almond milk that comes courtesy of Charbella Hosry who was featured before at The Wellness Project. Having tried it I can personally attest to how delicious this recipe is!

Ingredients:
– 2 cups raw almonds
– 1 cup water
– Natural sweetener of your choice (this can be one teaspoon honey, 1-2 pitless dates, carob molasses or coconut sugar (to add some flavor and sweetness)
– ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Soak the almonds overnight or for 6-8 hours in water. Note: you can keep the almond skin or remove it, depending on your preference. If you keep the almond skin it will have a crunchy consistency and you will benefit from its nutrients (the skin is rich in polyphenols). Put the soaked almonds in the blender and add one cup of water. You can add slightly more or less water based on how you like the consistency of your milk. Put the honey or any other natural sweetness you like, then add the vanilla extract. Blend them all together into a liquid. You can separate out the small almond pieces with a sieve so the milk is smoother or else keep them in. This milk is great on its own as a beverage or with your morning cereal with some fresh fruits added!

Picture: https://www.cookinglight.com/recipes/basic-oatmeal-recipe

Here is another lovely recipe for oat milk, that only requires rolled oats, a Medjool date (for flavor) and a pinch of salt courtesy of  Detoxinista https://detoxinista.com/oat-milk/.
Otherwise, this super creamy and refreshing cashew milk recipe by Cookie and Kate
https://cookieandkate.com/cashew-milk-recipe/ is another homemade winner you should try.

Well, hope you enjoyed reading our summary on some dairy-free milk alternatives. Remember, whether you choose dairy or non dairy milk, you should consume it as part of a healthy balanced diet. If you are choosing a non dairy milk, simply go for the one that satisfies your taste buds and makes you feel well! Just make sure you read the label if you buy it from the store, as you would with any other food product. The more you know about what you are ingesting the better off you are!

Sources:

First Picture Credit: https://www.dmagazine.com/food-drink/2019/05/taste-test-non-dairy-milk-alternatives/

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/soy-good-or-bad

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/273982.php#options

https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/healthiest-non-dairy-milk

https://www.healthline.com/health/nut-milks-mylks-health-guide

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323117.php#research

 

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