Got milk?

Exploring dairy milk alternatives

If you are newly lactose intolerant, vegan, plant-based, or just looking for a healthier milk alternative, this post is for you.  With so many milk alternatives out there all claiming to be “healthy” it’s hard to pick one.  Let’s break down the most popular milk alternatives for their pros and cons and see which one is really best.

got milk

Almond Milk

Almond milk is naturally high in calcium; fortified almond milk additionally contains as much calcium and vitamin D as dairy milk.  It also provides a source of other essential vitamins and minerals, including potassium, manganese, magnesium, vitamin E, copper and selenium. Almond milk is also low in saturated fat and has no dietary cholesterol.  Finally, it has fewer calories than all dairy milk, including skim.  On the down side, people absorb the nutrients from dairy milk much better than from plant-based products due to the bioavailability of these nutrients [1].

Make your own Almond Milk!

Cashew Milk

Cashew milk is an ideal replacement for dairy milk due to its nutty and buttery taste and similar texture to dairy milk.  Cashew milk is low in calories and fat with no cholesterol.  On the shelves, it is often fortified with vitamins D, B12, and A as well as calcium.  Unfortunately, while it looks great, there are some definite cons with cashew milk.  It contains little protein compared to other milk alternatives.  Additionally, on the shelves, sugar and salt are often added which cause negative health consequences [2].

Make your own Cashew Milk!

Coconut Milk

Coconut milk known to have a thick & creamy consistency, similar to traditional dairy milk.  Medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) are saturated fatty acids contained in coconut milk which transport directly to the liver for a great source of energy.  Additionally, it contains antimicrobial properties, antioxidants, and “is thought to benefit all of the major organs in your body, as well as enhancing nerve cell functions” [3]. On the other hand, it is very high in saturated fat, while there is relatively none in nut milks like almond, cashew, and soy.  Coconut milk may also contain guar gum which may present digestive issues for some people.  Look for a brand which does not contain this ingredient.  Many cans which contain coconut milk also contain BPAs which can seep into the food and is known to cause hormonal imbalance and many negative health consequences.  Finally, some coconut milk may contain carrageenan, which is known to cause inflammation when consumed [3].

Soy Milk

Soy milk is low fat, cholesterol free, low sodium, and contains high amounts of dietary fiber.  Soy milk is also higher in protein and calcium compared to other milk alternatives.  It also contains Vitamin B1, manganese which aids in enzymatic function, and isoflavones which help to contribute to good health.  On the down side, calcium may be lacking in soy milks which are not fortified with added calcium.  Soy milk may cause digestive issues including inflammation and gas pain, particularly from drinking soy milk which is thickened from a seaweed derivative or from drinking too much soy milk.  Many soy milks are flavored or sweetened, which may negate the benefits of fewer calories [4].

Make your own Soy Milk!

Things to look out for with all milk alternatives

  • Fortified | Look for a milk which is fortified with vitamin and minerals for health benefits which is not naturally in nondairy milks.  If you’re making the milk on your own, look into taking daily vitamins to meet your needs.
  • Sugar and sweeteners | Many nut milks contain added sugars so be sure to be on the look out for sugar content and choose a milk which is unsweetened.
  • Protein | Dairy milk is high in protein, a health component which unfortunately nondairy milks don’t provide.  Find your protein elsewhere, such as in nut butters or chick peas.  Be sure you’re replacing the protein you’d get from dairy intake elsewhere.
  • Slow and steady | When switching from a dairy milk to a nondairy alternative, it is important to make the switch slowly and listen to your body.  Digestive issues may present if you make the switch too quickly or drink too much.

Take away

When looking for the best milk alternatives, it comes down to two…almond and soy, both unsweetened as they contain many health benefits and few negatives.  Soy milk may present a slightly better milk alternative than almond milk, but both are good options.  While there are many benefits to coconut milk, there are also many cons so you should limit your intake of coconut milk.  Be sure you’re not losing protein and calcium in your diet when switching to a nondairy milk.  Always check your plant-based milks for added sugar and sweeteners as well as fortification with vitamins and minerals.

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