Is it us or does the milk aisle look a little ominous with all the dairy alternatives on the market?
On one hand, it’s good: more options in our diets is usually always a good thing. Not only does variety stave off boredom, but it’s also great for people with food restrictions, be they the result of preference, ethics or allergies. This said, all the variety can also leave us a little lost. A little flummoxed as to what we should choose, should we decide to venture away from traditional dairy milk.
So, what’s the skinny on skimmed alt-milks?
Variety may be the spice of life but it also leaves room for subpar products to squeak through, masquerading as “good” and healthiful when really it’s just bottle sugar and questionable ingredients. Not only do you need to understand which milk is best for you, you also need to become a label wizard, waving your magic wand...and allow us to decipher for you which ingredients to avoid!
- Carrageenan - this little devil is a seaweed-based thickener that causes inflammation. Even the World Health Organization labels it as a possible human carcinogen.
- Natural Flavors - is a devious ingredient that could mean anything from sugars to MSG.
- Vegetable Oils - canola, sunflower, etc, are usually made from GMO crops (corn and soy) and are extracted using toxic chemical solvents. There is talk that these oils - except olive and coconut oil - are detrimental to your health.
- Vitamin D2 - the inclusion of this cheap synthetic D2 vitamin is not readily absorbed by your body.
The hardest decision you’ll have to make is which of these flagged ingredients you’ll buckle on as it’s relatively easy to find a carrageenan free variety but the remainder are the usual suspects in the world of alt-milks.
You’re Gonna Love These Nut Milks
We profiled the most common choices - almond, coconut, rice or soy - oh my! - regarding nutrition, health, cookability and red flags.
Want a low-calorie, nutty milk that is great for baking or substituting as a coffee cream, then almond might be your best bet! Almond milk’s nutritional report card per cup is: 30-60 calories, 1 gram of carbs, 1 gram of protein and 2.5 grams of fat. Another hurray for almond is that the fat comes from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats - aka “good fats” - to support heart health.
Now let’s talk micronutrients. In a cold glass of almond milk you’ll find: 20-50% of your vitamin E intake - a powerhouse antioxidant that helps manage stress, cut inflammation and protect against disease.
Almond is naturally lactose-free and manufactured by grinding almonds and blending it with filtered water, starches and thickeners. The only downsides: it’s allergenic and studies show many brands contain only 2% almonds which drastically reduces any health benefits.
Another sticking point is how unsustainable almonds are, requiring roughly 1 gallon of water to grow just one measly almond.
Toss This into Your Shopping Cart: So Delicious Unsweetened Organic Almond Milk.
Cashew milk has seen a surge in popularity with its sweet taste and thick and creamy texture that’s low-calorie, low-carb and low-protein. Pairing well with baking or cooking as the taste is not overbearing. It’s made much the same as almond milk. In one cup of cashew milk you’ll get: 25-50 calories, 1-2 grams of carbs, 1 gram of protein and 2-4 grams of fat.
The micronutrients will be supplemented if you buy store bought. But here’s a secret, cashew milk is the easiest milk to make yourself - meaning, bring on the all natural perks of cashews! Cashews are loaded with nutrition from heart-health, maintaining a healthy weight and cancer prevention.
DIY Cashew Milk: 1 cup of cashews, 6 cups of filtered water and good quality sea salt. Let the cashews sit in 3 cups of water and sea salt for at least 4 hours then toss mixture into a high powered blender with 3 cups of water and blend until smooth (about 1 minute).
Unsweetened coconut milk beverage — not to be confused with water or canned — is made from grating mature coconut flesh and mixing it with filtered water, thickeners and starches. It’s popular in cooking as the flavor isn’t overpowering, it's creamy - so it’s great for vegans looking for a milk substitute - and excellent in ethnic dishes. Overall coconut milk is high-calorie and high in medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) - a saturated fat. However, MCTs can aid in weight loss while improving cholesterol. In one cup of coconut milk you’ll receive: 50 calories, 2 grams of carbs, 0 grams of protein and 5 grams of fat.
Any micronutrients found in coconut milk are supplemented. The primary health benefit of coconut milk is in the small amount of MCTs naturally occurring in coconuts, which is controversial as saturated fats are linked to heart issues. Apart from it being a nut-free alternative, it’s a high-fat milk option suitable for low-carb diets.
Toss This into Your Shopping Cart: So Delicious Unsweetened Coconut Milk.
If you want something non-allergenic and you’re not on a low-carb diet, rice milk could be for you! Rice milk like the former is made up of milled rice, distilled water and thickeners. It’s the sweetest of the group, but with its thin consistency, it’s not ideal for cooking as it breakdowns easily. In one cup of rice milk you’ll get: 120 calories, 22 grams of carbs, 0-1 gram of protein and 2 grams of fat.
As with coconut milk, all micronutrients are supplemented. However, rice milk comes with two big stinkin’ warning labels: there is speculation that it may not be gluten-free and there could be trace amounts of inorganic arsenic found in it (of concern for women and children).
Toss This into Your Shopping Cart: Vitasoy Original Rice Milk (Australia) or Costco’s Kirkland Signature Original Ricemilk.
The resident dairy-free heavyweight champ, soy is the most common alt-milk. Soy milk is a popular choice for those wanting a high-protein and low-carb option - if you can stomach the unique taste. With its overbearing flavor, it isn’t ideal for cooking. The nutritional breakdown of one cup o’soy is: 80-100 calories, 4 grams of carbs, 7 grams of protein and 4 grams of fat.
This plant-based bevy nutritionally speaking, is the closest to milk. Another party perk is it’s a “complete protein” meaning it houses all the essential amino acids that the body doesn’t produce - for building muscle and supporting immune health.
Toss This into Your Shopping Cart: Organic Soy Dream Original Soymilk.
The Right Plant-Based or Nut Milk is: Debatable
Overall after careful consideration what we found is there is no universal “best.” Ironically the old adage “everything in moderation” comes to mind because each alt-milk has its benefits and health concerns. We recommend that you switch up your milks, and play to their strengths like coconut is fantastic for cooking while almond is coffee's mate! We sincerely hope your next trip down the milky way is a lot less... nutty.Need more options in your humdrum diet? Check out our new meal plan and nutrition guide and infuse your food with more taste and way more health!