I remember when we used to have a little chalkboard in our front porch and we’d let the milkman know how much milk we wanted that week. Does that age me? It wasn’t in glass bottles, so it couldn’t have been THAT long ago!
Now we have so many choices other than cow’s milk: we’ve got nut milks and soy milk and milks made from seeds or oats. How do you know which ones to pick anymore? I get this question from many friends and clients – it’s a hot topic for sure.
Some people simply can’t digest milk, as their body does not make enough of the enzyme lactase to break down the sugar in milk (lactose). You may discover you’re lactose intolerant during your teens or it may come along with age. Signs that you may be lactose intolerant are gas and bloating after consuming milk, and the symptoms could be mild to severe. Often times the condition is temporary, and sometimes you’re still able to continue eating other dairy products, like cheese and yogurt. Remember that being lactose intolerant is not the same thing as having a milk allergy.
Other people choose alternatives to dairy milk for a myriad of reasons. I myself have a hard time thinking about those poor cows constantly being forced to produce milk, let alone the estrogen that comes along with it! That’s personally why I choose non-animal sources of milk most of the time.
What About Calcium?
Often times the first thing that comes to mind when we find out we’re lactose intolerant or decide not to consume dairy for personal reasons is ‘how will we get enough calcium if we can’t drink milk’? Most nut and soy milks are fortified as are some cereals. It’s very possible to get enough calcium from food alone if you eat a quality balanced diet full of dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds and beans.
Let’s Talk About Dairy Milk Alternatives
Soy milk is made from soybeans. It’s high in protein and it’s also a complete protein which is great news for vegetarians. Soy milk is not naturally high in calcium, but it’s often enriched with calcium carbonate. Soy milk has a distinctive and strong flavor, but I still find it works best in cappuccinos (if you like ‘em foamy). There are a lot of conflicting studies and contradictory information on soy. It has been said to cause breast cancer, to reduce menopausal symptoms in women, to reduce LDL (bad cholesterol), and it’s been found that Asians who eat a lot of soy have lower cancer rates (this could also be attributed to other lifestyle factors). So it’s recommended to only eat moderate amounts of soy products as part of a balanced diet until further research is conducted.
Almond milk is by far the most popular dairy alternative to milk. Some other yummy nut milks are cashew and hazelnut. Although you can buy tetra packs of nut milks, if you have a good blender I recommend you try making some yourself to avoid all the nasty preservatives and emulsifiers that make the milks shelf stable, like carrageenan which can cause digestive problems for some people. The nut milks we buy in the store have been strained which means all the fiber and a lot of the nutrients have been lost. It also means a lot of waste has been created. I mean how hard is it to soak your nuts overnight, add water and whiz up some homemade nut milk with any flavoring you want? I suggest vanilla extract, cinnamon or dates.
Hemp milk is high in omega 3 fatty acids and it’s a complete protein, like dairy milk and soy milk. Hemp milk is made from hemp seeds, which are actually very tiny nuts that are super high in healthy fats. Hemp milk is a good source of essential fatty acids for those who don’t eat fish like salmon.
Oat Milk and Rice Milk
Oat milk is surprisingly high in protein but also very high in sugar so it’s one I probably wouldn’t recommend unless you have nut allergies. The same goes for rice milk, it’s high in sugar and calories and low in nutrients, but a good option for those who’ve exhausted all the other possibilities.
Coconut milk that we see in a tetra pack or in a carton in the dairy aisle is technically water emulsified with coconut cream. The thick coconut milk that comes in a can is meant more for cooking curries and soups, not for making smoothies. Coconut milk is high in saturated fat and doesn’t contain any protein or fiber so I’d save this one for special occasions like making pina coladas.
Another option for making smoothies is to top the ingredients with water and add in a handful of whole nuts. Whole nuts are power packed little gems full of nutrients and once blended they give that creamy texture to the smoothie that we’re craving.
Water over cereals a whole different story, and it also doesn’t make great cappuccinos! That’s where dairy alternatives come in.
So, watch out for ingredients you don’t recognize and added sweeteners. If you have the time and a good blender try making your own milk alternatives. I’ve convinced myself to try, at least some of the time.
As part of a healthy balanced diet I continue to use almond, cashew and hemp milk in smoothies and over cereal and I’ll also enjoy the occasional soy milk smoothie. I’ll be saving coconut milk for special occasions though.
Andrea Beazley Fubler, Holistic Nutritionist