First, it was skim milk, then 1% and 2%. Today, cows are sharing the shelves with a crazy amount of milk alternatives, but why? According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, milk consumption per capita has been on steady march downward, dropping 25% while milk alternatives like soy, almond, and rice milk has averaged annual sales growth of 10.9%. Is it because consumers dislike the taste of milk? Vegan? Allergic or sensitive to dairy? Trying to lose weight? Or just jumping on the bandwagon? Whatever the case, we’ve found that more and more Americas are shifting away from dairy products and embracing plant-based alternatives.
However, choosing the best one can be challenging, especially if you want the most bang for your buck taste-wise and nutritionally. How do you know which milk is the best and better yet, best for you? It normally comes down to health benefits, taste and personal preference, but if you are unsure of your options, we’re here to help.
Common Milk Alternatives:
Pros: Starting off with the classics because traditional cow milk proteins, whey and casein, are some of the best sources of amino acids out there. According to the Nutrition & Metabolism journal, these two proteins preserve lean muscle mass and improve metabolic health during weight loss. If you make a switch to grass-fed over corn or grain-fed counterparts, you’ll gain higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids and at least two times more CLA, conjugated linoleic acid. CLA health benefits include: Immune and inflammatory system support, improved bone mass, improved blood sugar regulation, reduced body fat, reduced risk of heart attack, and maintenance of lean body mass.
Cons: Cows get sick when they’re fed things they’re not meant to eat like corn and soy. Like humans, when they’re sick, they take antibiotics that is then passed into the milk we drink. In addition, dairy is a source of inflammation-inducing saturated fats. Although studies have linked full-fat dairy drinkers with lower weight and risk of obesity, studies have also linked these saturated fats to decreasing the good bacteria in our gut. Lastly, dairy is a common allergen with about 2/3 adults either being lactose intolerant or having sensitivity to casein which causes acne. Bottom line, if cow milk is your pick of the bunch, try grass-fed, organically raised cow milk to avoid all the antibiotics and hormones.
Pros: So, if you don’t like the idea of cow milk, but still want to continue drinking animal milk, give goat milk a try. Isabel Smith, registered dietitian explains that goat and cow milk have similar profiles, but goat milk contains a much lower amount of lactose. This is beneficial for those who are some-what lactose intolerant or want to reduce common side effects of cow milk including gas, bloating and congestion. She continues that goat milk is easier for our bodies to use when aiding in muscle repair and regrowth.
Cons: Although low in lactose, goat milk still contains lactose and similar proteins found in cow milk. Those who are completely intolerant or allergic to cow milk, may experience similar side effects. The saturated fats level is also comparable. Goat milk can be a tasty alternative, but just like cow milk, gain the most out of your choice by buying an organic, grass-fed option.
Pros: Although almond milk seems like all the rage, it has actually been around since the Middle Ages. Almond milk is naturally low in fat and calories and contains high levels of vitamin E, magnesium, manganese, selenium, potassium, zinc, iron, fiber, phosphorus and calcium – what a resume! While other milks, like cow milk, need to be fortified with vitamins, almond milk naturally contains it all!
Cons: The only real downside is the lack of muscle-building macro nutrient protein, averaging a mere gram per serving in comparison to the 8 grams from dairy milk. When looking for your best option of almond milk, beware of brands that add carrageenan, a thickening agent linked to ulcers, inflammation and other gastrointestinal problems.
Pros: Although almond milk is a top seller, oat milk is quickly growing in popularity and for good reason. Oats are famous for their fiber content, in fact, Berkeley Wellness found that one serving of oats contains a hefty 4 grams of fiber, roughly one-tenth of your daily needs. Oat milk is extremely nutritious, immune system friendly and lowers cholesterol levels. It is also fortified with vitamin A, D, E, B12, folic acid, calcium and is a powerhouse of protein, with around 4-5 grams of healthy plant protein per serving. With so much to offer, oat milk does a better job of increasing endurance levels than energy drinks!
Cons: Unfortunately, people with gluten intolerance should avoid oat milk. Although oat does not regularly contain gluten itself, most oats in the US are grown in the same fields as wheat and are thus regularly contaminated with wheat. Depending on the brand, oat milk can also be high in sugar so read the labels when trying this dairy alternative.
Pros: Research could go to war to on pros and cons of soy, and honestly, the jury is still out. What we do know is that soy is the least processed of all dairy-alternative milks, highest in protein and low in saturated fat.
Cons: On the other hand, soybeans do contain high levels of phytic acid, an anti-nutrient compound that inhibits your body’s absorption of essential minerals like calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc. Soybeans have been linked to causing digestive issues, inflammation, hormone disruption in women, and exposing consumers to carcinogens. An astounding 94% of soybeans are genetically engineered in the U.S. and according to Food Chemistry, genetically engineered soybeans absorb high levels of glyphosate—an ingredient the FDA classified as “probably carcinogenic.” Read up on, What Happens To Your Body When You Eat Soy, and 4 Health Consequences of Soy for Women for even more information. Best practices when buying soy milk include choosing organic, non-GMO brands to avoid unnecessary pesticide consumption and awareness of flavored varieties with unnecessary sugar.
Pros: If you like whole milk or cream, this naturally sweet milk could be for you. Remember, we are taking about the kind in the carton, not the can. Coconut milk is loaded with medium-chain triglycerides, potassium, and a ton of vitamins (some brands can contain 50% if your daily B12 intake!) Coconut milk is also low in carbs, cholesterol and sodium, making it a healthy way to add a tropical twist to coffees, teasor homemade smoothies.
Cons: Although very good for you, it is not the best milk to gulp by the glass. While the fats in coconut milk are the healthy type, they should be consumed in moderation. Just one cup serves up to 20% of daily saturated fat, so be sure to look for varieties that are unsweetened to keep calories as low as possible.
Not So Common Alternatives…
Compared to cow milk, camel milk is significantly lower in saturated fat and loaded with probiotics – hello happy gut! It also contains a natural source of blood sugar related insulin. There is not much of a downside besides the calorie count, so if you are feeling adventurous, make camel the new cow!
This milk is not as common on grocery store shelves, but it is a nutritional powerhouse of antioxidants, omega-6 fatty acids, and phytochemicals. Although high in fat per serving, the fats are plant-based, which is usually a good sign that they are not saturated fats or trans-fats.
Powerful pea protein-based milk is taking over the health food scene in a big way, and when we say powerful, we’re not kidding. A single one-cup serving delivers the same amount of protein as cow’s milk. Pea milk is also low in saturated fat and has 50% more calcium than the popular almond milk. As for the negatives, pea milk can be high in omega-6, inflammatory fatty acids.
Hazelnut milk is an excellent source of healthy carbohydrates and calcium. According to the Los Angeles Times, hazelnut milk is becoming the new “it” milk in California mainly within the coffee industry. Considering that hazelnut flavored coffee is among the most popular brands of coffee in the world, it comes as no surprise that hazelnut milk is flavoring the coffees of independent shops throughout the world.
No, it will not get you high, but this milk is made from cannabis seeds. Hemp is rich in in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and naturally carries 10 essential amino acids, making it a good vegan and allergen-free source of protein. Most brands are also fortified with nutrients including riboflavin, vitamin D and vitamin B12. If soy milk upsets your stomach, that’s another reason this milk may be worth trying. Unlike soy, hemp doesn’t contain oligosaccharides, complex sugars that can cause gas and flatulence. The only downside? It won’t necessarily help keep your bones strong. If you depend on milk to get your daily calcium fix, hemp isn’t the best pick.
Pros for rice milk are really limited to being lactose-free and really good for baking. As far as dairy-free alternatives though, rice milk falls in last place in nutritional value because it is high in sugar and low in protein. When looking for best options, try to use rice milk sparingly and low sugar varieties.