I’m so happy to offer up this great guest post by Bonzai reader Renee. It’s just the sort of informative piece I’d love to write – if only I had more hours in my day! Lucky for us, our awesome community continues to grow and thrive, and our awesome community members are willing to take the time to share what they learn in their own lives. Thanks Renee for doing the sleuthing on the alt milk scene!
Since our childhoods we have been programmed to believe in the necessity of milk. Everyone knows that milk plays a crucial role in any child’s diet, as it not only provides calcium for strong bones, but it also enhances growth. In recent years however, cow’s milk (the milk most of us grew up drinking), has been implicated in many health problems including allergies, asthma, gastrointestinal disorders, and skin rashes. Adding to this, animal rights activivists point to the cruelty inherent in industrial farming, claiming that the animals are treated terribly and that the milk can be quite unhealthy.
As I learned these issues, I realized I wanted to give my family a better, healthier, and more humane alternative. But to my amazement, I found that there are more choices in non-dairy milk than I’d ever imagined. In fact, the proliferation of these alternatives has made selecting one more difficult than ever before! Each milk alternative is different in nutrition content, consistency, price, and even the taste. Here are some of the choices that made my top list, with their pros and cons to help us all decide:
Soymilk is made from soybeans and has long been a popular alternative for people who are unable to drink cow’s milk, often due to lactose intolerance.
• Fairly low in fat; low-fat and fat-free options available
• Suitable for low-carb diets
• Least expensive commercial milk alternative and available almost everywhere
• High in protein and contains considerably more fiber than cow’s milk
• May lower cholesterol
• Has more omega-3 fatty acids than 2 percent milk
• Mostly fortified with riboflavin and vitamins A, D and B12
• Has isoflavones, a phytoestrogen that can lower the risk for diseases such as cancers, heart disease, osteoporosis and more
• Soy is a common allergen
• Lacks calcium; most brands are fortified with calcium, but research indicates that this may not be as healthful as naturally occurring calcium
• Studies on the effect of isoflavones and cancer risk are mixed
Almond milk is created by finely grinding almonds, one of the healthiest nuts you can eat, together with water.
• Contains vitamins A, D and E and minerals phosphorus, magnesium, iron and potassium (some of these are fortified)
• Low in calories and carbohydrate; advantageous for those trying to lose weight
• Almonds are costly so the actual amount of almonds used in the milk is small and may not be enough to provide a lot of nutrition
• Almonds are a goitrogenic food; they contain chemicals that can harm the thyroid gland when consumed in large amounts
Rice milk is processed from brown rice and usually contains rice syrup, evaporated cane juice, or some other natural sweetener.
• Low in cholesterol
• High in essential minerals, including magnesium and selenium, which are proven to boost the immune system
• Hypo-allergenic and a good source of vitamins B, iron, copper and antioxidants (usually fortified)
• Most brands are enriched with as much calcium and vitamins as cow’s milk
• Excessive consumption of rice milk, which is high in carbohydrates, is not safe for diabetics
• Non-fortified rice milk is very low in protein and calcium compared to cow’s milk
• Commercial rice milk can be expensive due to a combination of shipping costs, low demand and substantial subsidies paid to American rice growers
• Availability may be limited to natural and health food stores
Oat Milk is made from oat groats (hulled grain broken into fragments), filtered water, and potentially other grains and beans, such as triticale, barley, brown rice, and soybeans.
• High in fiber
• Cholesterol-free and a good option for anyone on a low cholesterol diet
• Contains vitamin E and folic acid, which are essential to numerous bodily functions
• Rich in phytochemicals, which are naturally occurring chemicals in plants that help fight diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and stroke
• Difficult to get ahold of, except for in health food shops
• Does not contain any calcium and is rarely available in fortified versions
• Flavored varieties can be high in sugar and may contain gluten which some people cannot tolerate
New to the market, hemp milk is made from seeds grown in Canada, where growing hemp is legal.
• Good source of omega-3 and -6 essential fatty acids, calcium, and phosphorous, and is commonly fortified with other vitamins and minerals
• Unlike soy protein, hemp protein doesn’t contain high levels of enzyme inhibitors, phytates, which can interfere with the proper assimilation of essential minerals
• Does not contain the oligosaccharides found in soy, which cause flatulence and stomach distress
• Difficult to find in many areas
• Low in protein compared to cow’s milk
If you or your family is vegan, allergic to cow’s milk, lactose intolerant, or simply does not like the taste of cow’s milk, there is no reason to fret. You have a lot of non-dairy milk alternatives! I personally enjoy melon-flavored soymilk, while my kids love the malt variety. My husband, meanwhile, has become somewhat addicted to the light, nutty flavor of plain almond milk.
In choosing milk alternatives, keep in mind these pros and cons and make sure to always check nutritional labels as brands do vary. You may also consider making your own milk at home if costs become a hindrance.
Renee Bedford is a mom and wife who is dedicated to living a healthy and sustainable lifestyle.