The guide to alternative milks

When choosing an alternative milk with the most nutritional benefits you have to address what your health goals are. Are you after a milk with a high protein content because you don’t consume enough protein based foods? Is your desired outcome to lose weight or gain weight – which will help you choose a milk based on your calorie intake. Or are you merely after an option that would be taste equivalent to animal-derived milks for baking or your daily coffee?

Four common alternatives

If you’re anything like me, you’ll find it overwhelming when you reach the longlife milk isle only to stumble your eyes upon a variety of choices. Not to mention the choice in the fridge section or at your local health food store. There’s a range of alternative milks and it’s growing. I’ve narrowed down the four most common choices, how they compare taste and nutrition wise, and lastly, a few tips on what steps you can take next.

ALMOND MILK:

First up is almond milk! If you’re late to the conversation, almond milk is a very versatile and popular dairy free alternative. One of the most common questions you’ll probably get with this one is – ‘milk from nuts? Do you spend your night milking nuts – how does that work?!’

Taste: Almond milk is the most preferred dairy-free milk alternative because of its smooth flavour. In particular, unsweetened almond milk has very distinct similarities with its mild   taste.

Nutrition: Although almond milk has a low calorie content, it’s not a high source of protein and most added vitamins are processed. Be mindful that some almond milk brands do contain lecithin to create a thick consistency.

Make it yourself: Yes, it’s true! Almond milk is quite easy to make, particularly if you have a busy lifestyle – simply blend almond butter with filtered water. You can pick up almond butter at most health stores.

Tips:

  • look for ‘unsweetened’ almond milk
  • low calorie
  • low protein
  • similar calcium to dairy-milk

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SOY MILK:

Do you remember that time when soy was  popular? It was almost as if the trend at the time was to drink soy – and if you didn’t you didn’t fit in. You were especially cool if you were seen drinking a ‘soy latte’.

Taste: Soy has a smooth texture and has a slight bean aftertaste that may seem overpowering when consumed on its own. Soy is very versatile and to its benefit, works well with coffee.

Nutrition: Soy milk is similar to dairy-milk when it comes to protein and calcium. Soy is, however, a controversial food and a common allergen that your body may not welcome. It’s important to be aware that consuming an excessive amount of soy phytoestrogens (plant-based hormones) may counteract with natural hormones. And just like other alternatives, soy milk contains starches and emulsifiers to extend its shelf life.

Make it yourself: Making soy milk is a slightly longer process as the soybeans must be soaked overnight. It is often common to mix in edamame beans as they are slightly more nutritious. Add 1 cup of soy and edamame beans to 3 cups of boiling water for 3 minutes. Pour the beans and water in a blender and add 2 cups of filtered water. Blend, then strain and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Tips:

  • look for organic non-gmo brands
  • low calorie
  • high protein
  • high calcium
  • low in sugar

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 COCONUT MILK:

When it comes to coconut milk there is a difference between coconut milk commonly found in the longlife isle and the coconut milk that comes in a can. Currently coconut milk beverages are more popular than ever.

Taste: Coconut milk has a rich and creamy taste and is ideal for adding to coffee or cereal.

Nutrition: As it is naturally soy and gluten-free coconut milk is often a good choice for those with food allergies. With a good amount of fat but not a lot of protein it is a less popular milk to drink every day. Once again, it depends on what your desired outcome of the milk is – if you’re after an alternative milk based on taste this is your go to.

Make it yourself: Pour 4 cups of water into a blender and and 2 cups of unsweetened shredded coconut (fresh is even better). Strain the coconut milk and add 4 cups of water to a blender with the remaining strained pulp. Store in the refrigerator for a week.

Tips:

  • look for ‘unsweetened’ coconut milk
  • low protein
  • high saturated fat
  • rich in fibre

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RICE MILK:

I know. You’re thinking, you eat rice –  you don’t drink it?

Taste: Unsweetened rice milk is a sweet alternative that has a strong texture.

Nutrition: Rice milk is one of the mildest milks in terms of food allergies. Unfortunately, the alternative milk does come with its negatives. It’s common to find a high sugar and carbohydrate content, as well as a low level of protein. Similar to other alternative milks, starches are also commonly added for shelf-life purposes. This isn’t a great source of everyday nutrition, although if you do prefer to experiment, be sure to avoid a high sugar content.

Make it yourself: It’s also something quite easy to make on your own. Boil 1 cup of brown rice with 3 cups of water, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1 teaspoon of agave nectar/rice syrup. Once the rice is cooked, blend with 4 more cups of water. Strain the rice and store in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Tips:

  • cholesterol free
  • high calorie
  • low protein
  • low calcium
  • high sugar

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HOW TO SHOP FOR ALTERNATIVE MILKS

  1. Compare the refrigerator section and the long-life milk aisle. Refrigerated versions of milks tend to have a reasonable expiry date and shorter life, which means less artificial ingredients.
  2. It pays off to read the information written on the packaging and look at the ingredients. If it’s loaded with words you can’t pronounce it’s best to leave it. Making your own might be the better option.
  3. Always opt for unsweetened and unflavoured versions. Many alternative milks come in a variety of flavours. Sure this works wonders with attracting buyers, but it may mean there are added flavours and colours.

My current favourite plant-based milk is Bonsoy and you can find it at most supermarket retailers and health food stores for around $5.

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My top tip is to always check nutritional labels for their sugar content.

Best of luck with your journey!

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