Contrary to what you might have heard, you don’t really need dairy to strengthen your bones and enhance your health. In fact, there are so many options that are similar or even better to cow’s milk. It can actually be overwhelming to walk into a grocery store and see all the vegan milk options, so what is the best vegan milk?
Different studies on dairy have confirmed that consuming dairy can lead to health issues, including digestive problems due to lactulose intolerance, increased risk for ovarian, breast, and prostate cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.1, 2, 3,
These findings have led to various plant milk flooding the market and more people moving to plant-based alternatives made from nuts, legumes, and even hemp. But not all these non-dairy varieties are as nutritious as you may think.
Vegan milk is plant-based milk, and it’s not something new as it has been in existence for centuries. But over the past decade, vegan milk’s popularity has skyrocketed. The reason is, more people have become enlightened and more aware (and continue to do so) of the dangers associated with dairy and other animal products. See Is Milk Bad For You?
Vegan milk is a great source of protein, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other specific nutrients contained in that particular plant source. This helps boost nutrient intake which promotes various functions in the body
That being said, there are various types of plant-based milk in the market that you can choose from. However, most commercially produced plant-based milk contains preservatives, thickeners, and flavorings to improve flavor, texture, and shelf-life, all of which may not be good for your health.
But you can always make your own to be sure what exactly was put in the milk.
Let’s look at the various vegan milk existing today and how they can add to your health.
What Is the Best Vegan Milk?
Some plant-based kinds of milk contain similar nutrients to dairy milk, such as vitamin D and calcium, and some have different nutrients. Some just taste good and are very low-calorie.
Even personally, I find myself with multiple milk options for different purposes, such as cooking vs baking vs drinking. Also, my husband, daughter, and I all have different favorites, so sometimes we are simultaneously drinking three different types. Within the world of plant-based milk, the sky is the limit!
There’s always an overwhelming range of options, from almond, rice, soy, oats, cashew, and even pea milk. This may leave you wondering and even confused at what plant-based milk is best for you.
This article will help you clear things up in making the right choice on the best non-dairy milk to consume.
1. Almond milk
Almond milk is simply made by mixing ground almonds with water.
It has higher levels of calcium than other plant-derived milk but is low in protein and calories.
It’s also high in nutrients such as zinc, iron, potassium, manganese, vitamin E, and fiber.
Almond milk is the top-selling alternative in the US, but there is only about 2 percent of the almonds in the milk. The rest is water, oils, gums, and emulsifiers. So when you pour a cup of almond milk, there are only like seven or eight almonds in that one cup.
I recommend going for organic milk options, as almond trees are usually heavily sprayed with roundup weed killer at the base of the tree. This is to kill any grass or weed so that when they shake the trees and almonds fall, picking them becomes easier. They sprayed pesticides leach into the tree, including the almonds.
Also, when you buy almond milk, always go for unsweetened versions as sweetened ones contain up to 16 grams (4 tablespoons) of sugar per serving. You can then add sweeteners to taste if you choose, and you could use sweeteners such as stevia or monk fruit.
Almond milk is an excellent source of vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that protects the body against free radicals.
It’s, however, not a good source of protein, with a cup providing just one gram of protein. Other than that, it’s an excellent alternative for dairy recipes.
Almond milk is a common dairy alternative made from blending almonds and water, then straining them to remove the pulp and obtain the liquid or almond milk.
A cup of almond milk provides up to 110 percent of your daily vitamin E requirements. It also provides 2.5 grams of fat and 1.5 grams of protein.
In addition, it contains reasonable amounts of vitamin D, calcium, and potassium, which promotes strong and healthy bones
2. Soy milk
Soy is the most comparable to dairy, with glass providing 7 grams of protein and 220 milligrams of calcium.
It is low in cholesterol and contains isoflavones, antioxidants that may have anti-cancer effects and prevent inflammation in the body.
It also contains nutrients, including riboflavin, vitamin A and D, magnesium, potassium, sodium, phosphorus, and iron.
Unfortunately, most soy is GMO, so you may want to go for organic.
In addition, nutrients in soy milk may differ from brand to brand, as they may have added salt, sugar, or preservatives.
So remember to go through the ingredients carefully to find a brand suitable for you.
Soy milk can be derived from either soy protein isolates or soybeans. It’s often high in vegetable oils and thickeners to improve its consistency.
It has a creamy consistency with a mild flavor and can be a great substitute for dairy in dairy-based savory dishes.
If there is anything close to cow’s milk in terms of protein, it’s soy. It’s also a complete protein with all the essential amino acids needed in the body.
A cup of soy milk may offer up to
- Fat: 4.3 grams
- Protein: 8 grams
- Carbohydrates: 4 grams
- Calories: 80
However, soy is a commonly known allergen to both children and adults. Besides, most soy produced in the United States has been genetically modified, which is a concern to many.
3. Oat milk
Oat milk is quickly becoming the most popular plant-based milk. It has rocketed to popularity, and in the last year or two has become a popular choice for plant-based creamers, vegan ice creams, and vegan yogurt.
It is perfectly creamy, with a pleasantly neutral flavor with a touch of sweetness.
What’s important for oat milk is to buy organic because some oats are highly sprayed with pesticides.
Oat milk is high in carbohydrates with up to 16 grams of carbs, so this may not be the best option if on a low-carb diet.
It’s also high in sugar (almost 7 grams per cup), low in protein but highly fortified with calcium.
Oat milk is simply rolled oats and water blended, then strained to remove the pulp.
It’s a great source of B vitamins and may promote healthy bones and teeth and lower cholesterol. It’s also a good choice for people with specific food allergies and intolerances, such as nut and soy allergies.
Oat milk is a good source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, including vitamins A, B2, B12, and D, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and iron.
It can also provide up to 4 grams of protein and 2.5 grams of fat in one cup of unsweetened oat milk. Besides, it can be cheaper compared to other plant-based types of milk.
If making your own, a pinch of salt, cinnamon, or natural vanilla extract can help enhance the taste. And to avoid the sliminess associated with it, use cold water and avoid squeezing the cheesecloth too strong. Also, don’t soak your oats prior, and do not blend for more than 30 seconds.
4. Rice milk
Next to soy and almond milk, rice milk is another plant-based milk alternative. The best hypoallergenic option, especially for those individuals with soy and nut allergies.
It’s high in B vitamins and low in cholesterol and saturated fat. It’s also a great source of magnesium, copper, and iron.
Rice milk also contains selenium and manganese. They are powerful antioxidants that can give you an immune boost.
However, rice milk is low in calcium, unless you buy a fortified version where a calcium supplement is added. Homemade rice milk contains about 20 milligrams of calcium which caters for only 1% of your daily requirements, while fortified store-bought may contain 20%-30% of your daily requirement.
Since rice milk is always sweet, from the natural carbohydrates in rice, it may not be an excellent alternative for someone with diabetes.
A cup of rice milk may contain up to 33 grams of carbohydrates which is 3-4 times the amount found in soy milk.
Another downfall of rice milk is its low levels of protein, with less than 2 grams per serving.
So if you still want to enjoy rice milk, make sure you supplement your protein and calcium with other foods.
Rice milk is one of the least allergenic dairy-free milk to consume, making it a great choice for anyone with allergies to soy and nut milk.
It’s made by milling rice with water then obtaining the liquid. Rice milk often contains additives to promote stability and improve consistency.
In terms of taste, it’s mild with a naturally sweet flavor. It’s great when taken on its own but can also be included in oatmeal and smoothies.
A cup of rice milk contains
- Calories: 120
- Carbohydrates: 22 grams
- Fat: 2 grams
- Protein: 0.4 grams
Unlike other types, rice milk can be high in calories and low in protein. So it would be best if you considered other food choices to ensure you meet your protein requirements.
In addition, rice milk is high in arsenic acid, a naturally occurring toxic compound.
Eating rice daily and in considerable amounts may increase your level of arsenic acid, which may lead to toxicity and increase your risk of diseases, including cancer and heart disease.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends rice consumption as part of a healthy diet; however, relying solely on rice and rice products is not recommended.
5. Pea protein milk
Pea protein milk is low in saturated fats and a protein bomb with 10 grams of protein per serving.
It has 50% more calcium than other plant-based alternatives.
However, pea milk contains sunflower oil for its smooth and creamy texture. Sunflower oil is highly inflammatory when consumed in excess due to its high omega-6 fatty acids.
Some brands have gone a step further to include omega-3 fatty acids to balance the two, so I’d recommend looking out for versions like this.
I love pea protein milk for workout smoothies, since it is a powerhouse on its own, never mind any other ingredients.
Pea milk is a plant milk made from a pea protein extracted from yellow peas. It can also be obtained by blending yellow peas with water.
Pea milk is one of the highest protein sources than any other plant-based milk. It also has an appealing smooth taste making it more likable.
Besides its high protein content, it’s a good source of other nutrients, including calcium, vitamin D, iron, vitamin A, and potassium.
A cup of pea milk can provide up to 4.4 grams of fat, 8 grams of protein, and 70 calories. However, most brands in the market are high in calories since they contain added sugar. So always check the ingredients list carefully.
6. Coconut milk
If you enjoy whole milk or cream, coconut milk is for you.
It’s naturally creamy and sweet.
Coconut milk is high in calories, with 93% of its calories coming from saturated fat, including medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs).
A cup of coconut milk provides up to 20% of the day’s saturated fat intake. It’s also a good source of potassium, and it’s often fortified with other important vitamins.
Always go for unsweetened options to help control your calorie and carbohydrate content.
In my opinion, coconut milk has the most distinct flavor, which most people either strongly love or hate. It’s no surprise that as a Jamaican, coconut milk is my daughter and I’s favorite for drinking and desserts. Also, I add it to most of my curries.
Coconut milk is also the preferred choice for plant-based creamers, vegan heavy cream, vegan whipped cream, and anything else that requires a creamy decadent base.
Coconut milk is made by blending the white coconut flesh and water and straining the liquid.
It has a sweet and creamy texture with a subtle coconut flavor.
A cup of coconut milk contains 45 calories and 4 grams of fat. It’s deficient in protein and carbohydrates, meaning you need an alternative like pea milk to ensure adequate protein consumption.
However, it’s a wonderful source of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which offer numerous health benefits, including lowering cholesterol and aiding weight loss.
7. Cashew milk
Cashew milk is made by blending water-soaked cashews and water. It’s an excellent source of antioxidants, fiber, magnesium, and copper.
It’s subtle and smooth in texture which makes it suitable for coffee, pudding, and cereal.
And just like almond and rice milk, cashew milk is low in protein. You may have to incorporate other protein sources into your diet to ensure your needs are being met.
Cashew milk is an excellent alternative for anyone allergic to soy.
It has a neutral flavor, but isn’t very watery, making it one of my daughter’s favorites for drinks and cooking that requires a neutral flavor base.
It has a sweet and subtle nutty flavor and is excellent for thickening smoothies. It’s, however, low in protein and should never be relied upon as a source of protein.
A cup of unsweetened cashew milk contains
- Protein: 0 gram
- Fat: 2 grams
- Calories: 25
- Carbohydrates: 2 grams
8. Hemp milk
Hemp milk is creamy with a nutty flavor.
It is a good source of protein and rich in omega 3 fatty acids and ten essential amino acids.
Its mild flavor makes it a suitable baking and cooking alternative to trying.
However, hemp milk is costly, and unless fortified, it’s deficient in calcium.
Hemp milk is dairy-free milk, that is made from hemp seeds from (the Cannabis sativa) plant and water, it is high in protein, minerals, and healthy fats.
This is the same plant that marijuana is from, however, hemp seeds only contain trace amounts of THC or Tetrahydrocannabinol which is the psychoactive mind-altering compound. The cannabinoids are mostly in the flowers and only trace amounts are in the seeds. So you don’t have to worry about hemp seeds getting you ‘high’.
Hemp milk is especially beneficial for those who can’t have cow’s milk and are also allergic to tree nuts.
Hemp milk is sold in health food stores, it is a complete protein, it contains all the essential amino acid.
One cup of original hemp milk contains the following nutrients:
- Calories: 130
- Protein: 4 grams
- Carbohydrates: 20 grams
- Fat: 3 grams
- Sugar: 15 grams
- Fiber: 1 gram
Hemp milk is a good source of:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B12, D
Store-bought hemp milk may contain additives such as thickeners, sugars so it is important that you read the labels before making your purchase.
Hemp milk is creamy with a nutty taste, it is great to use as a creamer or add to smoothies, cereals or use wherever you would use milk.
9. Macadamia Milk
Macadamia milk is exciting plant-based milk made of mostly water with only 3% macadamia nuts.
With a smooth, richer, and creamier flavor, macadamia milk tastes great, more than any other dairy alternative. You can comfortably take it on its own or include it in smoothies.
It’s, however, low in calories and protein, meaning you may need additional protein sources to reach your daily requirements. Nonetheless, its low-calorie levels make it a wonderful addition to a low-calorie diet.
A cup of macadamia milk offer
- Calories: 50-55
- Carbohydrates: 1 gram
10. Hazelnut Milk
Hazelnut milk is a plant-based beverage made from hazelnuts and water. However storebought hazelnut milk may contain preservatives and thickeners. it is rich and creamy and it is a great milk alternative in baked goods, smoothies, and baked goods.
Hazelnut contains, healthy fats, protein. fiber and vitamin E. One cup of unsweetened hazelnut milk contains 30 calories, 3 grams of fat, 2 grams of protein, 1 gram of carbohydrate, and 1 gram of fiber according to Pacific Foods.
- Hazelnuts contain a good source of Vitamin E, an antioxidant that is great for healthy skin, hair, and nails. Vitamin E also boosts heart and brain health.
- Homemade hazelnut milk contains lots of antioxidants which help to fight free radical damage and reduce inflammation.
- Hazelnut contains anti-tumor compounds that reduce the rate of cancer.
- Contains manganese and thiamine which boost metabolism and aids in weight loss
Ditching dairy is a great decision, but if you opt for plant-based alternatives, it’s good to understand that all plant-based milk is not created equal. Some may be healthier than others in terms of nutrients but also in processing.
To enjoy the benefits, always choose organic, read your labels carefully, and avoid sweetened versions or those containing unnecessary or excessive amounts of unhealthy ingredients. And if you can, the absolute best version will be what you prepare at home.
Other Vegan Milks To Try
Dairy has been a staple for most people for too long. However, due to the health concerns surrounding it and animal products in general, most people have turned to vegan milk as an alternative.
Vegan milk can be pretty affordable and easy to make, depending on the type you choose. Besides, it’s rich in nutrients and may help promote heart health, build strong bones, lower blood pressure, and more.
Some of the best vegan milk to try include almonds, cashew, oats, macadamia, rice, soy, and pea milk.
However, take note of soy as most of it has been genetically modified. Also, some types like coconut milk, rice milk, and macadamia have low protein levels. So ensure you are having adequate intake from other sources.
Lastly, store-bought vegan milk contains additives, thickeners, and preservatives that may not be good for you. If you have the time and can make your own, do precisely that.
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