Got milk? Probably, and it didn’t necessarily come from a cow.
These days, producers offer myriads of options for vegans, the lactose intolerant, and those concerned about bovine growth hormones and climate change. With alternatives aplenty, making a choice can be difficult. Here’s the lowdown on five kinds of plant-based milk.
Traditionally favored by the lactose averse, soy milk is what’s left after soybeans are soaked, ground, and strained. Unfortified soy milk contains less protein and calcium than cow’s milk. But t this faux-dairy lacks in bone-strengthening nutrients it makes up for in isoflavones, plant chemicals that many scientists believe can help reduce heart and cancer risks. (Soy consumption has been linked to breast cancer, but such claims have been generally disputed.)
One serving of soy milk also has about 80 fewer calories than regular milk and is low in saturated fats.
What’s better than a dairy alternative that’s low in saturated fats? One that has none. As reliable as soy milk has been for centuries, almond milk has for the past few years put a damper on soy’s popularity. It’s estimated that almond milk sales increased by 39 percent last year as revenue for drinkable soy continued to drop. Besides containing saturated fats and more calories than almond milk, market researchers chalk up soy milk’s fading popularity to another factor: It’s just not hip. “Nuts are trendy now,” Marketresearch.com’s Larry Finkel told Bloomberg. “Soy sounds more like old-fashioned health food, like tofu, and could probably benefit by a reinvigoration of their brand.”
As thousands petition Starbucks to start carrying almond milk (Facebook page here for those so inclined), one cow-free alternative recently made it to the siren’s counter: coconut milk. According to the mass coffee purveyor, more than 84,000 votes on MyStarbucksIdea.com made the clamor for coconut milk loud and clear. So what’s all the fuss about? Coconut milk is made from grated coconut meat that’s soaked in water. The remaining liquid may be repeatedly strained with a cheesecloth for a thinner consistency. Coconuts have lots of vitamins and minerals, but don’t confuse the milk with the low-calorie, electrolyte rich coconut water (this is simply the clear juice found when cracking the fruit open). A cup of sweetened coconut milk packs about 350 calories in saturated fat.
Rice milk is the least likely of all milk products to trigger allergies, according to Real Simple. But this dairy alternative, which is made from milled rice and water, has low amounts of nutrients. It also contains more natural sugars than regular milk, with almost no protein.
Hemp milk isn’t made from the same hemp varieties used to produce marijuana, according to Oregon-based Living Harvest Foods, and it doesn’t contain the ingredient THC (the chemical that gives pot its psychological effects). What it does have are omega-3s, the heart-healthy fats abundant in fish. Although it’s not yet clear whether the omega-3s in hemp have the same cardiovascular benefits as those found in seafood, the fortified version of hemp milk has calcium, vitamin A and vitamin D—the same nutrients regular milk provides. Hemp seeds also have similar nutritional values as flax seeds.
Photo credit: Paul Delmont