The pros and cons of the most popular non-dairy milks

Every week a new previously unheard of non-dairy milk seems to seize the attention of whole milk abstainers everywhere- a demographic that has experienced a 61% growth since 2012. Several years into the cow-milk exodus we have a fairly healthy bounty of substitutes to choose from. There’s pecan milk, coconut milk, rice milk, and even camel milk. 

The health benefits are typical answers to the negative effects associated with traditional milk but how many of the alternatives actually stand on their own as far as dietary merits are concerned?

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Almond Milk

Almond milk is the first non-dairy celebrity that I can remember.

The blend of almonds and water is strained and reborn as a smooth nutrient rich, low-calorie beverage perfect for vegans and those that are lactose intolerant. Because many of the strongest health benefits of homemade almond milk are severely lessened by the dilution process practiced by many commercial brands, it’s important to read labels when shopping around for an optimal version of the dairy alternative.

Almond milk is rich in vitamins and minerals, particularly Vitamin E, a vitamin known to aid in the prevention of cancer, heart disease in addition to boosting skin health and halting the risk and slowing the effects of cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s. Most commercial brands of almond milk are further enriched with Vitamin E, with one serving typically providing 37% of your daily requirement.

A cup of almond milk will run you between 60 and 80 calories, which is about 80 calories less than a glass of whole milk, and about 26 fewer calories than a cup of skim milk.

Even with all of its benefits taken into consideration consumers with pre-existing thyroid conditions might want to consider other milk options. Individuals should also speak with a pediatrician before administering almond milk to infants as it doesn’t really provide the same necessary nutrients found in formula. Moreover, the production of almond milk contributes considerably to groundwater depletion. 

“More than 80% of the world’s almond crop is grown in California, which has been experiencing its worst drought on record. It takes 1.1 gallons (5 liters) of water to grow one almond, and thanks to the big profits they bring in, almond orchards continue to be planted,” reports Emine Saner of The Guardian 

The health benefits all depend on how many almonds are used. Remember brand matters, as some distributors provide calcium enriched versions as well as unsweetened options. Fortunately making almond milk in your own home isn’t all that difficult.  Simply finely grind some almonds, pop them in a blender with water, then strain all the unwanted pulp.

Whether your purchasing from the store or whipping up your own batch, be sure to find other more efficient methods of obtaining protein and calcium if you’re making an effort to steer clear of dairy milk.

Soy Milk

Soy milk actually contains more protein than almond milk even if it ultimately has more calories. More substantially though, soy milk isn’t derived from a water-intensive crop like almond milk is, making its production much more environmentally friendly.

Soy milk is composed of soybeans that are soaked and boiled with water. Non-Dairy milk has no saturated fat or cholesterol. The compounds found in soy milk are said to help prevent several illnesses, some of which include prostate cancer, diabetes, and liver disease. A single cup of unsweetened soy milk contains about 301 milligrams of calcium and about 1.1 milligrams of iron, in addition to being rich in B- 12, which helps us produce DNA.

Soy milk is not recommended to those with allergies or patients recently recovering from breast cancer due to the chemicals found in soy milk that are similar to estrogen. Even for drinkers without dietary constrictions soy tends to contain added sugar making it a less than ideal weight loss beverage.

Oat Milk

The organically creamy-sweet beverage seems to be the latest coffee connoisseur’s darling. It’s reportedly great for bone health, lowers cholesterol, and it’s an excellent source for Vitamin B, Vitamin D, fiber and calcium. Though a glass of oat milk contains more calories than found in a glass of both almond and soy milk, it’s still significantly lower than a glass of whole milk.

Oat milk has no lactose, nuts or any other common allergens. More than 94% of soy crops are genetically modified, so if genetic modification is a point of contention for you oat milk might be the way to go.  Similarly to almond milk, you can make the stuff at home very easily, with a little bit of cinnamon, oats, and water.

On the flip-side oat milk is typically higher in carbs than most common nut-based milks.

Which is the healthiest?

It depends on what role you need milk to serve in your particular diet. If you’re looking for protein, soy milk is your best bet, with 7 grams in a single glass (there are roughly 8 grams in a glass of whole milk). Almond milk doesn’t provide very much protein and oat milk only fares fractionally better with 4 grams of protein per glass. If you’re looking to shave some pounds, almond milk will serve you much better than rice, coconut, oat, and even soy, because it’s so low in calories and saturated fat. Oat milk tends to be more naturally flavorful thus a better compliment to beverages like lattes or macchiatos.

In any case, non-dairy milk is fortified with different attributes so checking the labels is vital to accommodate your nutritional needs.

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