A wide array of milk alternatives will often greet you these days when you walk down the dairy aisle of large and small chain grocery stores. With an even wider and more confusing array of information sources online flaunting the benefits of various dairy-free “milks”, it’s a wonder there aren’t more perplexed shoppers crowding the aisles and comparing labels! Here in this short review you’ll find myths debunked, products reviewed, and recommendations made on a few dairy alternatives that are available to you today.
When clients come to me looking for plant-heavy meal advice, they have a variety of reasons why they want to use dairy milk alternatives. For many, it is due to a lactose intolerance or milk protein allergy or intolerance. For others, they seek vegan options for health or ethical reasons or are discovering how to lessen their impact on the environment by supporting industries that need to use less water and land to sustain production. Some simply never enjoyed drinking milk and want a different-tasting alternative to supply some of their daily needs for calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A and B12. Some are looking for ways to reduce carbohydrate intake or calories. Whatever the reason for choosing dairy-free, there are plenty of ways to sustain a healthy balance of nutrients through plant-based alternatives.
Is soy safe?
The short version of it is this: soy foods that are not over-processed are beneficial to heart health and hormonal health for just about everyone! (Caution should be used in those with thyroid disease). Soy beverage is one of these foods, and it provides just about the same vitamins and minerals that cow’s milk provides. Many of my clients are surprised to learn that other alternatives contain very little protein, whereas soy is definitely comparable at 8 to 12 grams per cup. Thus, as a direct substitute, and for those without soy allergies, unsweetened soy beverage is a great choice!
Almond, Cashew, Coconut, and Other Nut-based Milks
One of the first dairy-free milks to grow exponentially in popularity was almond milk. Unsweetened varieties contain little carbohydrates if unsweetened and have typically less than 3 grams of protein per glass. A close second was coconut milk, which has been around for years in Asian cooking. The one-liter milk alternatives at the grocers labeled “coconut beverage” typically contain coconut cream mixed with filtered water and a food emulsifier, as well as fortified vitamins and minerals. Other nut milks include cashew milk and hazelnut milk, which tend to be creamier than regular skim milk and have less calories. Be careful that you don’t rely on sweetened varieties – they can sometimes pack over 10 grams of added sugar per glass!
Some talented raw chefs I know have crafted blends of delicious nut-based beverages to use in lattes, smoothies, cereals, or straight from the glass – but note that homemade nut milks do not have specific fortified vitamins and minerals like calcium, vitamin D, and B12 that the commercially-sold brands have. As with other dairy alternatives, be sure to check and compare commercial product labels to note a product’s calcium and vitamin D content and its suitability in replacing your dairy products!
Oat Milk, Rice Milk, Nut-free Milks
For those seeking allergen-friendly foods or those needing to embark on a food elimination challenge, nut-free dairy-free milks are sometimes the only answer! Oat beverage, rice beverage, hemp, and quinoa beverage are all lesser known and harder-to-find alternatives, but each have their own unique tastes! Oat beverage tastes great in lattes; rice milk has a mild taste and can accompany a variety of dishes; hemp milk and quinoa milk are slightly nuttier. Hemp milk contains a higher amount of omega-3 fats than most milk alternatives.
Here are some favourite brand-name dairy alternatives of my clients:
- Natur-A Soy Beverage
- So Good Oat Beverage
- Silk Unsweetened Organic Soy Beverage
- Rice Dream Rice Beverage
- Pacific Organic Almond Beverage
- Silk Unsweetened Almond Beverage
- So Delicious Coconut Beverage
Make your own dairy-free coffee creamer!
- 1 cup Silk Original Unsweetened Almond Beverage
- 1 cup So Delicious Unsweetened Coconut Beverage
- 2 tbsp pure maple syrup or other sweetener
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Optional: ½ tsp cinnamon
How to make your very own homemade nut milk:
Step 1: Purchase 1 pound of raw nuts of any kind – my favourite blend is half almonds, one quarter cashews, and one quarter hazelnuts.
Step 2: Soak nuts in plenty of water for 24 to 36 hours. Optional to drain the water halfway through and then refill with fresh water and keep soaking.
Step 3: Drain and rinse the soaked nuts, and remove as much of the skins from almonds and hazelnuts as possible by picking them out or rolling the nuts in damp paper towel. Blend the soaked and de-skinned nuts in a high-powered blender with 4 to 4.5 cups of fresh distilled water. Blend for 4 minutes total, scraping down the sides when needed. The water portion should look white and opaque.
Step 4: Let the blended mixture drain through a cheesecloth and collect the milk underneath. Save the leftover blended nuts (freeze if storing) for making homemade crackers, adding to veggie burgers or nut loaf recipes, adding small portions to smoothies, or in baking or raw food power bites.
Step 5: Sweeten with 1 tbsp honey or maple syrup if desired, chill 2 to 4 hours and enjoy! Homemade nut milks are good for up to four days – if the liquid separates, just shake or blend back together!
Brianna Meghawache, BSc, RD – Nourished by Bri – Whole Foods Nutrition Coaching