Should you be drinking non-dairy milk?

Friday, 19 July 2013

Dairy alternativesIf you’re lactose-intolerant or have a milk allergy, if you’re a vegan or suffer from high cholesterol, or if you simply choose not to use cow’s milk, there’s an increasing number of alternatives available on store shelves.

Non-dairy milks are produced using a cereal base like oats, rice or wheat; oil-rich nuts and fruits such as almond, coconut, and hazelnut; or pulses like soya or peanuts. They are mostly low in cholesterol, lactose, and casein, and full of vitamins (A, B, C, and E), minerals (calcium, potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus) and plenty of unsaturated fatty acids. They have different tastes and consistencies, and are suitable for different purposes.

Soy milk is made from a mixture of soybeans and water. With the closest nutritional profile to cow’s milk, it’s lactose-free, rich in calcium and protein, and contains no saturated fat. You can use it for baking, cooking, or for adding to cereal and hot drinks. Unflavoured soy milk has a distinct beany taste and a thin consistency; it’s the best non-dairy substitute if you’re making a sauce, as it remains stable at high temperatures. Several studies indicate that it could lower your risk for heart disease. However, some people are allergic to soy products, and research suggests that consuming large quantities could be harmful for pre-menopausal women and young children – soy contains phytoestrogens, which are oestrogen-mimicking compounds that can have an adverse effect on hormone health. For menopausal women, the isoflavones in soy could be beneficial.

Coconut milk can add creaminess, sweetness, and flavour to dairy-free cooking, and tastes delicious as is. It’s easily digested for those with lactose intolerance, and is rich in medium-chain fatty acids including lauric acid, which is antiviral and antibacterial and promotes brain development and bone health. Coconut milk contains fifty percent of your recommended daily allowance of vitamin B12, the vitamin that ensures red blood cells get enough oxygen to the body – particularly important for vegetarians and vegans who may not get enough B12 through diet alone. However, coconut milk is high in saturated fat, and commercial brands can contain salt, sugar and other additives.

Rice milk is usually made from unsweetened brown rice and is free from cholesterol, saturated fats, and lactose. Low in fat and kilojoules, it’s easy to digest and non-allergenic. It has a thin consistency and a naturally slightly sweet flavour, making it a good choice for using with cereal or in coffee. Rice milk contains silicium, which allows calcium and magnesium to “fix” properly – essential for bone and cartilage health. However, it is lacking in important nutrients, including vitamins A and C, and protein.

Almond milk is tasty and nutritious, containing high quantities of vitamins A, B, and E, calcium, iron, and magnesium, as well as a lot of fibre, and no cholesterol or lactose. It’s high in antioxidants and low in fat, but provides very little protein. Almond milk can be used in almost every way you would use cow’s milk. Some commercial almond milk products contain soy lecithin, so should be avoided if you’re allergic to soy.

Oat milk is made from oat groats, water, and other grains and beans. Some commercial varieties contain soybeans. Oat milk is thin in consistency and mild-tasting with a hint of sweetness, and provides fibre as well as a moderate amount of protein. It’s cholesterol-free and is high in vitamin E and folic acid; it also contains antioxidants in the form of phytochemicals that help prevent heart disease, stroke, and some cancers. It is high in sugar though, and people with gluten allergies can’t use it.

Stored in the fridge, in an airtight container, non-dairy milks will keep for the same length of time as an opened bottle of cow’s milk. Don’t freeze them, as that will change their consistency. Try a few of them to find the ones you like best; it’s a good idea to alternate different ones, to diversify nutritional supply to your body. If you’re buying commercial brands, check the labels for additives, and where possible choose organic – or make your own!

Other articles you may be interested in:

Good fats, bad fats
Veganise your diet
Detox delusion
Go green, get lean

Written by

Fiona Rom, freelance writer and editor, believes that beauty and wellness have much to do with your state of mind, and that a sense of humour is your best defence against almost any challenge the world throws at you. Fiona on Google

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  1. Sue1N

    Great article! Definitely going to try coconut milk!

    5 years ago •

  1. Sue1N

    Coconut milk seems an interesting option. I have tried Soy Milk once and the smell and taste were really off-putting.

    6 years ago •

  1. StephanieM

    Thank you for the valuable information.

    6 years ago •

  1. Lah

    Interesting, but I like my full cream milk!

    6 years ago •

  1. Carlene

    Interesting article, but I think I’ll stick to my full cream milk for now.

    6 years ago •

  1. Cupcake

    I’ve tried the soy, rice and coconut milk. I would love to try almond milk, but I can just imagine it will be pricier.

    6 years ago •

  1. TJK

    I’m not a fan of soya milk, but I do like coconut milk and rice milk. Thanks for the breakdown!

    6 years ago •

  1. Nicksta

    Unfortunately the only most widely variants of milk is dairy milk and soy milk.

    6 years ago •

  1. DIVA

    Formative article, I didn’t know they were so many types of milk. I didn’t know rice, oat and almond milk exist.

    6 years ago •

  1. Riekie

    I just love good old full cream milk, a glass full.

    6 years ago •

  1. NaturalDiva

    There’s no mention of goat’s milk? I’ve heard that it has more nutritional value than cow’s milk. I was unaware of rice and almond milk, thank you for an interesting article.

    6 years ago •

  1. Sammy

    So many facts I was unaware of. Great read!

    6 years ago •

  1. Pseudo_kate

    I find that cow milk is a lot heavier on my stomach and I don’t enjoy the sluggish feeling that I experience if I have more than half a cup of it. I much prefer soya milk even though it is more expensive and it has such a nice taste to it. Rice milk is also just as nice.

    6 years ago •

  1. RoseAngel

    I like to use coconut milk and cream in my cooking. I don’t think I will ever swap out cows milk for drinking though.

    6 years ago •

  1. CindyR

    This is a very interesting article. I try to always buy organic milk.

    6 years ago •

  1. me

    I have used some of these before, but am so glad I do not have to any more. I know it is a help to some people. To me, milk tastes the best.

    6 years ago •

  1. Humphreys

    Good information. Who would have ever thought that there is such a diversity where milk is concerned?

    6 years ago •

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