In the world of food there have been many changes regarding self awareness as to what we put into our bodies, both from a health and an ethical perspective. The number of choices in alternative milks has drastically increased as more people are choosing this now, according to Mintel, 44% of those in the younger age group of 25-44 drink plant based milks!
Not strange then, that you can feel overwhelmed by the different choices of milk alternatives when you go into your local supermarket. You may feel conflicted as to which ones best suit your lifestyle. At EdiBee, in the spirit of exploring and embracing foods available, we decided to do a mini deep dive into the options on offer and the benefits each has to offer.
Should you change to a plant based milk alternative?
The benefits of having an alternative milk can better your health, it has a longer shelf life and is a sustainable way for the environment. Having regular milk that comes from cows can have a mixture of things that can go unnoticed for instance. Full fat milk contains a larger amount of cholesterol; just a single serving of milk can contain as much as 24 mg of cholesterol. In comparison, plant food does not contain any cholesterol. Cows milk also contains a higher amount of saturated fat. In addition, sadly, not all cows are treated well.
However, it's not all bad news. Cow's milk contains protein, calcium and Vitamin D amongst some other nutrients. If you decide to try something else to fully replace milk, be mindful to ensure you continue to get those nutrients by other foods or by enriched plant milks.
So let's have a look at the alternatives available.
One of the most established, but possibly also most controversial milk alternatives is soy milk. Soy milk has been around for over 100 years. It has been controversial due to estrogen-like compounds called isoflavones being found, however, not to worry, new studies show that soy appears to be potentially beneficial for fertility as well as menopause. As with all foods, just don’t consume too much of it.
Almond milk is one of the most popular choices of alternative milk in the UK. It is made by blending almonds with water and then sieving the solid parts out. Almond milk contains very little fat and naturally contains good levels of vitamin E, which contains antioxidant properties important to your skin’s health, and in protecting it against sun damage. Vitamin E can also help lower your risk of serious health conditions like stroke, heart disease, and even cancer.
Coconut milk is rich in vitamins C and E that are well known for their antioxidant properties. If you are mindful of the amount of calories that you consume you can use coconut milk. Coconut milk is a great source of healthy fats called (MCTs). Extensive research have found that consuming MCTs promotes weight loss by decreasing appetite and increasing energy.
Cashew milk is a good alternative for those who don’t like almond flavour and are concerned about calories. Cashew milk also contains potassium and magnesium, two nutrients that may boost heart health.
Rice Milk is especially good for those with nut, dairy, or soy sensitivities. It's the least allergenic of milk alternatives. Rice milk is naturally sweeter than other milk alternatives. Rice contains some calcium and protein along with vitamin B12, vitamin D and iron. Rice milk contains fewer calories and can be suggested as a good alternative for those who are trying to lose weight.
Oat milk is a great source of B vitamins, which may lower blood cholesterol, and provides nutrients that support bone health. For some individuals it is better to have unsweetened oat milk, as some may be high in added sugars. Although it’s a milk alternative, be careful if you have a gluten intolerance, be sure to buy oat milk that’s labelled gluten-free.
One possibly slightly less known plant milk is Pea Milk. It has been said that pea milk tastes more like dairy milk than other plant alternatives, although not everyone likes its aftertaste. It produces a good source of protein and calcium. It has also the contributing factors of being low in calories, yet still maintains a rich and creamy taste.
What to look out for in alternative milks?
If you choose to go for an alternative milk, you may wish to consider your taste preference as well as your use. If you generally love coconut or almond, maybe have a try of these milks first. Will you use it in cereal, in your coffee/tea, for yourself and/or smaller children or for cooking? If you use it for general replacement, be mindful not to miss out on important nutrients such as Calcium and vitamin D. Many alternative milks are enriched with this, have a look at the label. In addition, for most alternative milks, you can find sweetened or unsweetened versions. Obviously, unsweetened foods are healthier, but in some cases can taste a little bitter. For hot drinks, and use with kids, keep reading :)
Milk alternatives in hot drinks
It also should be noted that as great as these milk alternatives prove to better your health, they are not always great with hot drinks such as coffee and tea. The acidity and heat of the coffee reacts with the cold milk and it ends up separating the fat from the liquid. Some brands of plant milk have now also introduced Barista versions. These milks avoid the unpleasant sight of the milk separating and can also be used for anything else like the classic version.
Popular milk alternatives for coffee include:.
Almond milk (unsweetened): 4 calories per ounce (about 30ml)
Soy milk: 13 calories per ounce (30ml)
Oat milk (eg. Oatly Barista brand): 18 calories per ounce (about 30ml)
With the different milk alternatives there are also different calories in them. The Barista versions may contain higher amount of calories. If you are mindful of the amount of calories that you consume you can opt for coconut milk. Coconut milk is a great source of healthy fats called (MCTs). Extensive research have found that consuming MCTs promotes weight loss by decreasing appetite and increasing energy
Choosing to switch to an alternative choice of milk for children can be a conflicting decision, as what they drink has an impact on their health. Although many milk alternatives prove to be just as nutritious as cows milk, you must explore all options. It is important to switch to a milk that provides all of the benefits such as calcium, vitamin D and a supply of protein. For instance almond milk is often not the best choice as it lacks some of the nutrients of normal milk.
When swapping milk it is crucial to make sure your child doesn't have any allergies as most alternatives are nut based. For children who do not possess any diagnosed allergies and are not on hypoallergenic formula, you can explore between the options of unsweetened milk alternatives, such as soy, almond and oat drinks . These options can be offered from one year of age alongside a healthy, balanced diet. These milk alternatives usually contain plenty of calcium, protein and energy. It is necessary to make sure to buy unsweetened milk alternatives as the extra added sugar doesn’t add to the nutritional value.
Some plant milks contain carrageenan, a natural thickener that gives a pleasant consistency to many foods such as yoghurt, ice-cream and meats. It has been a controversial with conflicting opinions by different scientists. Some people hence choose to avoid it, especially those with digestive problems.
How plant milks are made
Cashew milk - cashew nuts are soaked and drained and blended with 2 cups of water.
Almond milk - blending almonds with water and then straining the mixture to remove the solids.
Pea milk - grinding the yellow split peas into a flour, then added to water, usually along with some vanilla extract or another natural sweetener.
Soy milk - Soaking soybeans in water overnight, then blended with water.
Oat milk - Combining oats with water before milling the mixture.
Rice milk - Pressing the rice through a grinding mill, followed by filtration and blending in water.
Coconut milk - Grated and soaked in hot water. The coconut cream rises to the top and can be skimmed off. The remaining liquid is squeezed through a cheesecloth to extract a white liquid that is coconut milk.
You can also find recipes online to try out and make your very own plant based milk at home :)