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Guide to plant-based milk

Updated: Jan 5, 2022

Whether it be because you don't have any on hand, you've got allergy concerns, or you want to try something new or for ethical reasons, lucky for you, 2021 is the perfect time to try non-dairy, plant-based milks. Why? There's just about every kind you can think of to choose from.

Almond Milk

Almond milk is a great option to use in baking, smoothies, and oatmeal.

Let's start with almond milk. This is probably the #1 choice for most people when they first start venturing into the world of plant-based milk. It's available at every grocery store in a few varieties; vanilla, unsweetened, barista blend, etc.

Almond milk is thinner in consistency compared to daily milk, sometimes it can look cloudy when poured into a glass if you don't shake it first. For some, the taste is watery, it's bitter, for some it's only slightly nutty.

It's lower in calories compared to dairy milk which makes it a good option for those who are watching their weight. One cup of unsweetened almond milk contains about 30-50 calories while the same amount of dairy milk contains 146 calories. It's also rich in vitamin E and usually fortified with vitamin D. One thing to note is that it's not very protein-packed but you can easily counteract this by using it in recipes that contain sources of protein (ex. a morning protein smoothie).

Coconut Milk

Next, we have coconut milk. Keep in mind that there are two kinds of coconut milk you can buy at the store; one that's sold in tin cans in the non-refrigerated section of the store, and one sold in the traditional milk cartons found in the freezer section.

Coconut milk sold in tin cans are ideal to use for soups and stews due to their thicker consistency, while the ones sold in regular milk cartons can be used for much of the same things almond milk is used in.

Coconut milk has a slightly sweet flavor and creamier texture so it delivers more of an impact in whatever you use it in. Coconut "flesh" is rich in fiber which makes coconut milk an excellent source of fiber. Similar to dairy milk, coconut milk is high in saturated fats. This is fine so as long as it's not consumed in large quantities often. When used in say, soups, coconut milk still offers fewer calories compared to using heavy cream.

Make sure to check labels when buying coconut milk because some brands add hefty amounts of sugar to their milk.

Oat Milk

Oat milk is the non-dairy milk equivalent of the new popular kid at school. Since oats are naturally free of dairy, lactose, nuts, and soy, and oat milk is made out of oats + water (barring the brands that use additives), oat milk is the best option for people with dietary restrictions or food allergies.

Bonus: oats are also gluten-free. Sometimes cross-contamination can occur at manufacturing facilities so just make sure to double-check those labels.

Another plus for oat milk is that it has a superior nutrient profile compared to other non-dairy milks. It provides a sufficient amount of protein, calcium, and fiber. It's been linked to lowering cholesterol and blood sugar too. To get its purest form possible and avoid consuming unnecessary thickening agents and artificial flavors, stick to ones with simple ingredient lists and minimal sugar.

Or you could always make it at home with 3 simple ingredients: oats, water, and a pinch of salt! Thankfully, the process is simple and cost-effective!

Soy Milk

If you simply can't part with your morning coffee, soy milk is the answer for you.

The mild flavor is undetectable when used in place of dairy milk for coffee and cereals.

Fun fact: it's able to foam up similar to dairy milk.

In terms of nutrition, soy milk is dairy milk's close cousin. They are both high protein milks, however, soy milk is lower in calories and carbs. It's also low in saturated fats, so if that's cause for concern for you when it comes to coconut milk, perhaps think about trying soy milk. Soy milk is a plant-based protein item that provides all the essential amino acids for the body. This is important to note because these amino acids are ones the body cannot produce on its own, therefore it must come from your diet. For non-vegans, these amino acids can be obtained from meat. If you are plant-based, soy milk is an option to consider if you are lacking complete proteins in your diet. On the downside, soy is a common allergen for many so just be wary if you have soy sensitivities.

Hemp Milk

If you're allergic to soy, nuts, and gluten, hemp milk might be more favorable to you.

Hemp milk is made from a list of simple, limited ingredients similar to oat milk: hemp seeds, water, and depending on the brand, sweeteners. If you're watching your sugar intake, it goes without saying go for the brand that uses little to no added sugars.

Did you know hemp milk provides you with more iron than cow's milk?

Hemp milk is also very high in omega-3 essential fatty acids, which have numerous studies backing their many beneficial health benefits. Hemp milk is also naturally lactose-free. It can be a bit more on the expensive side as it's not as widely popular as other options, and it's also lower in protein compared to other non-dairy milks.

Cashew Milk

Cashew milk is low in fat, carbs, and calories while being high in the good stuff such as potassium, and magnesium.

It has a mild, nutty flavor which makes it perfect for individuals newly transitioning to using non-dairy milk. Cashew milk doesn't have the same density that dairy milk has, so it lacks fiber and protein.

You can make your own at home with just cashews and water so you can control how watery the final product will turn out.

Just note that homemade cashew milk can be higher in calories since it's eliminated from any additives you would find in store-bought versions.

Rice Milk

Rice milk is one of the most hypoallergenic dairy-free options out there as far as milk goes.

Additionally, it's void of soy, dairy, gluten, and nuts. Important for those who are allergic to all of the following. Rice milk is low in protein while being higher in carbs and calories. So this is not an ideal option for anyone on low calorie/low carb diets. Rice milk is thin and watery so it might not make for the most suitable alternative in baked goods for certain recipes.

Hazelnut Milk

Due to the strong flavor hazelnut milk imparts it pairs well with coffee and in baked goods.

The aroma and flavor are stronger compared to other nut milks, which could be a good or bad thing depending on how you feel about hazelnuts. If you're someone that prefers to drink their milk plain but you don't like the flavors of almond milk/cashew milk, etc. hazelnut milk could be the answer to your problem (assuming you like and are not allergic to them of course).

Hazelnut milk offers a wide range of B vitamins for the body and omega-3 fatty acids. Hazelnuts naturally contain vitamin E, which aids in skin and hair health. This milk has no cholesterol and is gluten and soy-free. It is, however, low in protein and some cartons contain added sugar.

Flax Milk

Flax milk is a powerhouse of fiber.

Flax seeds are also rich in alpha-linolenic acids which help prevent heart attacks, lower blood pressure, and cholesterol. Fortified flax milk can contain up to as much calcium as dairy milk. This milk is dairy and nut-free. While fortified flax milk contains more adequate calcium, it can come at the cost of containing more added sugar. Flax milk is also low protein milk, which as mentioned earlier, isn't necessarily a bad thing as long as this isn't the primary source of protein in your diet.



Author: Shruti is a current intern and recent graduate from The University of North Texas holding a bachelor’s of business administration degree in marketing. She has a passion for digital marketing, with a focus on social media, and advertising. In her free time, she enjoys baking, watching movies, and going on hikes.

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