Remember those iconic “Got Milk?” ads in the ‘90s? If you were flipping through a magazine at the time, you probably recall numerous celebrities sporting milk mustaches and launching a pop culture phenomenon. Numerous references and parodies were made and milk made a comeback–well, a 2 percent-increase-in-sales comeback, at least. Even though the campaigns proved popular, they weren’t effective long-term, and milk consumption has been on a steady decline since.
Fast forward to 2019, and there’s a new craze going on. These days, it seems like there’s no shortage of milk alternatives, no matter where you turn. Major retailers like Starbucks advertise coconut milk lattes, and aisles in supermarkets seem to be stocked with labels announcing every kind of nut and bean, as well as milk made from hemp, flax, oat, and more. You can also find special flavors to add that delicious extra something to your morning coffee or smoothie.
Before jumping on the alternative milk bandwagon, though, it makes sense to look a little closer. As with many health crazes, it all sounds like a great idea, but is there more to the story? And what does it take to find the right type of alternative milk for you, based on your unique health preferences and needs?
Whether you’re vegan, dairy free, lactose intolerant, or are simply interested in improving your diet, we’ve dug in to a few non-dairy alternatives for you and milked them for all they’re worth.
One of the most popular of the “alt-milks” is almond, which has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the past few years. Following suit are its cousins: cashew, macadamia, and hazelnut (among a few others), giving consumers a wide array of nut milks to try. Almond milk, though, may have become the most popular of the bunch on account of its low calorie count (around 30 calories per cup) and the fact that it has no saturated fat. Most almond milk brands are also “fortified with 50 percent of the daily value of vitamin B12,” according to a report from Self. The one con? Almonds lack the large protein component present in dairy milk. The overall low calorie count, though, makes it a preferred choice for many health nuts (pun definitely intended).
This classic alternative milk is still going strong, and its creamy consistency may leave you fooled that it’s actually made from beans. At around 130 calories per cup, soy milk doesn’t generally have the low calorie count of almond milk, but it still packs a healthful punch, with 7 grams of protein and 2 grams of fiber per serving.
The vast variety of nut milks are a great alternative for those with lactose intolerance, but what about those with nut allergies? Rice milk may be the drink of choice. Rice milk offers a nice, sweet consistency, but it also doesn’t bring much to the table, nutritionally speaking, with its low protein value and high calorie count (about 70 calories per cup).
Coconut milk is considered to be high in saturated fats. With its creamy consistency and tasty flavors, many people consider the best use of coconut milk is for cooking. Like coconut oil, this milk is a great way to add a lovely consistency and burst of flavor to healthful recipes. Coconut milk can also provide a certain sweetness that adds a nice touch to smoothies and hot cups of coffee.
Yes, milk made from flax seeds is actually a thing. With all the benefits of the seed, flax milk is a fiber powerhouse, and may come with properties that can help prevent heart disease and lower blood pressure. It’s also somewhat low in protein, however. It’s also going to be important to check the label before you stock up on flax milk. Oftentimes, flax milk products tend to be heavily sweetened with additives to enhance flavor.
Hemp seeds are a familiar staple in health-forward protein shakes—therefore it’s no surprise the milk it produces provides many nutritional benefits. The milk provides a generous source of vitamins D, A, B12, phosphorus, calcium, and more nutrients, and has at least 2 grams of protein per cup. It’s definitely not as ubiquitous as other milk alternatives (yet), so you may need to dig around your local health food stores for a carton.
Move over, almond milk, oat milk is on the fast track to becoming the new alt-milk superstar. Thanks to Swedish company Oatly’s exclusive oat milk products being offered in many coffee shops, oat milk has had a strong rise in popularity over the past couple years. With its neutral taste and ability to froth better than other alt-milks, baristas love it, too. Oat milk is pretty dense with nutrients, rich in vitamins and minerals (like calcium and vitamin D) and is a generous source of fiber and protein. Oat milk is also a little sweeter and more dense than other alt-milks, granting it a more milk-like taste. It does, however, have a higher fat content than several other options.
DIY Bonus: The Alternative to the Alternatives
Feeling adventurous? For the freshest and most nutritious non-dairy milk, you may want to try making your own. Even for some health-forward companies, mass-production can come with a price, both from a nutrition and sustainability standpoint. If you’re up for a DIY project in the kitchen, making almond milk (and other types of non-dairy milk products) is actually pretty easy, if you have patience and the right tools. For the most part, the process involves some simple steps of soaking, blending, and straining through cheesecloth. Try it out to taste the benefits for yourself.
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