So you have made the choice to give up milk. Mom says no, friends call you a hippie, the dairy industry is smacking their 3 recommended serves in your face. But you don’t care, you’re going to do it. Whether it be to ward off suspected intolerances, a cows milk allergy, to lower your carbon footprint or for personal ethical reasons, finding a suitable alternative can be tricky. Each book you read, every website you come across and every person you talk to will probably tell you something different. I just want to lay out the basics as well as expunge any myths. You can decide for yourself which milk alternative is the best one for you.
The most widely recommended by alternative practitioners, rice milk isn’t a favourite in my books. Rice milk is exactly what it sounds like, rice made into milk. Often commercial brands use rice flour and add canola oil, mineral salts, emulsifiers and other additives. Some brands are made with brown rice. Rice milk is low in protein and high in carbohydrates, with about two-thirds as starch and the rest from added sugar.
Who is Rice Milk good for?
Rice milk is as hypoallergenic as you get meaning this milk alternative is the best choice for those that are soy and dairy milk intolerant. If you have the time I would recommend trying to make your own rice milk. It can be made at home quite easily, use brown (or white) rice and water, blend, strain, voila!
Who isn’t Rice Milk for?
As mentioned above rice milk is low in protein and therefore shouldn’t be used by children as a milk alternative. Like most rice, rice milk is also high GI (at 79 up to 92) and isn’t recommended for diabetics, those with insulin resistance or those trying to lose weight.
Soy milk has gotten a bad rap over recent years but a quick literature review will show that claims that soy milk is hazardous are unfounded. Soy milk can be made in the home kitchen by soaking soybeans, draining and grinding them, and then simmering in fresh water for two hours. Soy milk is the closest to dairy milk in terms of protein and often contains added oils and sugar for flavour and to mimic the nutrient profile of dairy milk. When buying soy milk look at the ingredients and make sure it’s not made from a soy isolate (white bread equivalent of soybeans) and contains only water, soybeans and some vitamins. Also, go organic to make sure you’re not consuming any genetically modified products.
Who is Soy Milk for?
Soy Milk is great for those looking for a heart-healthy alternative to dairy milk. It contains no saturated fat and soy protein has been found in clinical trials to have beneficial effects on cholesterol levels. Soy milk is also the lowest in GI of all the milk alternatives with a range of 16-42 so suitable for diabetics or those with insulin resistance.
Who isn’t Soy Milk for?
Some of you may be waiting for a soy bashing but unfortunately you won’t find that here. That is because a majority of the recent myths circulating regarding soy can be sourced back to Sally Fallon and Mary Enig. These two have been accused as being the purveyors of “nutritional myths”, largely because they have failed to update their recommendations in light of contradictory evidence. Some people may be intolerant to soy, and this sometimes coincides with an intolerance to dairy. Breast cancer survivors may want to limit soy products, though evidence on this is not clear.
In Australia, Almond Milk is only just sneaking onto the market but here in Canada its bang, in your face, everywhere! And for good reason. Almond milk tends to have a satisfying nutty taste which lends itself nicely to smoothies. It is made from almonds so contains monounsaturated fats and is also lower in sugar and overall calories than most other kinds of milk. Almond milk also tends to be lower in protein and doesn’t always pair nicely with savoury dishes. You can make your own by soaking your almonds, blending, then straining through a cheesecloth. Make sure you don’t through away the pulp as it can be used to make almond flour in a dehydrator or oven, or even to make patties!
Who is Almond Milk for?
Almond Milk has a GI of about 25 which is similar to dairy milk and is considered to be low GI making it suitable for diabetics or those with insulin resistance. Also, if you’re watching your waistline, Almond Milk contains only 30-60 calories per glass. Almond Milk is lactose and casein free and can be a great addition to a raw diet.
Who isn’t Almond Milk for?
Again, Almond Milk tends to be low in protein with only about 1g per glass so isn’t suitable for children. If you are trialing giving up milk (and soy) due to suspected intolerances, almond milk should also be avoided as nuts and nut milk could be a potential trigger. Also, remember that the growing of almonds uses a tremendous amount of water and this has raised some concerns in relation to the continuous drought in California where most of our almonds are grown.
Made from oat flour with added oil and a sugar such as honey. Some brands may be made from hulled oat grain broken into smaller pieces called oat groats. Often some other grains are also added. It is generally low in fat, moderate in protein and relatively high in sugar. It has the added bonus of containing some dietary fibre but also tends to be higher in calories.
Who is Oat Milk for?
If you don’t like soy it might be worth giving oat milk a try. It is higher in protein than both rice and almond milk. A cup may have 2 grams of dietary fibre which doesn’t sound like much but if you are pretty skimp on fibre this could make all the difference.
Who isn’t Oat Milk For?
A higher calorie choice then most of the other milk alternatives and a large chunk of those calories are coming from sugar. It has a GI of around 69 which is slightly better than rice milk, probably due to the presence of dietary fibre.
So which milk alternative is for you?
The answer isn’t as easy as night and day. There are a lot of factors to take into consideration including assessing if your choice meets your needs nutritionally or if it is just contributing excess calories. Figuring which one fits into your lifestyle and caters towards your taste buds is your challenge to take up.
Milk Alternatives: Calcium, Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D
Dairy milk naturally contains calcium and vitamin B12, and is often fortified with vitamin D. If you don’t include milk or other dairy products in your diet you may have to source these nutrients elsewhere. For more information on how to get adequate amounts of these nutrients when using a milk alternative see Plant Based Diets and Environmental Benefits.
Milk Alternatives and Sustainability
Making your own milk alternative would put you to the top of the class for greenman-ship and would be the best from a sustainability standpoint. It would reduce transportation, refrigeration time and packaging. Store bought milk alternatives often come in tetra packs which are a combination of paper, aluminum, and plastic; this makes them difficult to recycle. There are hundreds of good youtube videos that show you how to make your own, get creative! Ever heard of quinoa milk?!
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Rachel Dickens, The Conscious Dietitian, is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She graduated with her Masters in Nutrition and Dietetics in 2010 from Griffith University. She strives to provide evidence-based nutrition information with a focus on plant-based nutrition, and share some of her favourite seasonal recipes and sustainable eating tips.