Plant Milks 101: A Guide to Dairy Alternatives Healthy Eating

Plant Milks 101: A Guide to Dairy Alternatives

For those of us who are vegan or lactose intolerant, plant-based milk options let us enjoy cereal, cookies, and other foods that go best with milk. Dairy milk serves as an excellent source of essential vitamins and minerals for your body, so it’s important to be aware of the nutritional value of alternatives you might be considering.

The good news is you can rely on most plant milks to provide key everyday nutrients —particularly calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 — and you don’t have to skimp on taste. Always check the nutritional facts box so you’ll be aware of the calorie, protein, sugar, and fat content of different plant milks. Here’s a cheat sheet to help you sift through the most worthy dairy alternatives.

Soy milk

Soy milk is the coolest kid on the block when it comes to plant-based milk. This popular milk is valued for its high protein content and thick, creamy consistency, but it can also be bitter or chalky, particularly when unsweetened. In terms of breast cancer risk, the jury is still out on soy consumption. Until research on soy’s effects on hormones becomes clearer, doctors recommend that women who take hormonal therapy medicines or who were diagnosed with breast cancer avoid soy supplements. In general, however, it’s fine to enjoy soy milk as part of a balanced diet.

Almond milk

The popularity of almond milk is growing fast, and it is not hard to see why. It has a light flavor and, a creamy consistency, and is low in calories while high in nutrients — particularly antioxidant vitamin E. While most almond milks on the market have just one gram of protein per cup, some are supplemented to contain up to five grams.

Coconut milk

Coconut milk has been available for a long time, but it is fairly new to the refrigerated section. It has a light coconut flavor and a consistency like low-fat cow’s milk. Coconut milk does contain a few types of saturated fat, but research suggests some of them may increase your metabolism and benefit immune function.

Hemp milk

Made from the seeds of the cannabis plant, hemp milk may be the least known dairy alternative. Hemp milk is naturally rich in omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids. And in case you were wondering, no, the milk doesn’t contain any THC!

Rice milk, oat milk, and hazelnut milk

Rice milk has a thin consistency and pleasant sweet overtones that many people enjoy. Oat and hazelnut milks are both smooth and slightly nutty in flavor.

Which One Is Right for You?

Experiment! Try different plant milks in different food and drink recipes to discover which ones you prefer. Besides taste, health concerns may guide your selection, too. For vegans, plant-based milks with high levels of vitamin B12 are the best option. If you’re concerned about bone health, choose one that gives you the most calcium or vitamin D. Trying to lose weight? Find an unsweetened variety that provides lots of flavor without too many calories.

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