by Michele Lieblich, MBA, HHC

Non-Dairy Milk Alternatives

Milk seems to be a most controversial issue…as I wrote in my last post, the options for dairy milk are dizzying enough but for people who want to avoid dairy altogether there are choices to make as well!

Non-dairy alternatives for milk include: Almond, Coconut, Hemp, Oat, Rice and Soy Milk.

ALMOND MILK is made from, well, almonds.  It’s basically almonds and water and can be made at home.  In the store, it’s usually boxed and shelf stable with added preservatives, thickeners, and vitamins.  It can be found sweetened or unsweetened and even in chocolate flavored.  Almond milk is relatively high in calcium and vitamin E, low in calories and in fat but also low in protein.  It has no cholesterol and is suitable for vegetarians and vegans.  Some popular brands include: Almond Breeze, Pacific Foods, and Silk.

COCONUT MILK beverage is derived from the meat of the coconut.  Mixed with water, it can actually be made at home as well.  Coconut milk has only recently been gaining popularity in the US.  Though higher in saturated fat than some of these others, most nutrition experts agree, it’s healthy fat and actually quite beneficial for us.  Worth highlighting, coconut milk is one of the few non-breast milk sources of lauric acid, an anti-viral and anti-fungal substance.  Like almond milk, store bought coconut milk has some added preservatives, thickeners, and vitamins.  So Delicious is a popular organic brand found in most health food stores.

HEMP MILK is made by pulverizing hemp seeds, blending them with water and then straining the solid residue.  The resulting liquid (milk), is rich in Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids as well as many other vitamins and minerals including iron, magnesium and zinc.  Hemp milk has about a gram more protein per cup than either almond or coconut milk and it is a bit higher calorically.  The protein in hemp is more easily digested than soy protein because it lacks oligosaccharides or complex sugars, many people find can cause gas or indigestion.  Also noteworthy, hemp seeds are a rich source of essential amino acids.  Mainly found in health foods stores, Pacific Foods and Tempt hemp milk are shelf stable.

OAT MILK is made from presoaked oat groats (oats with the outer husks removed) and filtered water.  This too, can pretty simply be made at home and other grains, such as rye, spelt or wheat, can be substituted.  Oat milk is higher in carbohydrates than some of the other alternatives but it’s also higher in fiber and protein.  With 10% of the US RDA of vitamin A, oat milk doubles the amount of vitamin A found in cow’s milk.  It is a wonderful alternative for children with soy, rice and milk allergies but not acceptable for those with celiac disease or the gluten intolerant.  A bit harder to find, Pacific Foods is the brand most visible in health food stores.

RICE MILK is made by boiling brown rice and extracting the liquid.  Also higher in carbohydrates, it is said to have a taste and consistency very similar to cow’s milk.  Rice is naturally very low in fat but it’s also lower in calcium and protein and nutrients in general, so most commercial rice milk is usually fortified and enriched with vitamins and minerals.  It is usually found unsweetened because rice is inherently high in sugar.  Two popular brands include: Rice Dream and Good Karma.

SOY MILK is made by soaking dry soybeans and grinding them with water.  With a high protein content, soy milk most closely mirrors the protein content found in cow’s milk.  Unlike the grain milks (oat and rice) mentioned above, soy milk is very low in carbohydrates.  It does tend to be relatively high in calcium but commercial soy milk is usually calcium-fortified as well.  One thing worth noting, soy crops are heavily treated with pesticides and mostly, they are genetically modified; therefore, organic soy milk is often the safest option.  There are many brands of soy milk and they usually can be found in the supermarket – Eden Foods, Organic Valley, and Silk offer organic versions.

These alternatives are not nutrition powerhouses but they are great alternatives if you are trying to avoid dairy or you have certain food allergies.  So experiment and see which one works best for you!