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Milk Alternatives: Soy, coconut, and more lactose-free milks

6 Milk Alternatives for Dairy-Free Families

Soy, coconut, and more lactose-free milks

“Do you drink cow’s milk?” my 4-year-old nephew asked.

“I do,” I said. “Do you?”

“I do,” he declared proudly, but added, “Beckett [his 3-year-old brother] drinks rice milk.”

Many Becketts and Charlottes (not to mention the mothers and fathers of the Becketts and Charlottes) have turned to alternative milks, or alt milks as I call them, due to lactose intolerance or the desire to avoid dairy.

To see just how big the trend is, I went to my local Whole Foods with a measuring tape (as one does). The amount of shelf space allocated to dairy milk was 20 square feet; alternative milks, 80. Granted this was a highly unscientific study, but still – that’s a big difference!

If you’ve decided that non-dairy milk is right for you, then the question is, “Which one?” Here’s a closer look at the six most common alternatives.

  • ALMOND

    ALMOND

    What Is It? A “milk” made by soaking almonds and mixing with water

    Nutritional Benefits:

    • Low in fat, comparable to rice milk at 2.5 grams per cup (though low fat should not be the driving factor if being fed to children)
    • Very low in carbohydrates, with zero sugar in the unsweetened version
    • Almonds are naturally high in calcium but additional calcium is usually added along with Vitamin D to aid in absorption
    • High in Vitamin E

    Drawbacks:

    • Low in protein (only 1 gram per cup)
    • All have thickeners such as starch or “xanthan gum,” which are man-made and may contain wheat
    • Unsafe for those with nut allergies

    Cost:

    • Found at most health-oriented stores for $1.50 – $3.00/quart
  • COCONUT

    COCONUT

    What Is It? A “milk” made by pressing the coconut flesh and adding water

    Nutritional Benefits:

    • High in healthy saturated fat (5 grams per cup). The fat from coconuts is rich in lauric acid, which is also in breast milk
    • Very low in carbs and sugar

    Drawbacks:

    • Low in protein
    • Unsafe for those with nut allergies

    Cost:

    • Found at most health oriented stores for $2.50/quart
  • HEMP

    HEMP

    What Is It? A “milk” made by soaking hemp seeds with water

    Nutritional Benefits:

    • High in Omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids (5 grams of fat per cup)
    • Very low in carbs and sugar
    • Moderate protein (2 grams per cup)

    Drawbacks:

    • All brands are made with thickeners such as “gum acacia”
    • Unsafe for children with nut and seed allergies
    • More expensive than other alt milks

    Cost:

    • Found at most health-oriented stores for $4.00/quart
  • OATS

    OATS

    What Is It? A “milk” made of oats and water

    Nutritional Benefits:

    • Some fiber (about 2 grams per cup)
    • Moderate amount of protein (4 grams per cup)
    • Recommended for those with sensitivities to soy, nuts, and/or seeds

    Drawbacks:

    • Some of the oat’s valuable saturated fiber is lost when making the milk
    • It’s very high in carbs (24 grams per cup, with 19 of those in the form of sugar)
    • All brands are made with thickeners such as “guar gum”
    • Unhealthy for those who are gluten-intolerant

    Cost:

    • Found at most health-oriented stores for $3.00/quart
  • RICE

    RICE

    What Is It? A “milk” made by boiling rice with water and extracting the liquid

    Nutritional Benefits:

    • While this isn’t necessarily a benefit for children, it’s low in fat (2.5 grams per cup)
    • Safest option for those with soy or nut allergies

    Drawbacks:

    • Very few natural nutrients; usually enriched
    • High in carbs (24 grams per cup) and sugar (11 grams per cup)
    • Rice is naturally high in sugar, so there is no “unsweetened” version (don’t be fooled by the fact that sugar is not listed in the ingredients)
    • Low in protein
    • All brands have thickeners as well as oil added for texture and taste

    Cost:

    • Found at most health-oriented stores for $2.00 – $3.00/quart
  • SOY

    SOY

    What Is It? A “milk” made by soaking soybeans and adding water

    Nutritional Benefits:

    • High in protein (8 grams per cup)
    • Very low in carbs if unsweetened (2 grams per cup)
    • Moderate level of fat (4 grams per cup)
    • The only alt milk that is available in its purest form: water and soybeans with nothing else added

    Drawbacks:

    • Soy is a common food allergen
    • Most soy is GMO, so buy organic, which is not allowed to contain GMO ingredients, and look for “Non GMO” on the label
    • Most soybeans are processed using the toxic petroleum derivative hexane
    • Soy contains isoflavones (that can mimic estrogen) so large quantities of soy in the diet should be avoided
    • Some brands use soy protein isolate rather than the whole soybeans
    • Some of the lower-priced brands have artificial and natural flavors
    • The most pure soy milk (simply soy beans and water) has a chalky taste

    Cost:

    • Found almost anywhere, though the higher quality brands are only available at health-oriented stores. Prices range from $1.50 – $3.00/quart.


Though there are lots to choose from, alt milks are not generally nutritional powerhouses – they’re mostly water mixed with flavoring (from their food source), thickeners (to make the texture more like cow’s milk), sugars (unless unsweetened), and added vitamins to make them more robust. Be especially aware of the sugar, particularly in vanilla and chocolate flavors. But if you do abandon the cow, consider these four things when shopping: allergies, sugar level, protein, and taste. It all comes down to what works best for you and your family.

Learn more food facts at Michelle’s blog The Sweet Beet.

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Article Posted 6 years Ago

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