Cow’s milk has long been one of the most popular beverages in America, but increasing numbers of people are now seeking out alternatives instead. Plant-based milk alternatives have grown to become a more than a $1.3-billion market. Milk, on the other hand, has been steadily decreasing in popularity for decades.
As of 2014, Americans now drink, on average, 37 percent less milk than they did in 1970. There are many reasons why – including the fact that consumption of soft drinks, coffee, juice and other beverages probably makes up some of the difference.
Still, milk consumption is controversial. Some argue that humans aren’t meant to drink milk from other species, or beyond childhood, at all, while others believe it’s not as healthy as we’ve been lead to believe. Many others are lactose intolerant or suffer from a milk allergy. Still others lead a vegan lifestyle and prefer not to drink milk from animals.
If you’re among them, you’re in luck. There’s never been a better time to be a non-cow’s-milk drinker, as alternatives abound. There are so many options that sorting through them can be overwhelming, so here’s a quick breakdown to help you choose the best alternative milk for you.
Most milk alternatives lack the naturally high levels of protein and calcium found in cow’s (and goat) milk. They do, however, offer milk-like options for those times you need a liquid to pour over your cereal or add to coffee. Beyond calcium, vitamin D and protein, here’s what you should know about some of the most popular milk alternatives.
Soy Milk: While soy milk has a similar nutritional profile to cow’s milk (due to high levels of protein and fortification with calcium, vitamin D and more), there is some concern that the phytoestrogens it contains may have adverse health effects.
Phytoestrogens have molecular and cellular properties that are similar to synthetic endocrine disrupters, and might pose a health risk, particularly if consumed in excess. Further, most soy is genetically modified (GM). If you wish to avoid GM foods, you’ll need to look for organic soy milk or that with a non-GMO certified label.
Almond milk: Almonds are a phenomenally healthy food, but almond milk is made from a small amount of ground almonds combined with water and, often, sweetener. The resulting liquid will not give you the health benefits of eating whole almonds – but it will cost you quite a bit.
Rice Milk: Rice milk is high in carbohydrates and low in protein. It may also contain added sweeteners.
Coconut Milk: Coconut milk is rich in a healthy type of saturated fat called medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs). MCFAs may play a role in healthy metabolism and weight loss. Further, coconut milk is rich in nutrients including potassium, iron and B vitamins.
Hemp Milk: Hemp milk is naturally high in protein and is a useful alternative for those with allergies to soy, nuts and milk. However, watch out for added sweeteners.
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