Animal-derived milk has its own downsides such as allergies, lactose intolerance and increasing the risk of cancers and diabetes. 240 ml of cow’s milk provide 146 calories, 8 gram of fat, 8 grams of protein and 13 gram of carbohydrates.(1) But this milk does not suit everyone. Those who have to or want to stay away from milk have a number of non-dairy alternatives to add to their diet. This milk varies in levels of nutrition, color, flavor, and texture.
5 Non-Dairy Alternatives To Milk
Soy milk is derived from soybeans or soy protein isolates. It also contains thickeners and vegetable oils that help improves the taste and consistency. It is the best substitute for cow’s milk for coffee, savory dishes or to top the cereals.
240 ml of soy milk contain 80-90 calories, 4-4.5 grams of fats, 7-9 grams of protein and 4 grams of carbohydrates.(2) The protein content is similar to that of cow’s milk but the calories, fats, and carbohydrates are almost half.
Soy milk is also a good source of essential amino acids that cannot be produced by the body and must be obtained from the diet. For those suffering from soy allergy, soy milk can cause severe allergic reactions.
Almond or almond butter and water are used in making almond milk. It has a sweet and creamy texture just like dairy milk. It can be added to tea and coffee and blended into smoothies. It can also be used in baked products and desserts.
240ml of unsweetened almond milk contains 35 calories, 2.5 grams of fat, 1 gram of protein, and 1-2 grams of carbohydrates.(3) It is one of the lowest non-dairy milk and best for those who are looking forward to cutting down on calories. Almond milk is a natural source of vitamin E and antioxidants that protect the body from the disease-causing substance.
Almonds also contain phytic acid, which reduces the absorption of nutrients in the body. This can also decrease the nutrient absorption from almond milk.(4) Also, many brands have very little almond in the milk i.e. only 2%. It is important to check for the almond content which should be around 7-15 %.
Coconut milk is made from water and white flesh of the coconut. It has a creamy texture and is sweet with a subtle coconut flavor. 240 ml contains 45 calories, 4 grams of fat, no protein, and carbohydrates.(5) Most of the calories of coconut milk come from saturated fat including medium-chain triglycerides. Researchers suggest that medium-chain triglycerides help reduce appetite, assist weight loss, and improve blood cholesterol levels.(6,7,8,9)
It is the simplest form of mixture that is made by adding oats with water. Often extra ingredients such as gums, oil, and salt are added to make the taste desirable. It can also be easily made at home. Oat milk has a sweet and mild flavor. It can be used in cooking and taste good with cereals and smoothies. 240ml of oats milk contains 140-170 calories, 4.5-5 grams of fat, 2.5-5 grams of protein, and 19-29 grams of carbohydrates.(10)
Oat milk contains total fiber and beta-glucan. Beta-glucan binds with cholesterol and reduces its absorption. This lowers the risk of LDL cholesterol and the risk of heart disease.(11,12) Research also shows that beta-glucan has an ability to increase the feeling of fullness and lower the blood sugar levels after meals.(13,14)
Rice milk is made of milled white and brown rice. Thickeners are added to it to improve the texture and taste. It is a good option for those allergic to dairy, gluten, soy or nuts. It is sweet in taste as it is great to be taken on its own or can be added to smoothies, desserts, and oatmeal.
240 ml of rice milk contains 130-140 calories, 2-3 grams of fat, 1 gram of protein, and 27-38 grams of carbohydrates.(15) The glycemic index of oats milk is very high, which means it gets absorbed quickly in the gut and raises the blood sugar level easily. This makes it not good to be taken by those with diabetes.
Also, because of the low protein content, this milk may not be the best option for children, elderly, and athletes, as they need a high protein diet. Rice milk also has a high level of inorganic arsenic that can increase the risk of various health problems such as heart disease and cancer.(16,17)
If you want to substitute your milk with non-dairy alternative, it is important to consider the following things:
- Sugar is added to most of the products to enhance the flavor. Choose the unsweetened varieties.
- Choose the non-dairy milk that contains at least 120 mg of calcium per 100 ml.
- Cow’s milk is rich in vitamin B12 which is essential for a healthy brain and immune system. If choosing a non-dairy variety, make sure it is fortified with this vitamin.
- Make sure before buying the non-dairy variety that you are not allergic to it.
A single type of milk cannot be considered best for everyone. The nutrition, cost, and taste vary. Choose what you think is best for you.