Alternatives to milk are around for a reason, and different types seem to spring up every day. Nearly every type of nut, legume, and grain has been turned into a milk at this point. Many have begun to grow in popularity, to the point where you’ll find numerous brands and flavors of them in your dairy aisle. If you’ve ever wondered why there are so many plant-based milk alternatives out there, search no more. That’s exactly what we’re looking at today!
There are many reasons why somebody may look into trying out a plant-based milk substitute for their drink, coffee creamer, cereal, or other recipes. For example, many people seek out milk alternatives due to a lactose intolerance or a dairy allergy. Another common reason people avoid cow’s milk is due to their dietary or ethical choices, like being vegan. Of course, there are other reasons why people may want to try these alternatives that don’t have to do with allergies or ethics. Some people may view milk alternatives as healthier than milk, or simply enjoy their different health benefits. For others, it’s as simple as liking the taste or mouthfeel better than dairy milk. Whatever your reason, it may be worth trying out of few plant-based milks to see if you like them!
We all know how farmers usually get milk for us, but the plants and nuts used in milk substitutes don’t exactly have the correct parts. Instead, most of these plant-based alternatives are made by grinding down the bean, nut, or other type of plant. This leaves behind a slurry or paste. Once the solids are removed, water, extra nutrients, and flavorings, like vanilla, are added to create the milk product.
The process behind producing plant-based milks has led to a bit of a debate on whether or not these products should legally be called “milk,” since they’re not made by milking a lactating mammal. Since there hasn’t been any federal direction on this debate, companies making the alternatives can still call them milk for the time being.
There are many different types of milk alternatives available in stores. Most are available in specialty stores; however, you can find a growing number of plant-based alternatives in your average grocery store!
Perhaps our favorite of the pick, almond milk has a light, creamy flavor with a bit of nuttiness that’s not overpowering. It is also pretty successful at mimicking the mouthfeel of milk. This makes it a perfect option to add to your coffee, grain-based cereals, and recipes that would otherwise call for milk. It’s also pretty healthy for you, with a large number of nutrients like potassium, Vitamin E, and calcium, while still being low in calories. The only issue is that almond milk can be low in protein. That said, you can find varieties with added proteins and other nutrients, as well as flavors like vanilla and chocolate!
Probably the first widely available plant-based alternative to milk, soy milk is well known for its light and adaptable flavor. While it can be a bit thin-textured, soy milk is the most ubiquitous and easily available of all the milk alternatives. It can come unsweetened, sweetened, and flavored with styles like vanilla and chocolate. Nutritionally, soy milk is pretty close to milk in terms of calories and nutrient contents, but it also has the benefit of potentially lowering your cholesterol and improving your heart health. While there has been some debate over how healthy or unhealthy soy is for you in the past, the negatives don’t seem to have as much support at this stage.
If you’re feeling a tropical vibe, coconut milk may be your alternative of choice. Similar to almond milk, coconut milk carries a bit of extra natural sweetness, in addition to having coconut flavor. This makes it an excellent choice for smoothies, in your coffee, or in a savory dish. Coconut has also been linked with improved heart health and positive weight loss, which is an added benefit to match the unique flavor. Like soy and almond milk, it’s also pretty widely available in grocery stores.
While oat milk may be a little bit tougher to find, you may find it’s worth the search. Oat milk is thicker than the other options and can retain some of the oat flavor (though, some say it’s the closest to actual milk). In fact, many across the internet have named it their favorite of all the plant-based milk alternatives. Nutritionally, it’s pretty similar to milk, except it’s got about half the fat and less protein, but it makes up for it with a number of vitamins. Most importantly for those who choose to avoid milk, it’s dairy-free, lactose-free, nut-free, vegan, and sometimes even gluten-free.
There are additional plant-based milk alternatives out there, but they aren’t as popular. For example, you can also get pea milk, banana milk, rice milk, hemp milk, flax milk, macadamia milk, walnut milk, cashew milk, hazelnut milk, peanut milk, and more!
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So, what does this all mean for you? Well, the big picture is that you have plenty of options to explore if you want to find an alternative to milk. Keep in mind, the four examples we covered are only a small sampling of what’s on the market. Just remember to read the labels when picking one out. While many alternatives add nutrients as part of the production process, some also add “extra sugar”. This can sneak in calories you may have wanted to avoid. Luckily, if you read the nutrition labels, it’s easy to find a tasty, healthy alternative to milk!