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Five Dairy-Free Milks That Are Better Than Soy

10:47 AM

Hey there, our milk-adverse friends. Whether you're allergic, intolerant, vegan or just into the whole alternative milk thing, you probably have a go-to non-dairy favorite. Right? We're coconut hoarders ourselves; since it's self-stable until open, we keep a stock of it and go through it like crazy.

Today we're going to dive into the swirl of non-dairy milk options to discover what they're good for (and maybe what they're not). Before we jump into the specific pros and cons of each alternative, we want to give you our general opinion on each.

While I'm allergic to almond milk, Tanya loves it. It's super healthy, bakes well and has a great texture. It isn't too thin, it's yummy on its own (and it makes great chocolate milk). If I could drink this, it would be my first choice.

Rice milk is okay—sort of healthy yet starchy (aka sugary)—but thin. It's watery like extra-skim milk. That being said, it still bakes well; it just isn't a great alternative for creamy sauces.

Coconut milk is our go-to, partially because it's the best for my allergies but also because it's yummy. We usually get the unsweetened to keep calories down. It's great in creamy sauces, bakes well and tastes good on cereal.

We haven't tried oat milk, but if we can find it gluten-free we will! Have you?

Finally, hemp milk is alright but tends to be a little bit gritty. We haven't experimented with it enough to form a strong opinion; have you?

Wait, what about soy milk? To be honest, we have a pretty strong opinion on soy milk—and all processed soy, in fact. While fermented soy (like miso, tempeh and natto) have positive effects on the body, unfermented (soy milk, tofu and almost everything else soy-based) is harmful. It's difficult to digest, full of phytoestrogens and phytates. In the future we'll devote a full post to both sides of the soy debate, but for now we'll just refer you to a brief article on Dr. Joseph Mercola's The Heath Dangers Of Soy (located here).

Taste: Slightly nutty with a hint of sweetness.
Body: Decent with a smooth texture, but not creamy—somewhere between 2% cow's milk and skim.
Use: Easily replaces dairy milk an almost any recipe. Great in drinks, sauces and baked goods.

Health Pros: 
  • Antioxidant-Happy. Almond milk is a great source of vitamin E, which is proven to slow aging and protect against some caners. It also contains flavonoids, which reduce the number of free radicals within the body to ward off osteoporosis, Type 2 diabetes and other diseases. 
  • Heart Healthy. High in Omega-3, almond milk helps fight bad cholesterol. It contains no cholesterol and no saturated fats. 
  • Naturally Vitamin + Mineral Rich. Of the most common dairy milk substitutes, almond naturally contains the highest number of vitamins and minerals. This includes copper, zinc, iron, magnesium, manganese, calcium, phosphorous, potassium and selenium. Although a lot of store-bought milk substitutes are fortified to include these, they naturally occur in almond milk—so if you make your own, it will still be incredibly healthy. 
  • Low Calories, Low Fat. It contains only 40 calories and three grams of fat per serving, and even those three fat grams are healthy fats that offer cognitive improvement and heart health.
Health Cons: 
  • Tree Nuts Alert! Almonds are, quite obviously, tree nuts. So if you're allergic to tree nuts (like I am), you should stay well away from this almondy goodness. 
  • Additive + Sweetener Watch-Out. As always, you'll want to read your labels. Almond milk can have artificial sweeteners and flavorings that are unnecessary and unhealthy. If you want the best almond milk ever, make it yourself. 

Taste: Slightly sweet.
Body: Thin and watery.
Use: Replaces cow's milk in baked goods quite well, without altering the consistency. It does not lend itself well to savory or thick sauces, although it can be thickened with tapioca.

Health Pros: 
  • Low Fat & No Saturated Fat. Of all the dairy alternatives, rice milk has the least amount of fat. (Of course, while this is good for your body it may not be as great for your recipe). 
  • High In B Vitamins. This makes it beneficial for your metabolism, circulation and nerve function.
  • Heart Healthy. Not only is rice milk cholesterol-free, it also contains rice bran oil that actively lowers cholesterol. 
  • Regulates Circulatory System. It has magnesium, which helps control blood pressure. Rice milk also contains iron and copper, which increase red blood cell production for enhanced vitality and oxygenation. 
  • Fortified To Include Calcium. While rice milk doesn't naturally contain calcium (so your homemade varieties won't have it), store-bought brands are fortified with a healthy amount of it per serving. 
  • Antioxidant-Happy. It is a great source of antioxidants like manganese and selenium, which help ward off infections and even some types of cancers. 
Health Cons:
  • Starchy & Carby. Rice is naturally high in starch, so rice milk is too—it has almost four times the amount of carbs as dairy or soy milk. This makes it unsuitable for diabetics and anyone else with carb issues.
  • Low In Protein. Rice milk has only 25% of the protein found in dairy and soy milks. 

To be clear, there are two types of coconut milk: the "thick" kind that comes in a can and the "thin" (diluted) kind that comes in a box like other milk alternatives. They have drastically different levels of fat and calories. This post deals only with the "thin." 

Taste: Slightly sweet with a hint of coconut.
Body: Rich and creamy with a smooth texture.
Use: Replaces dairy milk in almost every instance. Great for baking, making creamy sauces, mixing into smoothies, etc. Like I said, we use it almost exclusively.

Health Pros: 
  • Boosts Immune System. Coconut milk contains capric acid, lauric acid and antimicrobial lipids which have antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties. Lauric acid in particular is a virus-fighter—studies show that pneumonia patients recover better with a combination of antibiotics and coconut oil, vs. antibiotics alone. 
  • Fights Heart Disease. It contains medium-chain fatty acids that kill the bacteria responsible for forming plaque in the arteries. It also raises HDL, or "good" cholesterol, while lowering "bad" LDL cholesterol. 
  • Fortified With Vitamins + Mineral Rich. A good source of iron, coconut milk is also high in magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, selenium, zinc, folate and vitamin C. It has a host of other vitamins too, like vitamin E, vitamin K, thiamin, vitamin B6 and calcium. 
Health Cons: 
  • High In Calories + Saturated Fat. Compared to other milk substitutes, coconut is high in calories. It also has the most saturated fat of any milk alternative.
  • Nut Allergy Alert! If you're allergic to tree nuts, coconut milk isn't a great choice for you. 
  • Low Protein. Coconut milk doesn't contain any protein, so it isn't great for weight management. 

Taste: Mild, slightly sweet.
Body: Thin and watery.
Use: Easily replaces cow's milk in baked goods, much like rice milk does. Not good for thick or creamy sauces.

Health Pros: 
  • No Cholesterol. Yep, oat milk is all grain so it's cholesterol-free. 
  • Antioxidant-Happy. Oat milk contains phytochemicals: antioxidants that help ward off heart disease and cancers.
  • Naturally Vitamin + Mineral Rich. A cup of oat milk contains around 10 minerals and 15 vitamins, including vitamin A, vitamin E and folic acid. 
  • Calcium + Fiber Rich. Remarkably, oat milk contains even more calcium than whole cow's milk. 
  • Low Fat. It has 75% less fat than dairy milk, and none of that fat is saturated. 
Health Cons: 
  • Gluten Allergy Alert! Oat themselves are a cross-contamination issue, of course, but the bigger issue is that the oats are usually blended with barley. That makes this milk unsuitable for people with gluten allergies. 

Taste: Slightly earthy. 
Body: Naturally thin but usually thickened artificially. Somewhat gritty texture.
Use: Bakes well. Can be used for thick or creamy sauces.

Health Pros: 
  • Naturally Vitamin + Mineral Rich. This includes magnesium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin B-12 and vitamin A. 
  • Good Source Of Calcium. Like oat milk, hemp milk contains more calcium than cow's milk. 
  • Omegas + Fiber + Protein. Hemp milk is a great source of omega-3, omega-6, plus a healthy balance of fiber and protein. 
  • Anti-Inflammatory. Hemp is naturally anti-inflammatory and improves circulation. 
  • Low Sugar. Unlike other naturally-sugary milks (rice, for example), hemp milk contains almost no natural sugars. 
  • No Cholesterol. Yep, heart-healthy!
Health Cons: 
  • May contain carrageenan. Some hemp milk contains the additive carrageenan, a thickening agent that is linked to cancer. If you choose to use hemp milk, you'll want to make sure it's carrageenan-free. 

Of course, there are other non-dairy milks also! Cashew, potato, flax and multigrain come to mind. Do you have a favorite go-to, or do you vary your milks based on your dishes? 

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