Do you remember the long-running ad campaign for the dairy industry, Got Milk? It's since gone by the wayside as more and more Americans have given up drinking cow's milk for various other drinks.
People may opt to drink a non-dairy milk substitute for a variety of reasons.
- Milk allergies aren't super common, but 2–3% of kids under three are allergic to cow's milk. A couple of decades ago, this was a concern as the only option was goat's milk at a much higher price tag if you could find it. By the time most kids turn 18, most have outgrown the milk allergy but lack the desire to drink milk.
- Lactose intolerance is a much bigger problem, with an estimated 75% of the world's population intolerant to lactose, the sugar found in milk.
- Vegan diets exclude animal products for ethical, environmental, or health reasons. The number of vegans in the U.S. has grown substantially over the past decade due to concerns about the impact of livestock on climate change
- Potential health risks from drinking avoid cow's milk due to concerns over antibiotics, pesticides, and hormones.
As demand for non-dairy alternatives has increased, so too has the number of options. For many years soy milk was the go-to alternative. All the varieties are made by soaking the solid nuts/legumes/seeds in water and straining the solids. All the varieties are considered good in coffee, smoothies, and cereal.
- Soy drink has a high protein content and is also one of the few plant-based sources of high-quality "complete" protein, which provides all the essential amino acids. It is the most nutritionally equivalent to cow's milk of all plant-based non-dairy beverages available. Plain, unsweetened soy milk is best used in savory recipes, just like you'd use cow's milk. However, soy has become one of the world's most controversial foods, and many people are concerned about its effects on the body even though there is no conclusive evidence that it is harmful to humans. It should be noted that 94% of soy grown in the U.S. is genetically modified, raising alarms for many people. To avoid GMO soy, look for organic varieties.
- Almond beverage consumption has grown exponentially in recent years despite its very little protein and the fact that its nutritional profile differs significantly from that of cow's milk. It is made mainly of water, and many brands contain only 2% almonds which are blanched with the skin removed, reducing the fiber, protein, vitamin, and mineral content. To improve the nutritional value, almond beverages and many other non-dairy beverages are fortified with additional vitamins and minerals. Almond beverage production resulting from increased consumer demand is cause for environmental concerns. Over 80% of the world's almonds are produced in drought-prone regions of California, leading to drained aquifers. Also, the significant use of herbicides on almond trees has led to a dramatic reduction of honeybee populations. If almond milk is your non-dairy beverage of choice, look for organic varieties to protect the environment.
- Rice beverage is characterized by a mild, sweet flavor and is perfect for fruit smoothies or added to breakfast cereals. It is one of the least allergenic non-dairy milk substitutes. Compared to cow's milk, rice beverage contains high amounts of carbohydrates and minimal protein and fat. Of all the non-dairy milk alternatives on this list, it contains the most carbohydrates, and it has a high glycemic index, which means it is absorbed quickly in the gut and rapidly raises blood sugar levels. For this reason, rice beverage is not a good best option for people with diabetes.
- Coconut beverage is produced by grating the white flesh of a coconut and mixing it with hot water. It is low in protein but rich in minerals such as potassium and magnesium. Coconut beverage is delicious when added to smoothies or your morning bowl of cereal. It has the lowest protein and carbohydrate content of any non-dairy milk and is high in saturated fat.
- Oat beverage is one of the most recent plant-based beverages to emerge on grocery store shelves and is gaining popularity. It is a creamy, slightly sweet liquid. Unsweetened oat beverage contains more carbohydrates than nut- or legume-based non-dairy beverages. However, oat beverage contains beta-glucan, which can help lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
- Hemp seeds, tiny protein-packed seeds of the Cannabis sativa plant, which also produces marijuana, are used to make hemp beverage. Hemp non-dairy milk contains a similar amount of fat to cow's milk but half the calories and protein. It also has significantly fewer carbohydrates. It is a source of complete proteins with all the essential amino acids, making it a good option for vegans and vegetarians. It is also a source of two essential fatty acids: the omega-3 and omega-6, that the body does not make independently.
Various nut varieties are also used for making non-dairy beverages. Cashew milk is a popular option with a very similar nutrition profile to almond milk. Cashew milk tends to have a thicker consistency than almond milk, making it perfect for adding to lattes or smoothies. Macadamia nuts and hazelnuts are relatively new beverage options with a rich, creamy taste.
There are also grain beverage options that use flax, quinoa, peas, or blends of up to seven grains. Options are sure to continue growing.
Unlike buying cow's milk, non-dairy milk substitutes contain additives such as sugar, thickeners, preservatives, and flavorings to improve flavor, texture, and shelf life. It's essential to check the labels and not make assumptions. Each of these beverages is easy to make at home to avoid additives.