Many of us are deciding to give up cow’s milk. This could be because of allergies, intolerances or moving towards a vegan diet. Luckily, these days there’s a large variety of plant-based alternative milk products available in our supermarkets, but what type is best?
Let’s first take a look at cow’s milk. It is widely available in supermarket shops and comes in three varieties – full fat, semi-skimmed and skimmed. Cow’s milk is a well-known source of calcium and protein as well as vitamins and minerals such as phosphorus, potassium, iodine and vitamin B12. Cow’s milk is not suitable for anyone with a dairy or lactose allergy or intolerance and reduction may be recommended for people suffering from skin conditions such as eczema (always seek advice of a dietician or nutritionist).
Soya milk is made from hulled soya beans. It is close nutritionally to cow’s milk in terms of macronutrients – carbohydrates, protein and fat – however, it tends to be lower in calcium, iodine and B vitamins. Many varieties are fortified with these micronutrients so these are the best types to go for. This type of milk tends to be sweeter because it comes from a plant source so you don’t normally need to add extra sugar or sweetener. Soya milk is not suitable for anyone with a soya allergy or intolerance but is perfect for anyone who struggles with dairy. Soya milk is very versatile and can be added to tea, smoothies and cereal.
Hemp milk is made from hemp seeds which are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, protein and other nutrients. However, experts warn that the process of making hemp seeds into milk can strip many of the essential nutrients so it is best to find a fortified version. It does, however, contain high levels of protein and more essential fatty acids than soya milk. The good fats in hemp milk can help boost our cardiovascular health. Hemp is suitable for anyone with dairy or soya allergies or intolerances. Hemp milk can add a sweet nutty taste to tea or baking.
Oat milk is made from oats which contains beta-glucan – this contributes to the maintenance of normal blood cholesterol levels. Oat milk naturally contains more B vitamins than soya milk and coconut milk but has lower levels of protein and other vitamins and minerals. While it is suitable for people with milk or soya issues, it may not be suitable for people with gluten allergies or intolerances or celiac disease. It’s good added to your baked goods.
Almond milk is made from almonds which contains high levels of protein, fats and flavonoids. However, most almond milks are made with only 2% almonds so contains little almond and will not boast the large amounts of nutrients. There are many varieties out there which are fortified with vitamins and minerals. It is suitable for milk and soya allergy/intolerance sufferers but not for nut allergy sufferers. It adds a great nutty taste to cereals and smoothies.
Coconut milk is made from coconut cream. It probably has one of the lowest nutritional values out of all the milk alternatives. It contains almost no protein, higher amounts of fat (including saturated fat) and you would need to ensure that you get a fortified version to make up for the lack of nutrition. It also tends to be one of the most expensive. It is suitable for milk and soya allergy/intolerances but possibly not for nut allergies. It can be used for baking and making homemade curries.
Rice milk is made from rice. It is the least likely to cause allergies as it contains no milk, soya and nuts. It doesn’t naturally contain good amounts of nutrients but is often fortified. It has a higher carbohydrate content so would not be suitable for diabetics. It’s texture resembles cow’s milk so is good in tea and smoothies.
Cashew milk is made from cashews and is one of the newer kids on the block. It is not naturally high in nutrients but is usually fortified. It has a creamy texture that is similar to cow’s milk and has a subtler taste than almond milk. It is suitable for milk and soya allergy/intolerance sufferers but not nut allergy sufferers. It is very versatile and can be included in tea, baking, cereals, smoothies, etc.
If you do decide to move away from dairy, seek the advise of a dietician or nutritionist and ensure that you find a brand that is fortified with vitamins and minerals to enure you’re not missing out on essential nutrients such as calcium and B vitamins.