Alternative Milks

November 30, 2012

Milk means much more than just cows milk these days. There are a variety of choices in milk products, ranging from soy to goat. Find out the details here

Milk means much more than just cows milk these days. There are a variety of choices in milk products, ranging from soy to goat. For those with food allergies, sensitivities, religious reasons, or other personal preferences, it seems almost as if there are endless choices in both dairy and non-dairy “milks”. From shelf-stable to refrigerated classics, here are a handful of the choices for every taste. 

Alternative “milk” beverages, are not all made from animals but from nuts, grains or seeds; they are all lactose and cholesterol free. Alternative “milks” are not actually defined as “milk” by the USDA guidelines. In fact the USDA alerts consumers that calcium-fortified foods and beverages such as soy milk may provide calcium, but may not provide the other nutrients found in milk and milk products.  Here are some of the “milk” options and their nutritional high points.

Goat’s milk has a similar nutritional profile to cow’s milk. It contains slightly lower levels of lactose (4.1 percent vs. 4.7 percent), which may be an advantage for those who are lactose-intolerant. Goat’s milk contains more calcium, as well as higher levels of vitamin B6, vitamin A, potassium, and niacin as compared to cow’s milk.

Nut milks can be made from almost any type of nut. Commercially, almond milk is probably the most well-known, and while almonds may be one of the healthiest nuts* you can eat, almond milk does not have as strong a nutritional profile, and is thus often vitamin enriched. Almonds are rich in magnesium, potassium, manganese, copper, vitamin E, selenium, and calcium. 

Coconut milk is a sweet, milky white beverage derived from the meat of a mature coconut. It’s a great source of iron, magnesium, manganese, copper, and potassium. Some varieties have a large amount of fat, so shoppers beware. Commercial varieties of coconut milk can be found flavored to suit any taste.  

Seed milks can be made from hemp seeds, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds. Hemp milk is gaining popularity because of its strong nutritional profile. Produced from the seeds of the hemp plant, it is packed with omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, and is an excellent source of protein, and vitamin E.

Grains like oats, rye, spelt, quinoa and rice can also be used to produce milk. An example is rice milk, which is typically made from brown rice. Commercially available rice-based beverages are typically fortified with calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and iron.

Soy milk is made from soybeans and is one of the most popular milk alternatives on the supermarket shelves. According to the FDA, “25 grams of soy protein a day as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.” Soy milk is a good source of protein (equivalent to cow’s milk) and is high in vitamin B. It is also a good source of vitamin E, and is safe for the lactose intolerant or those with a milk allergy.

And of course, lactose-free milk is available for individuals who are unable to break down lactose, the natural sugar found in milk. Lactose-free milk is cow’s milk with lactase (an enzyme) added to it, to convert the lactose in the milk to glucose, making it easier to digest for those people who are unable to digest lactose.

*Botanically speaking almonds are not actually nuts, but considered drupe fruits. Coconuts fall into this category as well.