What’s the Deal with Milk Alternatives?

Have you wondered what’s the deal with milk alternatives? I started out with vanilla soy milk in the 90’s and there were basically 2 main brands that I remember– Edensoy and Vitasoy. They didn’t taste all that great, but I was vegetarian, leaning toward going vegan (sadly, that lasted approximately 2 days). Protein shakes were popular and Starbucks was brand new for East Coasters. Ahhh, my vanilla soy lattes! It took many years, but then I started hearing about soy isoflavones and estrogen complications and my soy milk days went down the drain. Fast forward to now, and there are so many milk alternatives!

Plant milks can be separated into two general categories: nut-based and non-nut-based. This is especially important for people with tree nut allergies. Oat milk, pea milk, and soy milk are the three most popular nut-free plant milks. Coconut milk is another popular alternative. However, coconut milk should be strictly consumed in moderation as explained below.

califa oat milk carton

Types of Milk Alternatives

  • Oat milk is derived from whole oat grains that are soaked and processed to give a rich, creamy liquid. Producing oat milk is more environmentally friendly compared to cow and nut milks; it uses less water and produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions. The nutritional profile of oat milk is similar to other plant milks, with one downside; a 1 cup serving of oat milk comes with a whopping 16 grams of carbs. This is much higher than almond milk (2 grams) and cow milk (12 grams). If this doesn’t bother you, oat milk flavor profile makes an excellent addition to coffee, breakfast cereals, and smoothies. 
  • Pea milk is made using pea protein from yellow peas. Similar to oat milk, its production is considered to be more environmentally friendly than cow and nut milks. When it comes to nutrition, pea milk is a good source of protein and B vitamins. It is often fortified with vitamins A and D. Note that the consistency of pea milk is somewhat thicker than other plant milks.  
hemp plant leaf
  • Hemp milk is a rich, high quality plant milk that is obtained from blending seeds from the Cannabis sativa plant. Hemp seeds lack any psychedelic activity but are loaded with protein and nutrients. The milk has an earthy, nutty flavor that goes well in coffee and cereals. Hemp milk, along with walnut milk, is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids which you can read in a previous post.
  • Coconut milk is the least nutritious and has a lot of saturated fats, and is flavorful. Coconut milk is different from the water that comes from inside the coconut. The high amounts of saturated fat found in coconut milk can increase blood cholesterol. On its own, coconut milk is a good source of several minerals including manganese, phosphorus, and iron, however, it does not have a significant amount of any vitamins and completely lacks protein.
  • Soy milk is a legume-based milk is most similar to cow’s milk because it has a lot of protein and the right amount of fat. It’s made from soybeans and water and is sometimes sweetened and fortified with vitamins. Soy milk has been a source of much controversy over the years due to many variables. However, when consumed under the right conditions it is extremely beneficial and a good milk alternative for humans. 

Why Make the Switch to Milk Alternatives?

In a nutshell, milk alternatives are better for the environment. Plus, factory-farming is a nasty business and unless you’re getting your milk straight from the teat, you can bet the cow wasn’t that happy when they donated it to your breakfast cereal. Add to that the variety and health benefits that plant milks offer and making the switch is a no-brainer. Something else to consider is looking for milk alternatives in paper cartons in an effort to limit the consumption of one-time-use containers. The attractive, but bulky plastic jars are not good for our landfills.

You can read my last post where I explain about nut milks and provide an almond milk recipe. Watch the video below if you’re interested in making a nut milk, however I haven’t tried my hand at making pea, hemp or oat yet. If you have a tried and true recipe, please send it in!

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Photo credit goes to: engin akyurt@enginakyurt and Linoleum Magazine @linoleum

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