What you need to know about alternative milks
Got milk? You’ll have to be more specific.
Unless you've been living under a rock, chances are you've noticed the gradual sprawl of 'milk' options crowding supermarket shelves and cafe menus. No longer confined to cow, we’ve now got a whole new world of plant-based alternative milk (also called ‘mylk’) to choose from. If you've got a dairy intolerance or you're trying to make the vegan switch, then you’re probably already exploring these options.
But all this choice can be overwhelming – especially when you're ordering your first coffee of the morning. Soy? Oat? Almond? Curious about the taste combination of a coconut milk latte, perhaps?
But there's more to consider than the flavor factor – especially if you’re replacing the dairy in your diet. Should you opt for low-fat? Fortified? Nut or grain based? And what if organic isn't actually the best option?
If you’re concerned about how your alt-milk stacks up against the competitors, we’re here with the lactose-free lowdown.
Is all milk equal?
Just because you can put all these in your coffee doesn’t mean they’re on the same nutritional footing. Milks based on nuts and grains are more ‘water’ than ‘milk,’ and that means you’ve got to think carefully about where they work in your diet.
To get you started, we’ve collected the basic facts and figures around alternative milks:
Nutritional content will vary between brands, however, so always check the label.
Obviously, the nutrition of each milk will depend on the source. And just because the source is nutritious doesn’t automatically mean the drink will be. For example, whole almonds provide protein and are rich in a range of vitamins and minerals. While almond milk is popular as a low-calorie option – and super tasty in drinks such as our beloved smoothies – it contains virtually zero protein and is not a good natural source of minerals like calcium.
Additionally, people switching their dairy milk over sustainability concerns might find the environmental impacts of soy or almond milk to be an issue. Some instead turn to flax milk because it’s overall a more sustainable crop.
Depending on your health needs, you might have to be wary of coconut milk’s fat content or the higher sugar in oat and rice milk. But generally, the different levels of carbohydrates, sugar and fat in plant-based milks aren’t a huge concern.
Protein and calcium, on the other hand? You need to pay close attention to that.
Most plant-based milks contain little to no protein, and the protein present is often low quality. That’s a big deal if you’re using alternative milk as a recovery option after exercise.
Soy milk and flax milk tend to be an exception, as both have similar levels of high-quality protein to dairy. Additionally, home-made hemp milk has a much higher protein content than store-bought varieties.
If you’re using a low-protein plant-based milk but still want your post-workout drink to pack a nutritional punch, try adding other protein-rich ingredients. Protein powder, almond meal, chia seeds or other good quality sources of protein will help make sure you’re getting what you need.
Many commercial plant-based milk options are now fortified to provide a similar amount of calcium to dairy milk (around 100-125mg per half cup.) That said, you’ll want to check the labels of any organic products, as these are less likely to be fortified.
You can get complete nutrition from a plant-based diet – just ask Centr experts Simon Hill and Torre Washington – but it does mean you have to be more thoughtful about how you balance the rest of your diet.
Armed with this quick guide and a good understanding of your own nutritional needs, you can find the perfect milk for your lifestyle – and latte.
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