Cow’s milk has long been a staple in our diets. Thousands of years ago, it was much harder than it is today to obtain nutrient rich food. So, humans being the highly adaptive species that they are, began drinking cow's milk for its high fat content and nutritious profile. Nowadays, milk is consumed daily, particularly in the Western world - whether that's in tea or coffee, poured on cereal, or as a beverage.
Whilst cow’s milk is generally the most popular choice, some people may choose not to drink it due to dietary restrictions, intolerances, health concerns, allergies, or just as a personal preference. With such a high demand now for non-dairy milk alternatives, there are plenty of options available that can be a great substitute and still offer numerous health benefits. But with so much choice out there, which milk alternative is best? To help you decide what’s right for you, we’ve listed our top four of the most popular non-dairy milk alternatives, along with their nutritional profiles.
Best non-dairy milk alternatives
Below are our favourite non-dairy milk alternatives in ranking order. To give you an idea of their health profiles in comparison to cow’s milk: 1 cup of cows milk provides 146 calories, 8g of fat, 8g of protein and 13g carbs.
1. Almond milk
Our absolute favorite milk substitute is almond milk, as it is low in calories, fat, sugar and carbs, making it a no-harm-done drink.
One cup contains:
Almond milk is made from water and ground almonds and has a light texture, with a sweet and nutty flavour, making it ideal for cereal, smoothies and drinks. Whilst having a nutritional profile low in everything is less harmful, this means you aren’t really getting many benefits either. Therefore, most almond milks are fortified with essential vitamins and minerals that you get in cow’s milk, such as vitamin D or calcium, so it is important to look for a drink that contains these. Another benefit we love is that it contains vitamin E and antioxidants, which help fight disease and slow the aging process.
2. Oat milk
Our second choice is oat milk, as it’s nutritional profile is fairly similar to cow’s milk and it’s sweet, mild flavour means it can be used the same way.
One cup of oat milk contains:
Like almond milk, oat milk is made from oats and water and can easily be made at home, making it a potentially cheap option. Oat milk provides a similar amount of calories to cow’s milk, but is lower in fat and protein and much higher in carbs. We're big fans of it’s yummy taste and the fact that it is high in a type of fibre that may help lower cholesterol levels - fibre is also great for gut health.
As with almond milk, we recommend looking for an oat milk fortified with calcium. It is also important to note that oat milk contains small amounts of gluten, so is not suitable for celiacs or anyone looking for a gluten-free alternative.
3. Coconut milk
Coming in third place is the creamy and sweet coconut milk, made from water and the white flesh of coconuts.
One cup of coconut milk contains:
Coconut milk is relatively low in everything and contains no protein or calcium, but is high in saturated fats - you perhaps wouldn’t want to consume this one in excess. However, we do like that it is packed with vitamin D and vitamin B12, both essential vitamins for good health.
Coconut milk has an extra creamy consistency, which some of the other milks lack, making it ideal for things like smoothies. We love the taste of coconut milk but, unsurprisingly, it tastes like coconut. This can be off putting for some and means it isn’t as versatile as others, such as oat milk.
4. Soy milk
In last place, and perhaps the most commonly used non-dairy alternative, is soy milk, which has similar nutritional value to cow’s milk.
One cup of soy milk contains:
Soy milk is made from soybeans and has a mild, creamy flavour and is often chosen as an alternative to cow’s milk for its low calorie and fat content. Despite having a comparable nutritional profile to cow’s milk, we’re ranking soy milk below the others as it often contains added sugar to enhance the flavour, and there is some evidence that soy has the potential to disrupt estrogen levels.
Health regulations of non-dairy milk
Proposed standards have been published to help ensure non-dairy milk alternatives contain similar key nutrients that are typically found in cow’s milk, without containing large amounts of saturated fats or added sugars.
These are just a few of the non-dairy milks available today, but there are many more and the choice can be overwhelming. It is important to always look for unsweetened varieties, as sugar is often added to improve taste. The major nutrients cow’s milk contains which can be harder to get in milk substitutes are calcium, vitamin B12 and protein, so look for brands which are fortified with extra vitamins or minerals, so you don’t miss out on these vital nutrients.
Any of the milks listed above are a great cow’s milk alternative, so take some time to find which is right for you. It may help you choose between the milks if you assess your dietary requirements - if you're looking to build muscle you will need higher protein content, for example. You may also want to explore some of the other options, such as rice, hemp, macadamia and cashew milk.
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