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Remember back in the ‘80s, when soymilk first came on the scene in the United States? Initially, its very existence boggled people’s minds. But soon, this plant-based milk alternative began to scratch that dairy itch for anyone suffering from lactose intolerance and food allergies or eschewing animal products.
From there, consumers were quickly introduced to other dairy milk substitutes. Turns out, lots of ingredients — most nuts, seeds and many grains — could become “milk,” and more alternative offerings began hitting the market. Today, they’re more popular than ever.
“Plant-based eating is growing in popularity, and so people are looking to get plant nutrients from a variety of foods,” says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, a plant-based recipe developer in the New York City area. “Alternative milks are a great way to get nutrients from ingredients such as nuts, seeds, and other plant proteins. Just make sure to shop for unsweetened milks, because otherwise the alternative milks could be adding quite a bit of added sugar to your day.”
Of course, Gorin explains, there are pros and cons to each alternative milk category — read on to learn about their individual nutrient profiles, ability to substitute for dairy in recipes, and more.
Do you have nut allergies? Then oat milk is calling your name. “This alternative milk is great for everything from adding to coffee to baking,” says Gorin. “It steams really well if you’d like to add it to cappuccinos or lattes.” If you’re gluten-free, it’s important to shop for an oat milk made with gluten-free oats, such as Planet Oat. Gorin says a cup of oat milk typically has around 110 to 130 calories, 2 to 4 grams of protein, and 2 grams of fiber. Some varieties are fortified and may contain nutrients such as calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, and vitamin B12.
While some people have a soy allergy and must avoid this option, a recent study in Nutrition Today found that soy allergies are actually less prevalent than previously thought — in fact, allergies to soy are lower than allergies to the other top seven allergens (milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, and wheat). “One way in which soymilk stands out from its competition is that it’s a complete protein,” says Gorin. A cup of unsweetened soymilk contains about 80 calories, 7 grams of protein, and 2 grams of fiber, as well as potassium, vitamin A, vitamin D, and other nutrients.
Looking for a non-dairy calcium boost? One cup of almond milk contains around 45% of the daily value for calcium, 50% of the daily value for vitamin B12, and 25% of the daily value for vitamin D. Plus, a cup of almond milk can be as low as 30 calories. “Choose unsweetened almond milk, as there’s no reason to take in any added sugar,” suggests Gorin.
This milk has a more buttery taste, versus a nutty one, so Gorin says it’s easy to bake and cook with. A cup of cashew milk typically contains between 25 and 40 calories, but some brands have as much as 100 calories a serving so read labels carefully if you’re watching your caloric intake. You’ll also get a little bit of iron and calcium with this option.
This is another milk that’s good for people with nut allergies, although Gorin says rice milk tends to be higher in calories than some of the other categories. A cup is about 120 calories, with just 1 gram of protein. Enriched milks contain other nutrients, such as vitamin A, calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12.
“Coconut milk is good for vegan cooking and adds creaminess to such dishes as curry,” says Gorin, who also uses it in her smoothies. There are both canned and boxed varieties — the canned version works better for cooking, while the boxed is more suited for drinking. A cup of the boxed variety contains about 45 calories, 1 gram of fiber, and no protein; you’ll get some other nutrients, too, including 50% of the daily value for vitamin B12 and 30% of the daily value for vitamin D.
How do they get milk out of a pea? Well, pea milk is made from pea protein and no, it doesn’t taste like peas. However, it may also come with a few unexpected ingredients, such as oils to help improve texture. A cup of Ripple unsweetened original milk, for instance, contains 70 calories, 8 grams of protein, 32 mg DHA omega 3s, zero sugar and 50% more calcium than 2% dairy milk.
Though it was first introduced in 1974, banana milk is only now stepping into the limelight. “You can bake with banana milk, as well as add it to cereal and coffee,” says Gorin. “It’s also a good option for people with nut allergies.” Some brands contain no added sweeteners or are sweetened with just cinnamon, while others have quite a bit of added sugar — which means the range of calories can be quite varied, from 60 to 150 calories per cup. A cup of original Mooala banana milk contains zero added sugar, 30% of the daily value for calcium, and other nutrients, such as vitamins E, C and B6.