Recently I identified the prime culprit behind my skin allergies — the cream I put in my morning coffee. And it seems I’m not alone.
With around 60% of adults unable to digest milk, lactose persistence (the ability to tolerate milk after infancy) is more the oddball than lactose intolerance. Plus there are the issues with natural and genetically-modified hormones and the devastating environmental impact of cow’s milk.
So while plant-based “meats” have been hogging headlines recently, plant-based “milk” has been quietly revolutionizing the $107 billion dairy industry for years. Still, the flood of options — almond, soy, rice, hemp, oat, cashew, coconut, and pea, among others — can be overwhelming.
It does a body good?
So, you now might be thinking … which “milk” is best for my health and palate? First it helps to understand what you’re replacing.
Take a minute to consider what makes cow’s milk nutritionally beneficial in the first place. The Journal of Food Science and Technology found that no plant-based milk delivers the same amount of nutrients — including protein, carbohydrates, calcium, fat, B vitamins, potassium, and vitamin D.
Score one for the cows. This is why it’s key to know the nutritional breakdown of milk alternatives to best match your needs.
Cream of the crop
Almond milk takes the top spot with 68% of the plant-based beverage industry. This may be because almonds are the most nutritious food in the world, and its “milk” is low in calories and naturally boasts the antioxidant, heart-healthy vitamin E, zinc, and monounsaturated fatty acids.
The OG dairy alternative, soy milk, owns almost 14% of the market and is second only to cow’s milk as the most nutritionally balanced, with a healthy mix of protein, fats and carbohydrates. Like cow’s milk, however, GMOs can be an issue, so it’s best to stick to organic soy milk.
Almond and soy are the big two. But depending on what you’re using your plant-based beverage for, your choice may go in a different direction.
For example, if you’re working out, rice milk and coconut milk are heavy on carbohydrates, which can provide a pre-training boost. Both pea and hemp milk naturally have healthy fats and protein, plus other nutrients including potassium and calcium that make for the kind of nourishment you’d want in a post-conditioning smoothie.
And for that creamy consistency you (and I) crave in your coffee, oat milk is a barista’s favorite. Give it a shot.
Many plant-based alternatives use additives to mimic cow’s milk, so be sure to check the ingredient list to see what it’s added in. On the downside, look for sugars and thickeners, and then for pluses, added vitamin A, B12, and D to mimic the high nutrition of cow’s milk.