This week’s blog post is by Christine Luken.
Open any home’s refrigerator in the U.S., and there’s an excellent chance you’ll find a jug – or two – of milk in there. We drink milk, put it on our cereal, and cook with it almost daily. The interesting thing is since 1975, America’s milk consumption has dropped by 30%. There are a variety of reasons for this, but one major contributor is the rise in popularity of milk alternatives, such as soy, almond, coconut, and rice milk.
I conducted some very unscientific research to see why people would choose a “pseudo-milk” drink and their opinion on taste both straight-up and in recipes. The biggest reason people are reaching for a milk alternative is lactose intolerance or sensitivity, which causes gastric upset. Other people are concerned about the effects of hormones in conventional cow’s milk. Vegans and some vegetarians avoid regular dairy products and prefer a plant-based alternative. Personally, when I drink milk, I notice that it tends to irritate my sinuses and makes me mucus-y, which is really a drag during the peak of allergy season!
My first foray into milk alternatives was purchasing a carton of vanilla coconut milk, with a coupon – of course! I started using it in my smoothies instead of regular milk. It is super-delicious in the Hawaiian Breeze smoothie and I noticed no negative side effects for my sinuses. I’m not a fan of drinking it plain, but my hubby loves it by the glass-full and on his cereal. Nutritionally, the only downside I see is a complete lack of protein in coconut milk, whereas cow’s milk has 8 grams per cup. Coconut milk has gotten somewhat of bad rap for being high in saturated fat. However, most of this fat is in the form of lauric acid which helps to strengthen the immune system.
Let’s look at soy, almond, coconut, and rice milk and how they compare to cow’s milk nutritionally. Be sure to scrutinize the nutritional label of whichever milk alternative you choose. Some brands and varieties have added flavors and sugar, which will affect the numbers on the label. (1 cup of 1% milk has 102 calories, 8 grams of protein, 2 grams of fat, 12 carbs, and 30% DV of calcium.)
Soy Milk - Soy milk is the closest nutritionally to cow’s milk. A cup of Silk Original Soy Milk has 90 calories, 6 grams of protein, 3.5 grams of fat, 8 carbs, 45% DV calcium, and 30% DV of vitamin D. Soy milk easily replaces regular milk in recipes. The downside? Many soybeans are grown from genetically modified seeds. So, look for “non-GMO” or “organic” on the label if that is a concern for you. (Fortunately, Silk Original is non-GMO.) Some people avoid soy products altogether because of the plant-based estrogens.
Almond Milk – Almond Breeze Original refrigerated almond milk has 60 calories per cup, 1 gram of protein, 2.5 grams of fat, 8 carbs, 45% DV of calcium, and 25% DV of vitamin D. The fat found in almonds is the healthy monounsaturated variety, plus you’ll be getting a good dose of vitamin E. Almond milk was the most popular choice among my friends, who said it was a tasty dairy milk replacement for drinking, cereal, and cooking. The only downside is the almost complete lack of protein. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m going to.
Coconut Milk – So Delicious Unsweetened Vanilla coconut milk has 45 calories per cup, no protein (an obvious negative), 4.5 grams of fat, only 2 grams of carbs (a great choice for carb steppers!), 30% DV vitamin D but only 10% DV calcium. My hubby and I do get plenty of calcium with our yogurt, cheese, and ice cream consumption. I think the vanilla coconut milk is very tasty and it works well with the recipes I’ve used it in (mostly smoothies and desserts). The amount of fat may be a deterrent for some folks.
Rice Milk – Unsweetened rice milk seems to be the least popular of the milk alternatives, and for good reasons. It’s higher is calories (and therefore, carbs) and has virtually no protein. One cup of Rice Dream Enriched Refrigerated Original contains 120 calories, 1 gram of protein, 2.5 grams of fat, 23 grams of carbs, 30% DV calcium, and 25% DV vitamin D. Unless rice milk is fortified, there’s not much nutritional value. Plus Consumer Reports found detectable levels of arsenic in certain brands of rice milk and recommend consuming no more than ½ cup per day and not giving it to children under age 5. Now that’s a little scary!
If you are trying to cut back on cow’s milk for whatever reason, I’d pass on the rice milk. But consider giving almond, coconut, or soy milk a try! I’d like to hear your opinions – what milk alternative is your favorite and why?