If you have decided to ditch the dairy in your diet, your body will thank you. Between 30 and 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant, and the consumption of dairy products has been linked to everything from increased risk of ovarian and prostate cancers to ear infections and diabetes. Fortunately, plant-based milks provide a convenient and healthful alternative to cow’s milk. And if you are currently making the transition to a dairy-free diet, you will find that going dairy-free has never been easier. Soy, almond, hemp, coconut, and rice milks, among others, are taking over the dairy case—and claiming supermarket aisles all their own. There are dozens of brands of plant-based milks and hundreds of options to choose from to meet everyone’s individual tastes and nutritional needs. So how do you choose the best dairy-free milk for your diet? Read on to find out.
Due to the overwhelming selection of plant-based milks available, it can be difficult to decide which plant-based milk to choose. In most cases, what to choose comes down to personal taste preferences. Experiment with a variety of dairy-free milks to see what pleases your palate. Coconut and soy milks tend to be sweeter and creamier in consistency. Almond, hemp, and hazelnut milks have a slightly nutty flavor to them. And rice milk tends to be more mildly sweet and thin in consistency. Differences can be noted not only among varieties of dairy-free milks, but also among brands; so experiment to find which plant-based milks please your tastebuds.
Nutrition may also play a role in determining which dairy-free milk you choose. Like cow’s milk, many varieties of dairy-free milks are fortified with nutrients including vitamins A and D. Calcium, iron, and protein needs can be easily met on a vegan diet by consuming a variety of vegetables, grains, and legumes. However, fortified non-dairy milks can also serve as an important source of nutrients—especially for those newly transitioning to a vegan diet. Soy and hemp milks are great choices for those wishing to boost protein in their diets; both soy and hemp are complete proteins providing all nine essential amino acids. Many non-dairy types of milk are also fortified with calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and iron. So if you are looking to give your diet a little nutrient boost, non-dairy milks may provide the nutrients you need. Be sure to read food labels to assist in selecting a fortified product to meet your needs.
Choosing dairy-free milk may also be influenced by how you plan to utilize the milk. In general, most recipes calling for cow’s milk can easily be substituted with any plant-based milk. Almond, hemp, soy, coconut, and rice milks can easily be used in baked goods. Soy, coconut, and hazelnut milks are great substitutes for cream in coffee due to their thicker consistencies and flavors. And soy and rice milks are wonderful additions to sauces and soups. Again, most choices come down to personal taste preferences, so feel free to experiment to find the perfect dairy-free milk for your needs.
Natural Choices with Minimal Processing
There are many non-dairy milks available for individuals who not only want to commit to a vegan diet, but one that emphasizes minimally processed foods. Several brands of non-dairy milks incorporate added fats and sweeteners including cane juice and brown rice syrup. However, there are several brands of non-dairy milk that include only a few simple ingredients. For example, EdenSoy® organic unsweetened soymilk and WestSoy® organic unsweetened soy milk contain only purified water and organic soybeans.
Many non-dairy milks are also organic including EdenSoy®, SoyDream®, WestSoy®, Vitasoy®, Hemp Bliss®, So Delicious® coconut milk, and certain varieties of Pacific® and Silk® brand beverages. However, some brands, while not organic, do pledge to use soybeans produced in the United States or North American that are not genetically modified. Be sure to check package labels for information regarding organic certification and the production and processing of ingredients.
No matter what non-dairy milk you choose, your health will benefit. You can use the following table to help guide you in choosing a plant-based milk to meet your nutritional needs. While all information was obtained from in-store and online sources, be sure to read food labels and ingredient lists for the most accurate and up-to-date information. Also note that percent daily values for calcium, iron, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 are based on a 2,000-calorie diet. Percentages may vary depending upon your own personal caloric intake.
For a detailed breakdown of the nutritional value of a range of plant-based milks, see the table below: