Non-dairy milk made from plants appears to be taking over the American milk market. In fact, plant-based dairy is the fastest-growing segment of the functional foods market.1 Sales of dairy milk dropped significantly in 2018, while sales of plant-based milk increased 9%.2,3,4
These milk alternatives can help provide plant-based protein; many have a simply delicious taste. They’re packed with nutrients and vitamins, their taste and textures are diverse, and most have fewer calories than regular dairy milk. They may also provide a viable option for consumers who either can’t or don’t want to drink dairy milk.5
Non-Dairy Milk: Why Are So Many People Drinking Dairy-Free And Vegan Options Like Coconut Milk?
As substitutes for dairy products, non-dairy milk, including almond milk, oat milk, cashew milk, and coconut milk, is often used in breakfast cereals, coffee, lattes, and smoothies.
People may choose dairy-free options for a variety of reasons:
- They’re lactose intolerant and need to find other options or substitutes for dairy milk.
- They might want to limit their fat or calories intake. Plant- and nut-based milks don’t contain cholesterol, and many are lower in calories than dairy milk.
- They may follow a vegetarian or vegan diet that precludes consuming dairy.
- They simply might love the unique and rich flavors and textures of plant-based milks.6
Also, these milks may have a lower impact on the planet than conventional dairy.7,8
Non-Dairy Milk Alternatives Are Great For Plant-Based Diets And Those Suffering With Lactose Intolerance
Coconut milk is a popular milk option that’s gaining traction. There are two versions: bottled coconut milk and canned coconut milk.
Coconut milk is made from the flesh of the coconut, and it’s rich in nutritious fiber, vitamins, and minerals, while remaining relatively low in calories.9 This dairy alternative is high in saturated fat, specifically the mid-chain fatty acid (MCFA) that includes lauric acid.10 MCFA is converted into energy by the liver, which makes it less likely to be stored in the body as fat.11,12
Due to its high fat content, coconut milk has a creamy texture. It’s also versatile. You can:
- Consume coconut milk on its own.
- Add it to a hot beverage as a cream or milk replacement.
- Incorporate it as a base into curries and soups, sauces, and frozen desserts such as non-dairy ice cream. Coconut ice cream is particularly popular.13,14
In the past couple of years, oat milk has stormed its way into the market. It’s a favorite of baristas to add to coffee due to its milk foaming texture. It’s also used in cereals and smoothies.
Oats are rich in dietary fiber, including beta-glucans, which have been found to help support healthy blood cholesterol levels.15 They’re also a good source of antioxidants and polyphenols. Oats contain no lactose or milk proteins. Other top nutrients include vitamin A, vitamin D, calcium, and potassium. As oats contain a lot of starch, oat milk is relatively higher in calories than other non-dairy milk alternatives.16
On the flipside, if you’re gluten-sensitive, oat milk may not be for you. Even though oats are naturally gluten-free, they’re often cross-contaminated with gluten from wheat crops nearby or during processing.17
Hemp milk has become very popular in the past few years. It originates from the hemp plant, which is one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world.18 Hemp milk, with its nutty, earthy flavor and chalky texture, works well with hot drinks like coffee and tea because it doesn’t separate.19
It is endowed with a robust amount of valuable nutrients – more than either almond milk or cow’s milk. These include calcium, iron, vitamin A, and magnesium. And it has even more protein than almond milk. Hemp milk is also a rare plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids. The greatest benefit of this wonderful beverage is that it is dairy free, soy free, tree nut free, gluten free, and cholesterol free.20,21
Almond milk is a protein-lover’s paradise, and, after soy, it’s one of the oldest milk alternatives.22 It can be used as a substitute for dairy milk in cereal, smoothies and baked goods. Almond milk is very tasty, has a mild nutty flavor, and is a good substitute for coffee creamer.
It’s also packed with protein as almonds contain about 25% protein by volume.23
Almond milk is free of lactose, soy, and gluten. Most almond milks are enriched with calcium and vitamin D.
The downside to purchasing almond milk from the grocery store is all the sugar and additives. Luckily, you can buy an unsweetened variety. Or you can easily make your own almond milk with some raw almonds, filtered water, cinnamon, vanilla extract, and medjool dates.24,25
While almond milk has run the plant-milk game for some years now, cashew milk has been making major inroads.26
It’s easy to see why: Like its almond-based counterpart, cashew milk is free of lactose, dairy, soy, and gluten.27 It has about the same nutritional profile as almond milk, but with fewer calories per serving.28,29 It’s also a good source of magnesium.30
Cashew milk is creamier and thicker than almond milk. And, unlike some other plant-based milks (like hemp and hazelnut), cashew milk’s flavor usually won’t overwhelm whatever you add it to.31
As with almond milk, choose the unsweetened version to avoid a high sugar load.
Two other nut milks making a splash are macadamia milk and hazelnut milk.
Macadamia nuts are high in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, as well as tons of monounsaturated fatty acids, vitamin B1, manganese, and magnesium. Although this milk is high in fat and low in carbohydrates, it also contains moderate amounts of protein.32
For the hardcore nut milk aficionado, hazelnut milk offers an assertive, nutty flavor. Its nutritional bonafides include low calories and zero saturated fat. This milk alternative is also rich in the plant-based omega-3 fatty acid ALA, which supports healthy cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant.33
Remember To Check For Sugar Content: You Can Find Unsweetened Options In Most Grocery Stores
Not surprisingly, many store-bought, milk alternatives contain loads of added sugar (which makes for added calories). The sugar load may be as high as 20g per cup. For instance, one cup of sweetened almond milk contains over 15g of sugar.34 The unsweetened version contains 0g of sugar.35
The situation is much the same across all the commercially-available flavored plant milks. To avoid this excessive sugar load, look for the unsweetened versions. They’ll often contain fewer calories as well.
Overall, plant-based milks are a tasty and nutritious alternative to cow’s milk. With so many non-dairy products on the market today, there is a vegan milk for every taste and style.
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