Can’t Stomach Dairy? Try These Delicious Plant-Powered Milks
Exploring new types of milk, outside the traditional cow’s milk, can be a refreshing experiment in flavor, not to mention being much easier on the digestive system for many folks. The market for plant milks has come a long way from the days when soy milk was the sole dairy alternative.
Rice, oat, pea, and flax milk are just a few types gaining popularity in the supermarket. From plant to milk, the entire process of creating these beverages is pretty simple — in fact it can be done at home. Plant milk can now be found in canned form, powdered form, and room temperature stable cartons for convenience, extended shelf life, and lightweight portability. And it can be useful for anything from baking to backpacking. There are so many possibilities!
History of Milk Alternatives
Up until recently, cow’s milk was the most common commercially available milk. Then, Soy milk came into the picture as an option for vegans and people who couldn’t tolerate dairy. But now that we know soy contains phytoestrogens, which mimic estrogen in our bodies, people are seeking out other options for plant-based milks.
It’s no surprise that the demand for milk alternatives has brought an increased demand for a variety of commercially available plant milks. According to the National Institutes of Health, over 65% of people are lactose intolerant, and that percentage fluctuates based on ethnicity. Even if someone isn’t lactose intolerant, they may still be sensitive to dairy. Food sensitivities can cause underlying inflammation and can contribute to fatigue and many different diseases and cancers. Some people can tolerate dairy well, but those who find that their bodies thrive when they eliminate dairy from their diets now have some great alternatives. Now that we have more options available to us, we can choose plant milk with ease and receive the health benefits they have to offer.
Health Benefits of Plant Milk
Almond and coconut milk are among the most popular and readily-available milks on the market today, and a few others are well on their way to joining them on the top shelf. If you’re looking to try a different flavor or texture and can’t find what you’re looking for in stores, you can make virtually any plant milk at home. Your at-home concoction will require a sieve of some sort (or a nut milk bag), a blender, water, and a container. Flavored stevia and a pinch of sea salt to taste are optional additions you can play with as well. You’ll be able to expand your horizons to oat, rice, peas, and even tigernut, quinoa, and more.
Be sure to pay attention to the label — plant milks can be flavored, unflavored, and unsweetened. If you’re watching your sugar intake, opt for an unsweetened milk. Indulging your sweet tooth? Chocolate almond milk is a creamy and yummy dessert option!
Flavor is something to take into consideration when choosing a plant milk. There are at least ten different options to explore and each one offers its own set of benefits. Many people are surprised to hear that both cow's milk and plant-based milks are fortified with vitamin D and vitamin A. You aren’t missing anything in terms of micronutrients when you decide to swap cow’s milk for plant milk. In fact, phytochemicals from plants offer a slew of health benefits. These little guys help protect and repair DNA, give your immune system a boost, help your body maintain homeostasis by helping to balance your hormones, and more. Phytochemicals protect the plant, and we reap those benefits when we consume them.
Almond milk is perhaps one of the most popular plant-based milks available on the market. Remember that chocolate almond milk we mentioned earlier? This milk holds the chocolate flavor well and is often marketed with chocolate and vanilla options. Almond milk also contains high levels of vitamin E, which contains antioxidant properties and protects your cells from damaging free radicals. There is also evidence to show that vitamin E may help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
Coconut milk is the highest fat option, but don’t let old ideas about avoiding fat deter you from enjoying this flavorful drink. This is a favorite ingredient in many Indian and Thai dishes like curry and tom kha soup. Is your mouth watering yet? Try making homemade mango popsicles with coconut milk. Coconuts also contain medium-chain triglycerides (MCT’s) that can curb your appetite and stimulate insulin sensitivity which may thwart obesity and weight-related illnesses. Anyone on a high-fat diet like keto can thrive with coconut milk!
Rice milk and a dash of cinnamon and stevia might just become your favorite sweet drink. Rice milk contains para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), which is highly coveted for the benefits it offers our skin. PABA is used to treat conditions like psoriasis and can protect our skin from ultraviolet radiation. Who knew that rice milk pudding has the potential to help protect us from the sun?
Want to add extra soluble fiber in your life? Take a gander at oat milk and its high levels of beta-glucans. This soluble fiber slows the absorption of sugar to prevent blood sugar spikes while lowering your cholesterol. Homemade oat milk is one of the simplest plant milks to make, and it provides higher levels of beta-glucans than store-bought oat milk.
Calcium levels is where pea milk stands out above the rest — even above cow’s milk! Much to our amazement, pea milk is designed so that it does not taste like peas. In addition to calcium, pea milk boasts impressive protein power. You’re chugging about 8g of protein per serving! Try adding pea milk to your protein shake or daily smoothie.
Tigernuts are certainly new to a lot of people. They are actually tubers and can be eaten as a snack on their own or made into a nutty plant milk. A popular way to process your tigernut milk is to make it into a delicious horchata with cinnamon and a dash of vanilla. Anyone looking to benefit from extra magnesium in their diet will find tigernut milk to be a welcome ally. Magnesium fights inflammation and helps combat an array of conditions from hypertension to type-2 diabetes.
Flax milk is jam packed with omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. Flax milk is also becoming commercially available in supermarkets all over the country. Omega-3’s from flax milk can help prevent heart disease and even has been reported to ease symptoms of anxiety, depression, and ADHD.
Hemp milk is another omega-3 powerhouse that can support cognition. It also contains all the essential amino acids as well as free radical-fighting antioxidants.
Sweet and savory dishes alike can be complemented by quinoa milk. This lesser-known plant milk is something you can also easily make at home. Quinoa milk contains a flavonoid called quercetin, which has been shown to boost immune function and tackle inflammation.
Chickpea milk is likely something you’ll be making at home as it’s not as readily avialable, but it’s well worth the effort! It offers yet another creamy and high-protein option to the plant milk world. Use this if you have a sweet tooth and need a high-protein stevia-sweetened desert!
Macadamia is the holy grail of the nut world. This high-fat nut milk provides a creamy feel that complements custard and creamy soups. Macadamia nut milk also contains a type of cancer-fighting vitamin E called tocotrienols.
Cashew milk offers a mild nutty taste in comparison to almond milk. Many people who prefer a fuller mouthfeel and mild taste find cashew milk to be their go-to plant milk. Heart-healthy non-saturated fats and omega-6 fatty acids can both be found in this creamy drink.
Whether you’re a vegan or not, now you know about all of the flavorful and nutritious options available to you to experiment with when it comes to non-animal milks. Even if you don’t have a known cow milk allergy, see how your body feels without having it for a few days at a time, and you might be surprised. Plus, trying something new and different is fun, especially when it is so good for your brain and body!