milk alternatives

According to the National Institutes of Health, 65 percent of the adult population is lactose intolerant. Other organizations place the overall percentage as high as 75 percent. Many people who are lactose intolerant don’t even realize it. They may consistently get a stomachache or diarrhea after eating pizza or ice cream but don’t connect it back to a lactose problem.

For those of us who cannot tolerate cow and/or goat or sheep milk, or follow a non-dairy diet for other reasons, there are plenty of alternatives available. All of the non-dairy milks are processed to some degree, as you cannot squeeze a bowl of oats, nuts, rice, hemp, coconut, or peas to extract milk. Some of these can be made at home; generally, you just need a blender, filtered water and a cheesecloth.

These homemade versions are the least processed of the various options but will have a shelf life of just four to five days. On the flip side, when making your own (non-dairy milk), you get to control the ingredients and benefit from the nutrients without having to deal with preservatives and/or emulsifiers.

ALMOND MILK is a good source of healthy fats – as are other nut milks. They are naturally high in calcium and magnesium and have trace amounts of a few other nutrients.

COCONUT MILK is high in manganese and is a source of other minerals and vitamins. (Remember that coconut milk, water, and cream are three completely different products.)

Soy is a complete source of protein, and SOY MILK is right behind cow’s milk as a protein source. It’s also high in vitamin B12. Going organic is generally the healthier option here, as conventionally grown soy is often genetically modified and sprayed with glyphosate. Soy milk is not necessarily a good option for people with thyroid conditions or anyone who needs to watch his/her soy intake.

RICE MILK is another popular non-dairy milk. Since rice naturally absorbs arsenic from the soil, it’s advisable to consider your total rice intake before opting for this product.

HEMP is another complete source of protein. It contains Omega 3s and is a good source of potassium.

One of the newest “milks” on the market is PEA MILK. It’s high in protein and calcium, and some are fortified with other vitamins and minerals.

There is a steadily growing selection of these products at the grocery store: some of which are fortified with vitamins. But, bring your reading glasses to check the ingredients before purchasing. There are very few options that contain only two ingredients: the nut/grain/bean and water.

Some non-dairy milk brands contain carrageenan, a very controversial ingredient most frequently used as an emulsifier (prevents ingredients from separating). Researchers at Harvard found that animals consuming carrageenan developed ulcers and inflammatory bowel disease. The European Union has banned its use in infant formula, but the USDA has not taken it off the market here.

Added sugar is a common ingredient, whether the non-dairy milk is flavored or not. Sometimes the sugar is called evaporated cane juice.

Gums are frequently used as emulsifiers or stabilizers. In some people, these gums can cause digestive distress.

Natural Flavor is a catchall category with no clear definition. Beware.

Be mindful of your allergies and sensitivities before purchasing anything containing lecithin, which can come from different sources, including soy, eggs, and sunflower seeds.

Many of these milks are fortified with calcium and vitamin B12. Too much calcium in the body is dangerous, so be thoughtful of your personal situation.

As with any other processed foods, the fewer the number of ingredients, the better. If you don’t recognize something on the ingredient list, look it up on your smart phone before purchasing.

Each of the non-dairy milks has a different flavor and consistency, so experiment to find what you like. Of those that I’ve tried, I prefer oat milk in my coffee and almond milk in my smoothies. I haven’t tried pea milk yet, so stay tuned!

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