These days, there are seemingly dozens of alternatives to conventional cow’s milk, and the trend seems to show no signs of stopping. This is because people have become increasingly concerned over both the systematic methods of milk production and the high fat content of whole milk.
They are drawn to dairy alternatives that promise better taste, better nutritional content, and significantly lower fat levels. Yet some of these alternatives are actually less healthy than cow milk, or they harbor secret and unidentified levels of fat or calories. An analysis of the most popular dairy alternatives shows some that have promise and others that are significantly worse options than conventional milk.
Perhaps the most popular and longest standing alternative, soy milk was originally drank mostly by individuals that were lactose intolerant. These days, however, various people can be found consuming it on a daily basis for a wide variety of reasons. It is lower in fat (and saturated fat) and sugar than normal milk and also comes in fat free varieties. It also contains small amounts of fiber and almost as much protein as cow’s milk.
Soy milk is not a bad alternative, but it should not be consumed in large quantities. Some studies seem to suggest that large amounts may contribute to breast cancer, and consumption should be limited to about 25g of soy protein per day (3-4 cups).
Made by grinding almonds together and mixing with water, almond milk is very low in fat containing as little as 2.5g of it a cup. It also has no saturated fat, but be aware that almond milk contains little to no fiber and protein, unlike almonds themselves. This means that while almond milk is a low fat alternative to cow’s milk, it actually provides very little other than a low fat liquid.
Almond milk also tends to be quite high in sodium. Overall, unless you really love the taste, avoid this one.
Rice Milk is similar to Almond Milk, but with about triple the carbohydrates. It’s a good drink for before or after workouts, but contains very little as far as nutritional content. If you are attempting to lose weight, you should be consuming complex carbohydrates rather than the simple ones found in rice.
Coconut Milk only has about 80 to 90 calories per cup, but the vast majority of this is due to saturated fat. A cup contains about 5g of fat, all of which is saturated. There is also very little protein and even less fiber.
The only redeeming quality is that coconut milk is generally the lowest of the alternatives in sodium content. If you are particularly sensitive to sodium, coconut milk may be your best choice.
Perhaps the most obscure alternative, hemp milk is made with cannabis seeds, but it contains no significant levels of THC (i.e. it won’t get you “high”). It is naturally high in Omega-3 fatty acids which are good for your brain and your heart, but isn’t a great source of calcium or protein. Nonetheless, hemp milk may be a great option for the lactose intolerant.