Non-dairy milk alternatives are becoming increasingly popular, and there are now quite a few choices on the market. While there are several alternatives to choose from, it’s important to select a milk alternative that has a good balance between flavor and nutritional value.
Soy milk was determined to be the healthiest non-dairy milk alternative in a recent study published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology (Vanga and Raghavan, 2017). This study compared soy, coconut, rice, and almond milk, and found that soy milk had the most balanced nutrition profile. Soy milk also has the highest protein levels of any of the milk substitutes that were studied. While soy is considered to be the healthiest milk alternative, many people have ethical concerns over soybean farming due to the significant negative environmental impact. Soybean farming is resulting in mass deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest, destroying essential habitats for tens of thousands of species. Soybean farmers also rely heavily on utilizing large amounts of herbicides in order to keep their soybean crop healthy, which further damages the surrounding environment.
While it does not offer a nutritional profile that is as well-balanced as soy milk, almond milk is still a healthy milk alternative. Almond milk is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, which can be beneficial to weight management and have been shown to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol. Almond milk is also quite low in calories, making it a good option for individuals who prefer to obtain most of their calories through food.
Hemp milk is another excellent milk alternative. It has a relatively high protein content and contains a variety of healthy fats. It also contains many essential amino acids, which support proper immune function and muscle building. This is my personal favorite milk substitute, as I find the nutty flavor and creamy texture to be much more satisfying than the flavor and consistency of other milk alternatives.
Coconut milk is not the ideal milk substitute from a nutritional standpoint, but it can be an adequate alternative in moderation. Coconut milk is low in calories, but it has no protein and high amounts of saturated fat. Coconut milk has been associated with increasing good cholesterol, so it does retain some health benefits.
As with most food and drink, any of these milk alternatives are fine in moderation. I recommend trying each of these milk substitutes, and deciding which option has the right combination of flavor and nutritional value for you. Happy taste testing!
Source: Vanga, S. K., & Raghavan, V. (2017). How well do plant based alternatives fare nutritionally compared to cow’s milk? Journal of Food Science and Technology,55(1), 10-20. doi:10.1007/s13197-017-2915-y