A lot of people today, as compared to earlier, are lactose intolerant or strict vegans and so dairy is a complete no-no for them. A big issue for them is that they can’t figure out what to drink with their breakfast.
I hear this all the time in my practice: “But I need to drink something with my egg, or I need my mid afternoon or evening cold (or hot) coffee, tea….”
Today, though, there are enough options but the awareness is low. I am talking about plant milk (also called alternative milk, nut milk or vegan milk), a nondairy beverage that can easily fit in and deliver bonafide nutrition too.
That said, always remember that low-fat dairy is a key component in an ideal diet. Also, most plant based milks tend to be lower in protein and certain nutrients compared to cows milk, so keep that in mind. But these can definitely help fill in some of the gaps.
So what’s a plant-based milk? These are made by grinding a bean or nut, then adding water, flavours, vitamins and minerals. Here’s a lowdown on the ones ruling the charts:
The Most Popular: Soy Milk
In terms of macronutrient composition, soy milk is the closest plant-based milk to cow's milk. It is higher in protein than any other commercially available milk, at around 8 grams per glass.
Look out for:
The commercial varieties that add a lot of sugar. Also its beans flavour tends to take a little getting used to.
Nut Milks - Almond, Cashew, Pistachio, Peanut and More
Nut milks are made by extracting the liquid from the nuts and leaving behind the pulp. These and are low in calories (usually about 30 calories per cup).
They have a high content of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) that great for our heart health and for weight loss.
Look out for:
Commercial almond milks that mostly are only 2.5% almonds, which is only about 5 almonds per 250ml glass. No wonder they taste thin and watery! At least pick those that are fortified with vitamin D and are unsweetened.
Make at home: Simply scoop 2 tablespoons of your favourite nut butter into a blender with 2 cups of water. You can add a little bit of salt and sweetener, if you like. Puree until you have a creamy nut milk.
Coconut milks deliver no proteins, and tend to be rich in (saturated) fat. Plus they are a bit heavy for drinking as such but are great for baking and for making creamy soups and curries. Furthermore, it is also lactose free so is okay for those with lactose intolerance. It is a popular choice with vegans too who usually follow dairy free diets and makes a great base for smoothies, milkshakes for them. They are great for making ice cream too.
Look out for:
Coconut milk with minimal processing.
Grain Milks - Rice and Oat Milk
These are on the sweeter side and pair best with the morning cereal. But rice milk tends to be much higher in carbohydrate than the other plant-based milks (averaging 25-30g carb per 250mL glass, which is equivalent to 2 slices of bread!), but they are a good choice for people with allergies to soy or nuts. Oats milk contain more protein than almond milk (at 5g per 250mL cup) but less carbohydrate than rice milk (with around 15-20g carb per 250mL cup) so is a good all round choice. This one also delivers soluble fibre — the kind that helps lower cholesterol.
Look out for:
Pick those that are fortified with calcium, as rice milk tends to be really low in calcium.
The Next Big Ones
Pea Protein Milk
This plant based milk deliver more protein than soy or cow’s milk - 10 whooping grams per cup. Plus it is creamy, smooth, and clean tasting.
Hemp and flax milks are also popping up on shelves now but have really strong flavours so might need some getting used to. They are made by soaking the seeds in water and grinding them. Hemp milk delivers a good lot of complete protein (all amino acids) and iron and also contains more essential fatty acids (EFA’s) than any other plant milk. Flax milk tends to be low in protein, but offer calciums and is low in calories.
(Kavita is a nutritionist, weight management consultant and health writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Don’t Diet! 50 Habits of Thin People (Jaico) and Ultimate Grandmother Hacks: 50 Kickass Traditional Habits for a Fitter You (Rupa).)
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