3 Tactics for Choosing the Best Plant-Based Milk Alternatives
With so many different plant-based milk alternatives available, it becomes really easy to replace cow's milk in your diet. The only challenge is: Which plant-based milk should I choose??
When choosing plant-based milk, there are certain aspects you should consider that make the difference between a "good" milk alternative and a "bad" milk alternative. I have come up with 3 easy tactics to help you decide which one to go for.
Tactic 1: Milk as a Calcium Source
Calcium is a mineral that is needed by our body mainly to build healthy bones and teeth. Up to the age of 30, calcium helps us build up our bones. As we get older, calcium helps prevent the loss of bone.
Cow's milk is often mistakenly referred to as the source for calcium. But it isn't the only source - and also not the best one. Good plant-based calcium sources include kale, bok choy, spinach, brokkoli, beans or tofu. These foods are not only easier for our body to absorb, but also lower in saturated fats.
If you are just starting out with drinking plant-based milks and don't yet get your daily calcium intake through other sources, fortified calcium can be a good solution for you. Look out for milk alternatives with ~120mg calcium/100ml.
Tactic 2: Avoid Unnecessary Additives
Now, there are additives that are good for you - calcium, for example. But there are definitely also additives that you want to avoid. One of them is sugar. Sugar is often added to plant-based milk alternatives to enhance the taste. Make sure you only choose unsweetened brands to get good nutritional value. This is especially important when choosing flavored milks that tend to have added sugar.
You also want to avoid emulsifiers and thickeners. These are added to manipulate the texture of the liquid, for example making the milk creamier or thicker. Here are some of the commonly found emulsifiers and thickeners:
- Carrageenan has been found to interfere with the microbes in our digestive system. This can lead to digestion problems.
- Gums such as guar gum, gellan gum or xanthan gum can also cause digestive disorders.
- The thickening agent corn dextrin is a common allergen.
The use of emulsifiers and thickeners is usually a sign that the drink has been watered down. Because if you would be using enough of the main ingredient, there would be no need to artificially thicken the drink.
The best approach is to go for the shortest ingredient list. Avoid anything that you haven't heard before or can't pronounce. Optimally choose a milk alternative with two ingredients - such as almond and water for almond milk or soy and water for soy milk. You get the idea.
Tactic 3: Experiment
The taste of the same plant-based milk can be different from brand to brand. For almond milk, this can for example be due to a different ratio in almonds to water. I encourage you to try out different brands and different variations to find the one that you like. Or you can make your own plant-based milk at home which is super easy and tastes even better.
Which Plant-Based Milk Should I Choose?
If you've followed the three tactics above and are still unsure about which of all those plant-based milk alternatives you should choose, then I have another tip for you. What do you want to use that plant-based milk for?
- Are you making pancakes? Choose one of the sweeter variations such as rice milk.
- Do you want to make vegan buttermilk? Choose soy milk.
- Are you making a sauce? Maybe choose a plant-based milk that is not as sweet.
- Are you looking for an all-rounder? Go for almond.
Keep on reading to learn about the pros and cons of 6 popular plant-based milk alternatives: soy, almond, rice, hemp, oat and coconut. I also explain what recipes they are best used for.
6 Plant-Based Milks You Need to Know
Soy milk is made by first soaking, then crushing, cooking and finally straining the soy beans.
pros: Soy milk is the only plant-based milk to contain as much protein as cow's milk - 4g per 100ml. It also has a slightly thicker texture.
cons: Soy is a controversial ingredient and at the top of the list of genetically modified organisms. Make sure you choose milk made from organic non-GMO soy beans.
nutritional value: 4g protein / 100ml
can be used for: Soy milk is very stable at high temperatures which makes it good for cooking savory dishes or sauces. Furthermore, it is optimal to make vegan buttermilk. You can make buttermilk by curdling regular milk. The curdling itself is caused by the protein in the milk so choosing the protein richest plant-based milk will get the best results.
Almond milk is made with ground almonds and water. Through straining, the pulp is removed from the almond milk, leaving it silky and smooth.
pros: Almond milk is probably the easiest plant-based milk alternative to find in the grocery store. It is low in calories. Plus, almonds contain healthy fats, calcium and iron.
cons: Unfortunately, many almond milks are highly diluted with water so there is not much of the nutrients in the almonds left. Furthermore, the protein is usually strained out of the milk with the pulp.
nutritional value: low in calories, 0.5g protein / 100ml
can be used for: Almond milk is very versatile and can be used in almost any recipe.
Rice milk is derived from boiled rice starch and usually a bit sweeter than other plant-based milk varieties.
pros: Rice milk is hypoallergenic which means it is unlikely to cause allergies. Therefore, rice milk is a good solution for people with nut or soy allergies.
cons: Even without added sugars, rice milk is high in sugar. The nutrient profile is one of the weakest - low in protein but high in carbs.
nutritional value: high in carbs, 0.1g protein / 100ml
can be used for: Because it is sweeter, rice milk can be used for desserts, soups and light sauces.
Hemp milk is made from the hulled hemp seeds of the hemp plant. It has a slightly earthier flavour.
pros: Hemp seed is another hypoallergenic plant-based milk good for people allergic to nuts and soy. In regards to protein content, it comes second after soy milk. Additionally, it is high in omega-3 and contains all essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are amino acids that our body is unable to produce on its own so we need to get them from dietary sources.
cons: Hemp seed can be hard to find in the supermarket. It also has a strong earthy taste which some people may not like.
nutritional value: 2g protein / 100ml
can be used for: Hemp milk can best be used for savory dishes or baking.
Oat milk is made from oat groats. These are cleaned, toasted and hulled oats.
pros: Oat milk is high in healthy fibre. It also has less carbs than rice milk and more protein than almond milk.
cons: Similar to rice milk, oat milk is high in sugar even without added sugar due to the naturally occurring sugars.
nutritional value: 1g protein / 100ml
can be used for: Oat milk is versatile, it can be used for both sweet and savory dishes such as light soups or curries. It also goes well with porridge.
There are two different kinds of coconut milk. The canned coconut with is plain coconut fat or coconut milk beverages that are diluted with water.
pros: Coconut milk is very flavourful and one of the thickest and creamiest plant-based milk alternatives.
cons: It is usually very high in fat and calories so it's all about portion size control. Don't drink it straight from the bottle but use in moderation.
nutritional value: high in fat, 1.5 g protein / 100ml
can be used for: Coconut milk is great for curries, stews, sauces and whipped cream.
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