What are the Healthiest Milk Alternatives?

What to look for and what to avoid when choosing a non-dairy milk product

Flickr/kpwerker CC by SA 2.0

If you’re not into regular cow’s milk, or are like me and your body can’t tolerate it, the good news is there are many milk alternatives for you. The question is, which one is best?

Some options available are goat milk, soy milk, rice milk, cashew milk, coconut milk, hemp milk and almond milk. What’s best for you is based on taste preference, but there are also some ingredients you want to look out for when reading the label.  At the end of the day, the healthiest choice is to make your own. It’s actually pretty simple to do.

When reading the label of any alternative milk variety, you first want to look for the kind that is unsweetened. Many alternative milks that are sweetened contain a very high amount of sugar. For example, chocolate almond milk has 17 grams of sugar per serving, which is about four teaspoons of sugar — that’s half the amount in a can of regular soda.

Another ingredient you should be aware of, that is luckily being removed from many alternative milk products is something called carrageenan. It’s used as a thickener and to help make low-fat versions taste fuller. However, this ingredient has been found to possibly cause inflammation, gut irritation and even cancer. So, when reading labels, be sure to avoid it.

Vitamin A Palmitate is another ingredient to be aware of. It is a synthetic ingredient and added to products that have lost vitamin A in the manufacturing process. Too much vitamin A palmitate can be acutely toxic and cause various symptoms such as headache, nausea or vomiting.

Another ingredient used as a thickening agent is guar gum. This ingredient comes from the guar bean and is used to make processed foods creamier. This ingredient hasn’t shown to be harmful. However, it could cause some digestive and gastrointestinal issues, so if you have a sensitive system, you may want to avoid it.

–Taste Preferences—

Coconut milk tends to have the most consistency like regular milk. 

Rice milk is typically the highest in sugar of all the milk alternative products. So, I would recommend avoiding it. Plus, the consistency is very watery.

Soy milk seems to be growing less and less popular. Many soy milks contain GMO ingredients, and the sweetened versions are high in sugar. Plus, processed soy (unfermented soy) may not be the best for us.  Soy contains plant estrogens which can affect our own estrogen levels. An increase in estrogen can lower testosterone levels. Obviously, men do not want to lower testosterone levels, and for women, an increase in estrogen and a decrease in testosterone can mean more difficulty losing weight. In addition, soy contains goitrogens, which may affect thyroid function by inhibiting the absorption of iodine.

Almond milk is probably the most popular. Definitely choose the unsweetened version with no sugar and avoid the harmful ingredients mentioned above. One interesting fact is that the two most popular Almond Milk brands, Silk and Almond Breeze, are currently involved in a class-action lawsuit for false advertising because they contain only two percent almonds. So, when you think you are getting pure almond milk, think again. Two percent is a very small amount, and all the other ingredients are additives and fillers.

Cashew milk tends to have a mild taste and is one of my favorites, only because I have developed an allergy to almonds. I drank almond milk for about 10 years and it seems the body can build up an intolerance to something that is consumed every day. So, no matter what your choice is, I would recommend changing it up every so often. I do like to make my own nut milk. I’ve even tried making Brazil nut milk with a little vanilla and stevia – delicious!

Your best bet, in order to avoid all the additives and unnecessary ingredients in the processed milk-alternatives, though, is to just make your own!  It’s very simple to do and tastes amazing.

More Reading:
How to Choose the Best Protein Powder
6 Healthy Snacks to Keep at Your Desk, No Fridge Necessary
10 Quick and Healthy Snack Ideas to Keep your Metabolism Boosted

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