This article appears in Healthy Living Winter 2018.
Move over, milk. Flexitarians and lessitarians are cutting back on animal-based foods and beverages, and this is spurring an emergence of drink alternatives.
Soy, rice, coconut and almond drinks are already popular. In 2018 nut- and legume-based milk alternatives go beyond to include varieties made from cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, peanuts, pecans and tiger nuts. In addition, there are non-dairy milks being offered made from bananas, cassava, oats and potatoes.
“Many people are attracted to plant-based beverages for a number of reasons, including avoidance of milk for personal dietary preferences and food sensitivities,” said registered dietitian nutritionist Sharon Palmer, The Plant-Powered Dietitian, author of “Plant-Powered for Life” and SharonPalmer.com.
“Plant-based beverages can be great alternatives to cow’s milk for many reasons, but it’s important to know they are not nutritionally equivalent to cow’s milk,” said registered dietitian nutritionist Rachel Begun. “There are many plant-based non-dairy beverages to choose from. Each type and particular brand offers a unique nutrition profile, so it’s important to read the nutrition facts panel and the ingredients statements to understand what you are and are not getting in comparison to regular milk.”
A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed more people are choosing plant-based milks and reducing dairy intake. However, new guidelines came out noting that many plant milks are very low in nutrients and may not be appropriate for everyone, in particular children, Palmer said.
“Non-dairy beverages can contain considerable amounts of added sugars. Choose unsweetened varieties if you can, or drink sweetened varieties in moderation,” Begun said.
“Look for calcium and vitamin D in your plant milk to provide a good supply of these important nutrients in your diet. I like to look for at least 6 grams of protein per serving in my plant milk,” Palmer said.
Here are some dairy alternatives to note:
— Fortified plant milks: These may use almond or another main ingredient, but then add an ingredient such as pea protein to increase the nutritional value of the milk, said Palmer.
— Flax milk: This milk has high omega-3 content — up to 1,200 mg per serving — and it’s free of major allergens. (Note: There is no official recommended daily allowance of omega-3s, but most health organizations agree 250 to 500 mg is enough for adults.)
— Barley milk: A startup called Canvas has developed a way to convert unused barley grain from the beer brewing process into a sustainable plant-based beverage. It’s a winning idea for people concerned about the issues of food waste and sustainability.
— Pea milk: While the idea of pea milk may sound unappetizing, it does have certain advantages over dairy alternatives. For example, pea milk brand Ripple says that one serving has 8 grams of protein, the same as cows’ milk, compared to about 1 gram of protein in coconut or almond milk. And, Ripple has half the sugar of cows’ milk along with 50 percent more calcium and vitamin D and iron.
— Hemp milk: Hemp is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids as well as being a good source of plant-based protein with all 10 essential amino acids.