Milk alternatives: What you should know

Store shelves are bursting with non-dairy milk options these days. Is it any wonder people are as confused as to which milk is best for their health. In the United States of America, there are 52 milk substitute products. Milk alternatives represent the fastest growing sector of the dairy market in the past few years.

Controversy has been quite rife about which milk is better: cow’s milk or non-diary alternatives? There have been some concerns about cow’s milk and its effects on heart disease, diabetes, and the risks associated with antibiotics use on animals and its attendant adverse effects on human health.

According to the Food Allergy Initiative, cow’s milk is the most common food allergy in infants and children, lactose intolerance is the body’s inability to digest the sugar (lactose) in milk due to a lack of the enzyme, symptoms of lactose intolerance are bloating, flatulence, diarrhea, and discomfort. Levels of lactose intolerance vary between different races with 80 percent of blacks and Asians, 15 percent of Europeans unable to produce the enzyme lactase.

Cow’s milk is thought to be the standard for liquid nourishment containing protein, iodine, vitamin D e.t.c. Dietitians advice we drink two or three servings of milk daily.

Nondairy milk is extracted from plant sources such as nuts, seeds, and grains and are considered to be cholesterol free as plants are free from cholesterol and are considered to be lower in calories than dairy based milk. They are easier to digest than cow’s milk. Plant-based alternatives are better for persons with food allergies, lactose intolerance or those who are on vegan diets.

All of the non-diary milk are available in sweetened, unsweetened, flavored and unflavored varieties.

To get the best benefits, here are some guidelines to making an informed choice
Cow’s milk

It has nine essential nutrients; namely, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, protein, vitamins A, D and B12, niacin and riboflavin.

The sugar found in whole milk is naturally occurring. Research is still ongoing whether the saturated fat is beneficial or not. Some people prefer non-fat or one per cent milk. Allergies to protein in whole milk are a concern, especially for children.

Soy milk
Soy milk is processed from soy beans and water. It is a protein-rich alternative to cow’s milk and is the most recognizable alternative to cow’s milk, it comes in sweetened, unsweetened, chocolate and vanilla flavors. Like cow’s milk, it is fortified with calcium, vitamins A, and D. It also contains natural compounds called isoflavones. Soy milk is richer in vitamin B than cow’s milk.

Soy milk has the highest amount of protein of any of the other nondiary milk, it can cause bloating in people with gastritis. It is advisable to buy the unflavored organic soy milk to get the best quality. There are different brands of soy milk in the market, you will have to find out which is most suitable to your taste.

Almond milk
Almond milk is made from ground almonds and water. It is quite popular and is touted as a healthier alternative to soy milk and cow milk. Almond milk has a slightly sweet, nutty flavor and goes well with cereals. It is lowest in calorie out of all the plant based milk. It has no saturated fat or cholesterol. It contains very little protein, so users need to supplement their diet with other sources of protein. It is rich in vitamins and minerals like magnesium, calcium, vitamins A, D, and E.

It is advisable to buy the unsweetened type so as to maximize the health benefits.

Rice milk
Rice milk is made from brown rice blended with water and processed; the milk is then obtained from it. It is low in nutritional value unless enriched with calcium and vitamins. it is considered the best choice for people prone to allergies because it is naturally sweet, it is good for smoothies and cereals. It is twice as sugary as soy milk on average and has a watery consistency. Traces of arsenic have been detected in some brands of this milk. Experts recommend drinking no more than half cup daily and children less than five years should not drink rice milk regularly.

Coconut milk
Coconut milk is obtained from grated coconut and has a rich taste and high oil content. It should not be confused with the coconut milk that is used for cooking that comes in cans. It contains fiber and iron and is quite high in saturated fat and this calls for caution in its consumption.

It’s not a good source of proteins and is not high in calcium content. Its texture is closest to that of cow’s milk; it works well in baked goods because of its nutty flavor. It is a rich source of potassium and is naturally glutton free.

Hemp milk
It is made from hulled hemp seeds despite the name of the milk, it does not get you intoxicated as the seeds are a completely different variety of cannabis. Hemp milk is hypo-allergenic which makes it a good option for people allergic to cow milk and nuts milk. It is rich and creamy and it’s an acquired taste and takes some getting used to. It contains a high amount of protein and it has an excellent fatty acid profile. It is low in calcium unless fortified. It contains Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids which are good for the heart and brain.

Flax milk
This is one of the non-diary milk but it is loaded with omega 3 fatty acid, which is good for the heart. It tastes and has a light texture. It has zero grams of protein

Oat milk
Is relatively low in saturated fat and has a moderate amount or protein and is suitable for people with gluten intolerance

Cashew milk
Raw cashew milk is smooth, rich, creamy and buttery and most closely resembles the look and texture of regular dairy milk. It has a nutty flavor that makes it ideal for use in smoothies and soups and so many other things. The best thing about raw cashew milk is that it is much quicker and easier to prepare because it blends very easily into a buttery, smooth texture.

They’re a great option both for vegans and the people who suffer from some form of lactose intolerance and they are cholesterol and saturated fat free.

Quinoa milk
Quinoa milk is sourced from quinoa grains and it is packed with a high amount of nutrients and many health benefits. It is considered as a super food due to its rich nutrient content.

Quinoa is a healthy grain, which can be replaced with protein rich foods like egg, milk and meat. It contains all 9 amino acids which are vital for muscle growth and development. Quinoa is a complementary of animal products. Animal products provide protein, but they are loaded with cholesterol. But quinoa contains mono-unsaturated fat, which reduces cholesterol.

Popato milk
Is made from potatoes and has lots of benefits, especially for people with allergies and milk intolerance, including children with autism. It is gluten free, casein free, fat-free, cholesterol free and soy free.

It is a good source of vitamin D and B12 and can be used in the recipe and for cereal and beverage. It does not contain any protein, as the commercial brands are usually fortified with vitamins and minerals.

Walnut milk
Walnuts not only taste great but are a rich source of heart-healthy mono unsaturated fats and an excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids. It also provides an unusually high level of vitamin E and walnut milk has a slightly nutty flavor and is delicious. People with nut allergy must avoid walnut milk.

In a developing country like Nigeria where a vast number of the population are unable to afford cow milk for their young children and the elderly who need it the most, it makes sense to consider all these plant-based alternatives which are cheap and readily available a lot of these milk can be processed at home if people are taught how to do this by nutrition experts. Those that have access to the Internet can visit YouTube to watch videos on the processes involved in making this milk naturally.

When choosing milk alternatives where allergies are not an issue it comes down to nutritional needs and taste preferences. It is advisable to keep an eye on added sugar, saturated fat content as well as the protein content of the milk one chooses to go with.

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