Are Natural Milk Alternatives Good for You?
If you have been to the natural foods section of the grocery store lately, you may have noticed the growing abundance of nondairy milks, including soy, rice, and milks made from various nuts. While most people are perfectly happy with cow’s milk, there are a number of ways in which the alternative milks are healthier. Plus, they are tastier than many people assume. While it is true that alternative milks do not taste exactly like cow’s milk, they do have their own flavor charms once you get used to them, and the nutritional benefits are worth thinking about.
Types of alternative dairy
There are too many alternative types of milk to list them all, but here are a few of the most popular ones:
Soy milk: Soy milk is by far the most popular, and it is produced by several major natural-foods companies that have mastered the process. While other milks can be gritty, inconsistent, and oddly flavored, the major brands of soymilk are so tasty and smooth that many people like to drink them by the glass. Plus, soy milk is useful in many recipes as a substitute for dairy. Meanwhile, it contains abundant soy protein, and it also has isoflavones, which have a number of health benefits.
Almond milk: After soy milk, almond milk is the next most popular alternative to dairy milk. Like the soy varieties, almond milk is rather creamy, but it is a little less flavorful, and it is not as broadly useful. Think of it as a sort of light version of soy milk, with fewer calories but a variety of beneficial nutrients.
Rice milk: Rice milk is sweet in flavor but also quite thin, which makes it a poor substitute for dairy milk in recipes or coffee. But if you are looking for a light milk alternatives that works for your breakfast cereal, rice milk is quite good.
Outside of these major varieties of nondairy milk, there are also many other nut-based milks, including concoctions made from hazel nuts, walnuts, and Brazil nuts. And oat, which is similar to rice milk but creamier and grittier, is also growing in popularity.
The downsidesMany types of nondairy milk have an impressive array of vitamins and nutrients, and you can find types of nondairy milk that are fortified with vitamins in much the same way that dairy milk often is. However, there are some important elements of dairy milk that occur naturally and cannot simply be added to nondairy substances. The calcium and vitamin D, for instance, found in cow’s milk are more complete and unprocessed than those used to fortify nondairy drinks.
The other major issue with nondairy milks is that some people simply cannot get used to the flavor. Most of us have been drinking cow’s milk since childhood, so drinking a substance that looks and feels like milk but has a much different flavor can be off-putting. However, if you are able to get past the difference, the alternatives can taste pretty good.
Uses of nondairy milks
As already mentioned, soy milk in particular serves as a one-to-one replacement for nondairy milk in most recipes, and the difference is not discernable in the finished product. Soy milk, as well as several of the other types, can be used in coffee and other drinks, in eggs, in baked desserts, in smoothies and juices, and even in milkshakes.
Nut milks are especially useful in a variety of soups and exotic dishes. Even the unsweetened types have a natural sweetness, yet they are subtle enough that they merely enhance other flavors rather than obstructing them. Hence these milks are particularly good in desserts. But they are also perfectly good in simpler applications. A bowl of cereal with soy or almond milk is a delicious snack.
By Jamell Andrews