We Americans love our dairy products. Cheese, yogurt, but, especially milk. We put it in our cereal, in our shakes, some people even drink it with dinner. But for those who are health-conscious, or are lactose intolerant, you may be looking for alternatives to milk.
As you’ve probably noticed in your local dairy aisle, the milk section is filled with plenty of plant-based milk alternatives, each with its own health benefits based on the plant they derive from. So, you’ve seen soy milk, almond milk, and all of the other alternatives, but what are they? And what makes plant milk different from regular milk?
What is Plant Milk
Plant milk is exactly what it sounds like, it’s milk made from plants. Plant milk is derived from soaking the legume, nut, grain, or other primary ingredients in water, and then straining the liquid or “milk” produced from that process. Soy milk was the first plant-based alternative to milk that was put on the market, and demand for different types has exploded from there, fostering an entire industry.
As you can probably imagine, not all plant milks are the same. Each one has its own benefits and drawbacks, and none is a true substitute for milk. Well, unless you’re lactose intolerant. But how do you know which milk option is the best for you? Let’s take a look at a few of the different types of plant-based milk and the health benefits they provide.
Types of Plant Milk and Benefits of Each
Almond milk has become one of the most popular plant milks on the market today due to its nutritious low-calorie offering and delicious taste. Almonds are naturally rich in vitamin E, and the same goes for almond milk, with one cup providing 20-50% of your daily vitamin E requirement. Dairy milk provides no vitamin E at all.
Another health benefit of almond milk is that it’s low in calories compared to regular milk. One cup of unsweetened almond milk contains only 30-50 calories, while one cup of whole dairy milk contains 146 calories. That benefit alone makes it a great substitute for regular milk for those trying to lose weight.
Soy milk is the original plant milk. It originated as a waste product on the way to making tofu, which doesn’t make it sound appetizing, but its mild and creamy flavor along with its numerous health benefits have made it one of the most popular and long-standing plant-based milks out there.
Soy milk is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which our bodies can’t create on their own. Omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to a reduced risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. For vegetarians and vegans looking to up their intake of omega-3 fatty acids, soy milk is one of the best non-animal sources of it.
Oat milk is a great plant milk for those with allergies or intolerances to soy, nuts, lactose, and gluten—if made from certified gluten-free oats. Oat milk is rich and delicious, and studies have shown that it may benefit bone and heart health. Maybe best of all though, it’s relatively easy to make yourself!
It’s made by soaking and blending steel-cut or rolled oats in water, and straining them through a cheesecloth to separate the milk from the oats. Oat milk’s potential health benefits come from the beta-glucans it contains, which are a soluble fiber that may provide heart health benefits, including lowering bad cholesterol. Many of the oat milk that you’ll find in the dairy aisle has been fortified with calcium and vitamin D, making it also great for bone health.
Coconut milk is also another staple when it comes to plant-based milk, and has many of the health benefits that come from coconuts, though studies still need to be done on all of the potential health benefits this tasty beverage can provide.
For those looking to lose a few pounds, drinking coconut milk may help with weight loss. Coconut milk contains medium-chain triglycerides, a healthy fat that multiple studies have shown promotes weight loss by decreasing appetite and increasing energy. It’s a great plant milk for mixing into smoothies, or for making creamy cocktails.
Each plant milk has a wide range of benefits, and the one you choose should be based on your dietary needs and personal health goals. Regular milk is a nutritious beverage, providing a healthy balance of carbs, fats, proteins, and nutrients. And none of these milks exactly mimic the nutrition profile of milk. But, these alternative milks can be used more as something healthy you can add into your diet that may be lower in calories and a bit better for the environment.
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