Most, if not all, people drink milk at some point. Whether breast-fed or formula-fed, infants get their sustenance and nutrition from milk. As babies grow up, they typically move on to cow’s milk, which is a nutrient-dense drink packed with muscle-building protein, bone-strengthening calcium and Vitamin D, and other vitamins and minerals. While some experts have cautioned against consuming full-fat milk, the beverage is generally seen as good for health.
But a curious thing happens as humans grow up. After infancy, most people have difficulty digesting lactose, the sugar found in milk, leading to bloating, gas, stomach pains, nausea, or diarrhea when they consume dairy. This condition is known as lactose intolerance. Worldwide, 65% of adults are said to be lactose intolerant, while in East Asia, a staggering 90% of the population is estimated to have the condition. It’s not life-threatening but it can certainly cause a lot of discomfort.
If you love milk but are one of the majority who suffer from lactose intolerance, don’t fret—you now have a range of non-dairy options to choose from!
Difference Between Dairy and Non-Dairy Milk
There are many differences between dairy and non-dairy milk, also known as plant-based milk. First of all is the source: Dairy milk comes from cows. Non-dairy milk comes from plants. If you’re wondering how plant-based milk is made, no, plants have not been engineered to lactate. Plant-based milk comes from beans or nuts that are ground and mixed with water and other ingredients like sweeteners and thickeners to achieve the consistency of dairy milk.
The advantages of plant-based milk go beyond avoiding lactose. Many are lower in calories and have interesting flavors (in case your taste buds are suffering from milk fatigue). And they can be better for the environment, too—a University of Oxford study found that dairy milk production emits three times the greenhouse gas emissions of any plant-based milk.
Different Types of Plant-Based milk
There are a number of different types of plant-based milks and it all boils down to your preference and needs. Naturally, you should avoid those made from ingredients you are allergic to, as you’ll just be trading in lactose intolerance for other issues. Some of the more common plant-based milks are:
Soy Milk. The good news is a study published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology found soy milk to be nutritionally superior to other plant-based milks (particularly almond milk, coconut milk, and rice milk), with a protein and calcium content that’s comparable to cow’s milk. (Note that the relatively new pea protein milk wasn’t included in the study.)
The not-so-good news is that soy is one of the top allergens, plus soy milk normally has a flavor often described as “beany”—an acquired taste for some. Still, if you’re after the protein punch of dairy milk, soy can be your go-to.
Almond Milk. Watching your weight but still want some milk in your diet? Almond milk might be your best bet. Unsweetened versions have just 30 calories a pop (that’s less than a third of the calories in a glass of cow’s milk). You might also enjoy its subtly sweet, nutty taste. Keep in mind that you’ll need to get protein from other sources.
Coconut Milk. This milk has that distinctive taste of the tropics and a thick consistency. It’s great for cooking or added to coffee. Note that it has a high saturated fat content (but not nearly as harmful as those found in red meat) and no protein.
Oat Milk. Oat milk is made by soaking oats in water, blending, then straining. The best thing about oat milk? It contains heart-healthy fiber. It’s also creamy and slightly sweet. It has less protein than cow’s milk and soy milk, but among the plant-based milks, it has the most.
Rice Milk. If you’re unlucky enough to be lactose intolerant and be allergic to soy and nuts, then rice milk might be the best option for you. Note that it has plenty of carbohydrates and minimal protein. It can make a great pre-workout drink for a quick dose of energy.
Visit Healthy Options to see a range of plant-based milks. Whichever milk you choose, make sure to check the ingredients list so you can avoid unnecessary ingredients like added sugars.
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