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Milk 101

A Definitive Guide to Choosing a Non-Dairy Milk Best for You: Milk Series Part 4/4

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I first tried non-dairy milk back when almond milk was the only contender and it was available exclusively in those creepy, shelf-stable cardboard cartons. I {triumphantly} convinced my local grocery store at the time to start stocking the refrigerated gold standard {Silk - everyone knows that} and, well, you know...became single-handedly responsible for kicking off the entire "alternative milk" movement...

Yeah, so that's definitely not true. But I was a huge proponent of the non-dairy stuff in its infancy out of frank curiosity. All of the "milks" usually tasted fine and, during a period in my life when counting calories was a thing, they were lower calorie options for cereal and smoothies.

Since then, I have approached non-dairy milk with more scrutiny, mostly because the nutrition hype is largely overblown. {But what isn't these days?} So by no means am I suggesting that non-dairy milk should not be consumed {that would be hypocritical of me as there is a half-gallon in my fridge}, I am saying that it is important to be aware of marketing ploys and realistic in your expectations. 

3 Reasons why Non-Dairy Milk is {A little} Overrated

  1. You are only getting a small fraction of the benefits because there's only a fraction of the nut/grain/seed in the milk. Most non-dairy milk contains only 1-2% of the headline ingredient and 90% water. So if you are looking to reap the benefits of consuming almonds, you are better of just grabbing a handful instead of a glass. 
  2. To compete with the nutrients inherent to actual milk, non-dairy milk is often enriched with calcium, vitamin D, and more. Products that are enriched or fortified often are just not absorbed as well by the body. As I have mentioned previously, whole foods come with the nutrients conveniently packaged in a form our bodies recognize and utilize. A new study has revealed that children being raised on non-dairy milk are shorter than their dairy-drinking counterparts. Connection? Maybe, maybe not. 
  3. The benefits often do not offset the cost. Use the chart below to discern if buying a non-dairy milk is worth the cost. Although the price for a lot of these "milks" is decreasing due to popular demand, some {I'm looking at you hemp milk!} are still a little hefty in price. 

A Definitive Guide to Choosing a Non-Dairy Milk Best for You

My first thought was to create a chart showing the pluses & minuses of every non-dairy milk. But here's the thing : There are a ridiculous amount of non-dairy milks out there. {Did you know that quinoa milk exists?!? Too far...} So to save my time and yours I decided to give you all a nifty {and brief} guide instead. 

Non-dairy milk comparison chart.jpg

Added Sugar - It's not the same as the sugar in cow's milk

Yes, when you look at a cow's milk label you will find some grams of sugar listed there. But when you look at the ingredient list there is no sugar to be found! What's this ruckus about? 

Well, imagine that there were labels for all the produce out there. They, too, would have grams of sugar listed on the label. Whole foods often have sugars that are woven into their DNA - call these "natural sugars" or whatever you'd like. They exist, true, but do not make the mistake of equating them with added sugars in processed foods. I will slay this beast of a myth later on but just believe me on this one for now...

Back to milk => milk's "natural sugar" is lactose and that is what you see on the nutrition label. In some non-dairy milk you will see a few things regarding sugar. Don't be fooled!:

  •  "__% less sugar than regular milk!" - You got this one already! Lactose is built into the DNA of cow's milk and is not added. If you are watching your sugars, one of them should not be lactose.
  • Sugar listed in the ingredient list - Look for anything ending in -ose. Like dextrose, glucose, or fructose. There's a million forms of sugar out there, be on the lookout!

Protein - What Non-Dairy Milk Often Lacks

Protein helps keep us feeling full and satisfied from meal to meal. Sadly, this is where most non-dairy beverages such as almond/cashew/flax/oat/rice milk fall short. If you are looking for a non-dairy milk but do not want to skimp on the protein, choose soy milk.

Special Nutrients - Where Non-Dairy Milk Can Really Shine

So far we haven't talked about anything in non-dairy milk that doesn't already come in cow's milk. This may lead you to ask, like the graphic, "y tho?" Why choose non-dairy milk at all if it has nothing new to bring to the table?

Enter omega-3. 

1 cup of hemp milk {flax milk would also fall into this categoryprovides an ENTIRE days-worth of your omega-3 needs. That is pretty significant! Omega-3 fatty acids are known to be anti-inflammatory and combat the development of many chronic diseases. Drink up!

Yes, nut milks and others contain some great stuff too like vitamin E and fiber. But just remember that if your goal were to get more vitamin E, best to just eat the almonds. 

Wow! Can you believe we've reached the end of my first series! I am super excited to bring you all more nutrition 101 facts - if you have anything you would be interested in learning about, comment below!

And if you missed any of the Milk 101 Series, check out the links below to get caught up!

Have a great day!