For almost two decades, celebrities lined up for photographs with the iconic milk mustache to tout the health benefits of dairy milk. The campaign is over, and according to recent statistics, so is the love many Americans have for dairy. That, in turn, is causing a rise in sales for plant-based milk products.
In fact, dairy consumption fell 22 percent between 2006 and 2016. And experts predict that sales will continue to drop. Conversely, sales of plant-based milk products are on the rise. A Mintel report says that plant-based milk will reach $3 billion in sales by 202.
Why Are Consumers Turning to Plant-Based Milk?
Most Americans use dairy milk for cooking, in cereal, and drink it as a way to fill up when they don’t have time to eat. So, it seems odd that people are turning away from milk in droves.
But that’s exactly what’s happening.
The dairy industry marketed milk as a healthy drink for years, and people drank two to three glasses of it a day to gain its health benefits. But in the 1970s, new research came out that questioned milk’s health benefits for humans. In fact, Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University and author of Food Politics, says, “Milk is the perfect food — for calves.”
Combine that with the modified growth hormones given to dairy cows, and people are opting for better health choices.
And in addition to the change of mindset about the health benefits of drinking milk, more and more people are waking up to the cruelty of dairy farms. Dairy cows live miserable lives, and as people post evidence of this on YouTube and other channels, people are making the conscious decision to cut dairy from their diets.
It’s a major reason why so many people are going vegan.
If you’re still drinking dairy milk, have a look at this video. But I have to warn you: It may be impossible to drink dairy milk after you’ve watched it.
Are you back from ridding your fridge of cow pus milk?
Okay, let’s move on
What About Nutrition?
The dairy industry is playing dirty when it comes to plant-based milk. They are fighting hard to force plant-based milk producers to remove the word “milk” from their products.
I guess they want us to call almond milk almond cream? No, they probably wouldn’t like that, either.
The dairy industry is also trying to convince people that plant-based milk isn’t as nutritious as dairy. They say you can’t get enough protein, calcium, or vitamin D from plant-based milk products.
Let’s fact check those assertions.
Build those muscles
While it’s true that not all plant-based milk offers a lot of protein, it’s also true that some do. You just have to choose your vegan milk wisely.
For example, some soy milk contains about a gram of protein per ounce. But it’s important to read the label, because that’s not true for all soy milk. Many vegans and others don’t eat soy anymore because most of the soybeans are GMO.
Not to worry, because you have other choices. For instance, Ripple, which you can find at the grocery store right next to the dairy milk, has more protein than soy milk, 50 percent more calcium than cow’s milk, and is vitamin D fortified. Even better, every glass you drink provides you with omega 3s and DHA.
And it’s made from organically grown peas — something we humans were designed to consume.
However, not all plant-based milk is this nutritious. For example, almond milk, which is widely popular, only contains negligible amounts of protein — about one gram per serving. And coconut milk offers even less.
Getting enough protein is important for vegans, and our diets make it necessary to get it from sources other than meat and dairy. Drinking protein-rich plant-based milk is an easy way to boost your daily protein intake.
No bone fractures here
Another concern invented by the dairy industry is that plant-based milks don’t provide enough calcium. We’ve already dispelled that rumor talking about Ripple, which contains 50 percent more calcium than dairy milk.
But there’s more.
Almost all plant-based milk contains just as much calcium as dairy milk. It comes from limestone that’s been ground up. This product is absorbed well by your body. You should choose plant-based milk that contains at least 300 milligrams of calcium per serving, which will account for 30 percent of the RDA.
The other stuff
It’s also important to recognize vitamin D and iodine. You can’t get either of these in plant-based milk, so if you’re vegan, you will need to make up for it. To get enough iodine, you should either use iodized salt, eat seaweed, or take a supplement. The best source of vitamin D is the sun, but if you’re not in it at least 20 minutes a day, you should take a supplement.
Should I buy sweetened milk?
If you’re drinking plant-based milk for health reasons, you need to know that some of the sweetened varieties use a lot of sugar. For instance, Silk’s vanilla milk has as much sugar as three full-sized Snickers bars.
If you opt for a healthier choice, the unsweetened version only contains eight grams for a half gallon.
Obviously, unsweetened plant-based milk is better for your health, but you may have to become accustomed to the taste.
By contrast, cow’s milk has about 12 grams of sugar.
How to Use Plant-Based Milk for Cooking
As a vegan, you’ll use milk for more than just drinking or in cereal. You’ll also need it to bake some delicious dairy-free things. It’s easy to get confused about which types of plant-based milk to use for your recipes.
Here’s a primer to help you decide what plant-based milk to use for different recipes.
It’s soy good
If you can find a soy milk product that you trust is GMO-free, it’s an excellent plant-based milk for cooking and baking. It’s rich and creamy — just what you need to bake those vegan scones, creamy pasta sauces, or mashed potatoes.
From the rice fields
Rice milk is another alternative you can use for baking. Because it’s naturally sweeter than other plant-based milk, it’s best used for baking and not for savory dishes. Also, the consistency is clear and runny, so it’s not a good choice for things like creamy soups.
If you’ve tried hemp milk, you know it has a slightly sweet flavor. That’s why I recommend using it for your cereal, drinking, and for baking all those delicious sweets.
Nut milks like almond milk are widely popular because they are creamy and thick. However, they are also naturally sweet, and you shouldn’t use them in savory dishes. They are also an excellent choice for your breakfast cereal.
Expert tip: If a recipe calls for buttermilk, you can substitute it by adding a tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar to a cup of soymilk.
A word about carrageenan
Carrageenan is an emulsifier used in many products such as dairy products, deli meat, and plant-based milk. There is conflicting research on this product, but I, like many other vegans, choose to buy plant-based milk that does not contain it.
Some studies link carrageenan to lesions, gastrointestinal inflammation, and even cancer.
Be sure to check the food label when buying plant-based milk and skip those that use this potentially harmful ingredient.
10 Plant-Based Milk Options: Which One Will You Choose?
Now that you understand the benefits and ethical reasons for using plant-based milk instead of cow’s milk let’s talk about some of your options.
Here are 10 plant-based milk options to choose from, along with a few facts about each one.
Soy milk is controversial in the vegan world for a couple of reasons. We’ve already talked about the fact that most soybeans are GMO, but the controversy includes other factors, too.
For starters, one of the reasons soy milk tastes so good is that it contains thickeners (like carrageenan) and vegetable oils, neither of which are good for you.
It is also made up of isoflavones, which are in soy and can affect your estrogen receptors and can affect how your hormones function. People have varying opinions, and so far, no conclusive evidence exists that shows soy milk in moderation will harm healthy adults.
On the other hand, soy milk is a great way to add a creamy texture and mild taste to both cooked and baked foods.
It also provides a complete protein — something vegans value tremendously. That means soy milk can provide you with all your body’s required amino acids.
Now that’s just nuts
Almond milk is one of the most popular plant-based milks — and for good reason. It’s delicious and easy to use in cereal, as a coffee creamer, and as a substitute in baking recipes. Manufacturers make almond milk in one of two ways. Some manufacturers use whole almonds to make the milk, while others use water and almond butter.
Although it’s high in protein, it only has a quarter of the calories and half the fat of cow’s milk. It also has a high amount of vitamin E, which helps protect your body from free radicals.
But almond milk isn’t perfect.
You would think that plant-based milk made from almonds is nutritious, but the truth is there are very few almonds in the milk. In fact, some brands are only two percent almonds, while the remainder of the milk is made up of water. And the two percent of almonds are blanched after removing the skin — which takes away much of their nutrition.
That means almond milk doesn’t contain nearly as much protein, fiber, and omega 3s as whole almonds do. But some brands contain 7 to 15 percent of almonds, and if you buy those, the milk will provide much more nutrition than the two percent brands.
One final downside to almond milk is that it contains phytic acid, which binds to calcium and zinc. And when it does that, it reduces your body’s absorption of these important nutrients. This is especially important to vegans who work to get enough of them.
Put the lime in the coconut
I have to admit; I’m a huge fan of coconut milk.
And apparently, I’m not the only coconut lover.
This versatile milk consists of the white flesh of coconuts and water. You can buy it in cartons in the dairy department or cans, depending on what you’re using it for. The coconut milk in cans is creamier and better for cooking things like cream soups and mashed potatoes. On the other hand, if you want to use it for cereal or coffee creamer, you should buy it in the dairy carton.
Coconut milk doesn’t contain any protein, but it has also doesn’t have the calories. It contains a third of the calories of cow’s milk and half the fat.
But alas, my favorite cooking milk does have its faults.
Coconut milk comes from medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which is a type of saturated fat. Studies and opinions of this type of fat are mixed.
Some show that MCTs can help reduce your appetite, help you lose weight, and improve your blood cholesterol levels more than some other fats.
But another review of 21 studies shows that coconut oil raises levels of bad cholesterol.
If you struggle with high cholesterol, this might not be the right plant-based milk for you.
Sow your oats
If you are struggling with high cholesterol, oak milk may become your new best friend.
The milk is a combination of water and oats, but most manufacturers add oils, salt, and gums. You can use it for cooking almost any recipe that calls for cow’s milk or use it in cereals or as a coffee creamer.
It contains about half of the amount of protein and fat as dairy milk, the same amount of calories, and double the carbohydrates.
The reason this plant-based milk is so good for people with high cholesterol is that it contains a soluble fiber called beta-glucan that forms a gel as it passes through the gut. That gels binds to cholesterol and helps it pass through the body. Men with high cholesterol participated in a study for five weeks where they drank 25 ounces of oak milk every day. Overall, they experienced a five percent reduction in LDL cholesterol.
From the paddies to you
Rice milk is another plant-based milk that is quite popular. It consists of white or brown rice, water, and thickeners. For people who have gluten, soy, or nut allergies, it’s a good choice for sweet desserts or to drink cold on a hot day.
It has about a gram of protein and the highest carbohydrate count of all plant-based milks. It has about the same number of calories as cow’s milk, but with much less fat.
But if you have diabetes, rice milk may do more harm than good.
It has a glycemic index of 79 to 92, which causes your blood sugar levels to spike because it’s absorbed so quickly into your gut. Rice also contains high levels of arsenic, and prolonged exposure to this substance can lead to heart disease and even cancer.
The nuttiness continues
If you’re looking for plant-based milk that you can make at home, cashew milk is a good option. You can use it to thicken your smoothies, as a coffee creamer, or to use as a cow’s milk substitute for desserts.
While it doesn’t contain a lot of protein or carbohydrates because the nuts are strained out of the liquid when making it, it contains half the fat and only a third of the calories as dairy milk.
Macadamia nut milk is pretty new to the market and has a lot of the same properties as cashew milk. One difference is the number of monounsaturated fats it contains. When you use these fats to replace saturated fats, it leads to a lower risk of heart disease and cholesterol levels.
Hemp milk consists of the same plant as marijuana, but this milk won’t get you high. It has only trace amounts of THC, which is what gives people that “high.” Hemp milk is slightly sweet with a watery texture which makes it good as a coffee creamer and for when you’re cooking something that calls for light milk.
It has about the same amount of fat as cow’s milk, but half of the protein and calories. But if you’re a vegan, you’ll get two to three grams of complete protein with every glass. This plant-based milk also provides omega-3s.
The new kid on the block
Quinoa milk is a relatively new type of plant-based milk, and while I love the idea of it, I’m not sure of its benefits.
Quinoa is a complete protein, which makes it an important part of every vegan’s diet. But quinoa milk only has two grams of protein. That’s because it’s mostly water, and only contains 5 to 10 percent quinoa.
Quinoa milk tastes sweet, so it’s best suited for cereals, smoothies, as a coffee creamer, or in sweet baked goods.
If you’re looking for the protein benefits of quinoa, I think eating it trumps drinking it.
Which Plant-Based Milk Will You Choose?
If you’re ready to make the switch to plant-based milk, you have a lot of options to choose from. But choosing the right vegan milk is a personal choice, and you have to weigh the pros and cons of each one.
Are you already using plant-based milk? If so, we’d love to hear about your experience with it in the comments below. And if you have a recipe to tell us about using it, we’d love to hear about that, too!