With all of the lactose intolerances and sensitivities that so many people suffer from, a multitude of milk alternatives have become available. Soy was the original go-to, but by now we’re all aware of the controversial nature of soy, at least to some extent. Whether it’s soy protein or soy milk, chances are that you think twice before consuming anything soy-based. But how much do any of us think about the alternatives?
From almond to coconut to rice milk, each has its pros and cons. Even regular old milk itself, which seems to have been written off in favor of its plant-based competitors, is not as faulty as the times would have us believe. Since milk is what we all use to mix our meal replacement shakes, let’s find out exactly what we’re putting in our bodies.
Milk (Skim, 2%, and more)
Cow’s milk varies anywhere from whole milk to non-fat. As such, the nutritional value varies. A cup of whole milk is about 3.5% fat (8 grams), 146 calories, has 13 grams of sugar, contains 25% of your RDA of calcium, and a whopping 8 grams of protein. The amount of calories may appear concerning at first glance, but the amount of fat and protein in a single cup are so filling that you’re likely to stop before consuming too much.
Skim milk, on the other hand, contains only has 86 calories, absolutely no fat, and also has 8 grams of protein. It actually contains even more calcium than whole milk and slightly less sugar. The problem with skim milk? Some fat is actually good for you and works to make you feel full. Without the fat, you’re at risk for drinking more skim milk and consuming just as many calories as you would drinking whole milk.
If milk is so great, why would we drink anything else?
Aside from health issues that make consuming lactose very unpleasant, there are some ethical issues that people have with dairy milk. For one thing, many people are concerned about how the subpar treatment and living conditions of dairy cows will affect the milk and therefor our health. These cows are filled with antibiotics and hormones that are likely harmful to human health. But there are some cows that are organically fed and allowed to wander free range. So what’s the problem with drinking their milk? There are concerns about the fact that humans are the only mammals on the planet that consume milk past infancy. These concerns address how our digestive tracts aren’t designed to ingest cow’s milk. Even though there isn’t any evidence to prove this, many still find it to be a legitimate claim.
Luckily there are many plant-based milk alternatives to choose from.
Because of lactose intolerance and other concerns about cow’s milk, many people turned to soy milk as a healthy, protein-rich alternative. Soy has become highly controversial lately, due to claims that high consumption of it increases risk of cancer and may cause fertility problems. Even though these risks are debatable, consumption of soy milk has gone down.
However, soy milk does have excellent health benefits. It’s just as rich in protein as dairy milk and is a complete source of amino acids. It also contains significant amounts of various vitamins like A, D, and calcium. However, it doesn’t contain as much calcium as dairy milk. It may also lower LDL cholesterol if you consume enough of it every day, but consuming that much soy milk also may trigger the concerning health risks, so be wary.
Since the slight decline of soymilk began, almond milk has been picking up the slack. Almond milk is actually lower in calories than both dairy and soy milk and it contains no cholesterol. The fat content is minimal, about 3 grams, and is unsaturated, easily the healthiest kind of fat. Almond milk only contains 1 gram of protein though, leagues behind its competitors. This is sort of confusing, since almonds in their original form are an excellent source of protein. Where does the protein go when they’re transformed into milk?
It turns out that almond milk is highly diluted with water – something actually quite apparent just by looking at the ingredient list. Water is listed even before almonds are. That being said, almond milk is still a good choice when searching for a milk to pair with your meal replacement shake. Whatever almond milk lacks will be made up for by you shake (granted that you’re using a high quality shake).
Coconut milk is made from the white “flesh” of the inside of a coconut. It’s different from the coconut water, which is the water contained inside a coconut. Coconut milk is highly nutritional when it comes to vitamins, containing numerous kinds such as C, E, and various B vitamins. It’s also high in fiber, containing 5 grams. While it doesn’t contain as much protein as dairy or soy milk, at 5 grams of protein, coconut milk is nothing to scoff at.
Coconut milk would be an ideal alternative to dairy and the now controversial soy except for one thing. It’s high in calories. Really high. A single cup contains about 550 calories, which is actually sort of mind blowing. Since meal replacement shakes are usually consumed with the intention of losing weight, pairing the drink with coconut milk would be counterproductive.
Rice milk is an alternative, but not popular or even well-known for that matter. Considering the drink contains little nutritional value, has 25 grams of carbohydrates, and is higher in calories than other dairy milk alternatives, there’s little reason for anyone to choose rice milk over the other substitutes out there.
Hemp milk is likely even less popular than rice milk, but contains significant nutritional benefits. At 110 calories it’s more than certain milk alternatives but less than others. It contains 5 grams of protein, which is comparable to dairy and soy, as well as 20% of your recommended daily amount of iron. Hemp milk is a significant source of unsaturated fat and contains 5 grams of sugar, just enough for it to taste sweet but little enough for it to be healthy.
The only pitfall to hemp milk is that it’s not convenient to obtain, as few stores carry it. As a result, it’s a bit more expensive. All things considered, it’s a great alternative to cow’s milk.
How do you decide which milk is right for you?
Just like meal replacement shakes, the right choice of milk varies from person to person, depending on what your intentions are. For those focused on weight loss, a combination of low calories and high protein will work best. Alternately, if you’re just looking for something to mix your shake with, go with whichever milk you think tastes the best. There is no right or wrong answer and ultimately the choice is up to you.