You are currently viewing Want milk that isn’t actually milk (from an animal)?
Cow’s milk is highly nutritious, but some people may choose not to drink it due to allergies, lactose intolerance, being vegan or wanting to be more environmentally-friendly. — Bloomberg

Want milk that isn’t actually milk (from an animal)?

Cow’s milk has been a staple in our diets for centuries and continues to be a popular choice up to today.

It is, in fact, so ubiquitous that the word “milk” is synonymous with cow’s milk, even though it actually means the fluid secreted by any female mammal to feed their young. But in recent years, there has been growing demand for new alternatives to cow’s milk.

This demand is fuelled by people with allergies or who are lactose intolerance, wish to become vegan or ovo-vegetarian, or want to be more environmentally-friendly (cows are a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions globally).

These alternatives are not milk in the strict definition of the word, hence they can be safely drunk by those who cannot or do not want to drink cow’s milk (or milk from any other animal). Whatever the reason for switching from animal milk, it may be tough to decide on the best alternative.

The advantage of cow’s milk is that it is naturally rich in nutrients like vitamin D, calcium and minerals that promote healthy growth. Luckily, most alternatives will be fortified with all the necessary nutrients.

Let’s take a look at seven of the most common varieties of milk alternatives, and what to keep in mind when selecting the best choice.

1. Soy milk

Soy has become the most common non-dairy substitute in the past few decades, due to how similar its nutrition profile is to cow’s milk and its high protein content – about 7g per glass.

Other benefits of soy milk include being low in cholesterol, low in fat and low in calories – about 90 calories per serving. Soy milk flavours typically come in chocolate, vanilla, original and unsweetened, so it’s a great alternative to milk. Be sure to check the nutrition label to see if it’s fortified with the necessary nutrients.

2. Almond milk

Almond milk is made from finely-ground almonds and water, which can be easily made with a blender at home. — TNS

Almond “milk” is made with water and finely ground almonds. It has a light, slightly sweet and nutty taste, which is why people like almond milk as a substitute to cow’s milk. One serving of unsweetened almond milk contains 30-35 calories, 2.5g of fat and 1-2g of carbohydrates. It’s also a rich source of fibre and vitamin K.

However, almond milk doesn’t contain a lot of protein, and many brands of almond milk only contain about 2% of actual blanched almonds, which reduces the nutrients and fibre content. Choose almond milk that consists of about 7-15% almonds to maximise the benefits of using it as a milk alternative.

3. Rice milk

Rice milk is probably the safest alternative for those with soy, nuts or gluten allergies. It has a slightly sweet neutral flavour with some thickeners added to give it more texture (like other cow’s milk alternatives).

Fortified rice milk should contain the same amount of calcium and vitamin D provided by cow’s milk. The disadvantage is that it is also low in protein and contains the highest amount of calories among the common milk substitutes.

4. Oat milk

Oat milk is high in fibre, lowers cholesterol levels, fills you up and is easy to make at home. — AFP

One serving of oat milk contains 140-170 calories, 4.5-5g of fat, 2.5-5g of protein and 19-29g of carbohydrates. It is high in fibre, helps lower cholesterol levels and is a filling milk alternative drink. It is also easy to make at home, and its environmental impact is much smaller compared to some other milk substitutes.

5. Cashew milk

Cashew nuts are naturally rich in copper, zinc, phosphorus, selenium, thiamine, vitamin K and magnesium. Like almond milk, cashew milk is made from water and crushed cashew nuts.

It has a lightly sweet flavour and is low in calories. It is also lower in protein, and because cashews are a low-yield crop, its carbon footprint may be higher, i.e. not great for the environment.

6. Coconut milk

The milk substitute made from coconut is much more diluted from the santan we are more familiar with, and also fortified with vitamins and minerals. — Filepic.

We might think of coconut milk as an ingredient for curry or savoury dishes (how can santan be a milk substitute?), but the coconut milk that is produced as a milk substitute is much more diluted and fortified with many vitamins and minerals.

So you can still enjoy the sweeter taste of coconut milk, minus most of the guilt. However, it does contain the highest amount of fat amongst all the milk substitutes – one serving of coconut milk is close to the amount of fat in a serving of cow’s milk.

7. Pea milk

Milk made from split peas is one of the latest additions to the milk alternative menu and is quickly gaining popularity because of its creamier, milk-like texture. The milk is made by grinding yellow split peas into a flour, separating the protein, then mixing it with water.

Pea milk has one big advantage over the other substitutes: in addition to having nutrients like calcium and potassium, and being fortified with vitamins, it is high in plant-based protein.

One serving of pea milk can contain up to 8g of protein, which is closer to the amount of protein in a serving of cow’s milk. Although it still lacks the variety of amino acids provided by cow’s milk, it is a suitable milk substitute for people with soy, nut and lactose allergies, and who are gluten intolerant.

Things to consider

There are several other things to consider when choosing a substitute for cow’s milk. Reading the label is the best way you can find answers for the following questions:

  • How many grammes of protein can you get in one serving?
    It should be at least 7g or 8g.
  • Is it low in sodium?
    It should be 140g or less per cup.
  • What sort of ingredients are listed?
    The fewer, the better.
    It shouldn’t have added sugar, which means that you shouldn’t choose the ones that are chocolate- or vanilla- flavoured. And remember that “original” flavour doesn’t mean unsweetened.
  • Is it fortified with the nutrients found in cow’s milk?
    These should include vitamin D and calcium.
  • What about other essential nutrients like vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids?
    These nutrients are particularly important for vegans to include in their diet, especially vitamin B12, which is abundant in meat and dairy products, but found in much fewer vegetarian or vegan products, unless it is specifically added to them.
  • Is it low in saturated fat?
    Most milks on this list are except for coconut milk.

By Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar
Published in Star Newspaper, 07 Mar 2022

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