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Let's Talk Pros & Cons To Milk Varieties On Our Shelves

Got Milk? Supermarket shelves are jammed with all manner of “milk” selections that don’t come from the dairy down the road, but from plant sources like nuts, soy and grains. Rapidly stealing cows’ milk customers, non-dairy beverages are popular for all kinds of reasons, from environmental concerns to animal well-being to lactose intolerance.

But what do these milk 'knock-offs' taste like? And are they good-for-you? Looking at the big picture, it’s a mix of pros and cons. On the plus side are low levels of artery-clogging saturated fat, zero cholesterol and convenient packaging. The cons: Sugar content is often high and protein levels, except in the case of soy milk, are not impressive. So before you start sipping, take a look at how some of these popular non-dairy beverages stack-up.

Soya Milk

The most well-known milk substitute, soya is close in protein content to cow’s milk. The best source of protein among the “milk” alternatives, soy milk is a close match to 2% cow’s milk when it comes to nutrition.

It carries about 7 grams of protein; cow’s milk has 8 grams. It’s moderate in fat, about 4 grams per cup, compared to 2% milk’s 5 grams. It also provides potassium and is lower in sugar than dairy, as long as you buy the unsweetened varieties. The nutty, creamy taste is good in cooking, on cereals and in coffee too.

Soya can also be a useful addition to your diet during perimenopause, too. Studies confirm that two to three servings of soya products a day may help reduce the frequency of hot flushes, as well as lower cholesterol and help to protect heart health after menopause.

According to an article by the Physician’s Committee For Responsible Medicine, a cup of soya milk contains 300 milligrams of calcium, making it a valuable addition to the diet of post-menopausal women.

So if you’re looking for a non-dairy beverage to replace milk’s nutrition and improve on its fat profile, this is the one to buy. One caveat: Since most soybeans grown today are genetically modified, look for organic products if you want to sip “non-GMO”.

Almond Milk

The “Miss Congeniality” of non-dairy alternatives, almond milk glows with a nutrient-rich almond halo. After all, an ounce of almonds (23 nuts) sports a healthy six grams of protein, lots of Vitamin E and small amounts of minerals, like magnesium and calcium are naturally present. The subtle, sweetish taste makes it good in smoothies and on cereal.

Unsweetened almond milk is a blend of nuts and water; it’s low in fat and has about 60-70kJ per 100ml. The hitch: A cup of almond milk contains roughly four almonds, barely enough to contribute much of that good-for-you almond nutrition. One cup of this milk (mostly water and sweeteners) delivers just one gram of protein, unless you buy one of the newer protein-fortified varieties.

Hemp Seed Milk

Fairly new to the non-dairy aisle, this light beige drink is winning over converts at a rapid clip, mostly due to its thicker, creamier texture.

You might be wondering if hemp has some of the same psychoactive compounds as marijuana. Not to worry. Hemp seeds contain zilch in the way of THC so they won’t deliver that well-known “high.”

The nutrition claim to fame for these light-colored seeds is that they’re a rich source of plant-based omega 3 fats, the kind of fats that are healthy for the heart. Of the 5-6 grams of fat in a cup of hemp milk, only half a gram is saturated fat. Alas, protein levels are low, just two grams per cup.

Coconut Milk

Not to be confused with the creamy milk in a tin used in Asian cooking! This thinner version (from a carton) is made from pressed coconut, water and salt. Its subtle coconut flavour makes it ideal for smoothies.

If you’re expecting the big, bold flavor of canned coconut milk, this in-the-carton coconut beverage is sure to disappoint. It’s hard to even detect coconut in the blend (unless you’re one of those super tasters).

This milk alternative has plenty of saturated fat, ounce-for-ounce as much as whole milk. That probably explains its popularity as coffee creamers and cereal toppers since saturated fat delivers a richer mouthfeel. Counting calories? Maybe coconut milk isn't for you!

Oat Milk

Because oat milk is made from strained oats, it’s missing a lot of the nutrients that you would normally get from