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Jun 24, 2019 BY Joy McCarthy

A Joyous Guide to Plant-Based Milks

—  found in  Well-being  —

One of the top questions I get as a holistic nutritionist is “What's the best non-dairy milk out there?” It’s such a great question given that 65% of the world's population is unable to tolerate lactose, the naturally-occurring sugar in milk , and a number of people are allergic to casein, the protein in dairy.

Even if you can tolerate dairy, you may find plant-based milks to be a delicious and healthy choice for you and your family!

There are so many great and not-so-great varieties out there, which I will break down here! We looked at five popular kinds of plant-based milk: almond, cashew, coconut, hemp and oat, and have divided each according to taste and texture, nutritional benefits, best use and favourite brands. Making your own is a healthier route since you control what goes into your milk, but I understand it’s not always possible – that said, once you do it for yourself, you’ll see how quick and easy it is!

Please note: Nutritionally, plant-based milk is not a direct substitute for cow's milk. If you've been drinking cow's milk solely for the purpose of calcium, you will not get the same amount of calcium in plant-based milk unless it's been fortified. That being said, you can certainly eat a dairy-free diet and get adequate levels of calcium so long as you eat a wide variety of foods such as beans, nuts, seeds, fish, vegetables and more

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Here are some tips to consider when shopping for plant-based milk at the supermarket:

  • Choose unsweetened or naturally sweetened (with dates or maple syrup, for instance) varieties.
  • Look in the refrigerated section, since the shelf-stable options contain preservatives, additives and sugars and excessive sodium
  • Although most store-bought plant-based milk will likely include a few extra ingredients, you should avoid sweeteners (cane juice, cane syrup, cane sugar), added flavours and colours, vegetable oils like canola, carrageenan, cellulose gum and polysorbate 80 (emulsifiers), GMO soy, vitamin D2 and other isolated vitamins (which are typically synthetic nutrients). It may be difficult to avoid synthetic nutrients (even in reputable brands) so that's the lesser of all the food additive evils but you definitely shouldn't rely on plant-based milk to fill any nutritional gaps in your diet. 
  • Store-bought varieties also contain thickeners and emulsifiers that may impact digestive health. There is emerging research on how these food additives may alter our microbiome. 
  • For coconut milk, go for full-fat coconut milk (not coconut ‘beverage’) and, if it's canned, make sure the can is BPA-free.
  • Look for organic, non-GMO and gluten- and soy-free! 

It's not nutritionally necessary to be slurping back these plant-based milks, so enjoy them in moderation, say in a smoothie or with your tea
or coffee.

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Check out the ingredients list on this container of shelf-stable almond milk from a popular brand:

And here's the simple, readable ingredients list from a refrigerated almond-cashew-coconut milk I found at my local health food store:

Pop quiz: which one do you think I chose? And, more important, which one would you choose?

I prefer to make my own plant milks and have a few joyous recipes for you to try. (As I mentioned, it's super simple to do!) When buying, I prefer more local, artisanal brands that don't have many icky additives (i.e. Mylko, Village Juicery and Greenhouse Juice in Toronto). Check out your local health-food store for artisanal brands and share them with the Joyous community in the comments below!

Joy

Jun 24, 2019 BY Joy McCarthy
6 Comments
Stefanie   •   June 24, 2019

Thanks Joy. I’ve often struggled to find plant based mills without all the added junk. May I ask the brand of the one you listed as I can’t find one with as simple of ingredients as you’ve listed? Thank you.

Reply
Joy McCarthy   •   June 25, 2019

Carol   •   June 25, 2019

Hi Joy! What brand is the Almond Cashew Coconut milk?

Reply
Joy McCarthy   •   June 25, 2019

Lish\'a Reed   •   June 28, 2019

Hi Joy, my 9 month old is dealing with a dairy allergy. I've been curious about the 1 year mark when "they" say to transition from formula to cow's milk. Do you have any advice on an alternative milk?

Reply
Joy McCarthy   •   June 28, 2019

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