The great milk debate: your go-to guide to alternative milks

Alternative milks are on trend right now [Photo: Getty]
Alternative milks are on trend right now [Photo: Getty]

Soya, almond, rice. If your milk of choice (or in some cases necessity) isn’t dairy-free then you’re not part of the white stuff in-crowd.

Recent stats reveal that one in five households are now choosing plant and soy based milks over their dairy counterparts.

But with dozens of trendy new options on the milk market, including hemp, cashew and even oat milk, it’s difficult to know which alternative milk to plump for.

Lucky for you we’ve compiled our cheat sheet to non-moo milk so everyone will be able to tell their cashew from their coconut.

Hemp milk:

Made from a blend of hemp seeds and water, hemp milk is a vegan product with a creamy texture and nutty taste. One of the primary benefits of hemp milk is that it has a higher omega-3 content compared to milk made from most other nuts and seeds. “Omega-3 fats can be beneficial for our heart, cholesterol levels and our skin,” says Shona Wilkinson, Nutritonist at “Hemp seeds are also a great source of magnesium – a mineral that has many vital roles in our body, including making energy from our food, and supporting our bones.” Other benefits include it being naturally higher in protein, easy to digest and can strengthen your immune system.

Cashew milk:

Great as a bar snack, even better on your breakfast cereal! “Cashew nuts are a good source of several minerals,” reveals Nutritionist, Cassandra Barns. “These include copper, which helps maintain our hair pigmentation (i.e. helps to stop it going grey) and manganese, which has antioxidant activity. Cashew milk can be naturally creamier than other types of nut or seed milk, which can make it a nicer replacement for normal milk.”

But try to avoid the sweetened versions if you’re drinking a lot of it, as the sugar can quickly add up. “Also, bear in mind that relative to normal milk they contain only a small amount of protein and calcium (unless they’re fortified with calcium) so can’t be counted as a good source of these nutrients,” adds Shona Wilkinson.

What's your white stuff preference? [Photo: Getty]
What’s your white stuff preference? [Photo: Getty]

Almond milk:

Similar in many ways to hemp and cashew milk, Almond milk is a great choice if you’re counting the calories. “Unsweetened almond milk is generally low in calories (as little as 14 calories per 100ml, compared to around 48 cals in normal semi-skimmed milk) and very low in carbohydrates, so can be a good choice for dieters,” says Barns. “Almonds are a good source of minerals too, including magnesium, and are also a better source of calcium than many other nuts and seeds. They’re also one of the best natural sources of biotin, a vitamin that we need for healthy skin and hair.

“This milk is made from a nut rather than a bean or grain. Has more protein than either rice or oat milk so it is a better choice if you want to lose weight. Unfortunately, many of the almond milks are not as healthy as they could be because of added sugar and other ‘nasties’,” adds Dr Marilyn Glenville, the UK’s leading Nutritionist and author of Natural Alternatives to Sugar (Amazon).

Not particularly creamy, this alternative milk isn’t to everyone’s taste, but some like the mild almond flavour that comes through.

Rice milk:

Made from mille rice with water and sunflower oil, rice milk is a mixed-bag health-wise. “Even the unsweetened versions are much higher in carbohydrates and sugars than most other milk alternatives,” explains Cassandra Barns. “They contain up to 11 grams of carbs per 100ml, versus less than 2 grams in unsweetened nut milks. This can be fine if you’ve just been working out – or running a marathon! – but is not ideal for most people as a ‘staple’ in their diet. As rice milks are often made with refined white rice, they can be a poorer source of vitamins and minerals than some other milk alternatives.”

Good if you’re allergy prone, not so good if you’re carb-conscious. “A good choice if you are allergic to soya. However, it has more watery and thinner consistency than soya milk and it’s high in carbohydrates as it is made from a grain,” adds Marilyn.

Oat milk:

“As it’s made from a grain, oat milk is higher in carbohydrates than nut milks, but not as high as rice milk,” explains Wilkinson. “One of the specific benefits of oats – and oat milk – is that they contain a type of fibre called beta glucan, which has been found to help maintain healthy cholesterol levels. It has a naturally creamy consistency and a naturally sweet taste without the need for added sugar or other additives. Like almonds, oats are high in biotin – for healthy skin and hair – and also manganese, which is a vital antioxidant mineral.”

It’s a great choice if you want to up your calcium quota too. “Oat milk contains 10 minerals and 15 vitamins – one glass of oat milk contains more calcium than a glass of cow’s milk. In addition, it contains no saturated fat. However, some oat milks can be sweetened with sugar or have other ‘nasties’ added so read the label,” Dr Glenville adds.

Coconut or cashew nut? [Photo: Getty]
Coconut or cashew nut? [Photo: Getty]

Soya milk:

Some experts don’t recommend soya milk as a staple alternative to normal milk. “Soya can have health benefits – it contains good levels of protein, fibre, lecithin (that can help us to digest fats), some B vitamins and vitamin E,” advises Cassandra Barns. “However, soya in high amounts can disrupt hormone levels in some individuals, due to its content of phytoestrogens (plant compounds similar to oestrogen). It has even been found to affect fertility in both men and women.”

Barns says that soya in large quantities can also have a ‘goitrogenic’ effect, which means it can affect the activity of the thyroid gland, which controls our metabolism. “Neither of these are likely to be an issue if you’re just having the odd bit of soya milk in a cup of tea, but can be a problem for some people if they’re getting through several cartons of soya milk a week, for example.”

And Dr Glenville has another word of warning for soya milk chuggers. “If not organic, soya milk could be genetically modified. It can also be sweetened with sugar or be made from soya isolate which is a refined product.”

Coconut milk:

Though coconut water is made from the juice of the coconut, the milk comes from the flesh – which is then mixed with rice and water. “Coconut is rich in a beneficial type of fats called medium-chain fatty acids,” says Cassandra Barns. “These fats are more easily converted to energy in our body compared to other fats, and also have natural anti-bacterial properties. The types of coconut milk found in cartons (which are generally diluted versions of ‘real’ coconut milk) are also fairly low in carbohydrates and calories, making them similar to nut milks,” she adds.

Plus if you’re a coconut fiend, like us, you’ll go mad for the coco-nutty flavour. “Although coconut milk contains a high amount of saturated fat, research in animals has shown that it can actually decrease total cholesterol and LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol and increase HDL (‘good’ cholesterol),” adds Dr Glenville of the coconut milk benefits.

Which alternative milks do you favour? Let us know @YahooStyleUK

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