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Healthy Milk Alternatives

DIY Plant-Based Milks and Creams

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More people are going dairy-free these days, which means you have more healthy milk alternatives. Plant-based milks are perfect for a healthy lifestyle. Not only are they free of hormones, lactose, and cholesterol, but they're also easy to make. Preparing your plant-based milk and creams is simple, fun, and low-tech.
 
Many methods offer you lots of choices, but the basic techniques could not be more straightforward. You'll be able to create a multitude of varieties and customize the taste, texture and nutritional properties.
 
Plant-based milk has nutritionally dense ingredients like potassium, phosphorus, folate, and magnesium. Also, many varieties are high in calcium, vitamins, and minerals. And nearly every seed milk is an excellent source of healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Soy

Grain

Nut and Seeds

To decide which healthy milk alternatives are best for your particular needs, here are your options:

Soy Milk

healthy milk alternatives

In most Western diets, soy is the most traditional plant-based milk. It's the only one based on a legume, and it's been around since the 60s.
 
Even though soy is the traditional choice, there is a downside to it. Soy is a hormonally active plant. This means that it has compounds in it which alter your hormonal balance. The biggest one is phytoestrogens, a type of compound which acts like estrogen in the human body.
 
This makes soy an excellent choice for women who suffer from ovarian cysts, lactating mothers, and postmenopausal women. But a terrible choice for women with PMS, for children, or for men.

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Grain Milk

healthy milk alternatives

There is also a wide range of grain-based milk, which are also quite typical in the West, but a lot more recent.
 
Grain-based milk alternatives are definitely among the best health-wise.
 
They have very few of the lecithins and toxins found in unprocessed grains and are low in carbs, low in fats, and full of all sorts of trace minerals.
 
Grain-based milk can sometimes be a bit watery for some uses, though. So, if you need a thick base for a chowder or hot chocolate, make sure to thicken them with a little rice flour first.

Nut or Seed Milk

healthy milk alternatives

If you are avoiding grains and legumes, you're left with only one option: nut and seed milk.
 
These are made by crushing and pulping nuts and seeds and adding the juices to water until it is thick and tasty.
 
The significant upside to these is that they are rich and full of nutrition, but the major downside is that they are expensive and higher in fats.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Dairy Milk Alternatives

It is worth knowing the advantages and disadvantages of each of these dairy alternatives, as well as what to use whenEvery type of non-dairy milk has its own unique properties, and you need to pick the right one to get the best results.

Soy Milk

healthy milk alternatives

A great alternative to dairy milk, soy milk has been around for ages. It's made using soybeans, which makes it one of the few bean-based milk-alternative out there.
 
Soy milk tends to have a taste, texture, and color closer to real milk than any other milk alternative. It is also inexpensive, and many supermarkets have their off-brand versions.
 
The main downside to soy milk is its health effects. It contains both phytoestrogens and phytates.
 
The phytoestrogens mimic estrogen in your body, making it a hormone medication, a bit like the pill. This is good news for women with low estrogen, and bad news for everyone else.
 
Phytates are also bad news. They are an anti-nutrient that can stop your body from absorbing minerals, such as magnesium, copper, zinc, and even calcium.
 

Finally, most soy products consumed in the West are GMOs grown with masses of artificial fertilizers and pesticides. And even if you believe genetically modified plants are safe, you can't say the same for fertilizers and pesticides, which remain on the soybeans.

Soy Cream

Another alternative made from soybeans, soy milk, is much thicker than soy milk. This is why it's an excellent option for thickening stews, coffee creamer, and making rich and creamy dessert sauces and hot chocolates.
 
But, it also has the same problems with phytoestrogens, phytates, and GMO farming that soy milk has. These issues are also magnified because soy cream has more soybeans per ml in it than soy milk does.

Grain-Based Milk 

Oat Milk

healthy milk alternatives

One of the most common grain-based milk alternatives, oat milk has a mild taste, very much like oatmeal.
It also has properties that make it possible to thicken and even froth it, making it a perfect in your morning coffee.
 
You can even make it at home by blending oats in water and straining.
 
Because much of the oat grain gets into the milk, it's higher in calories, fat, and carbs than other milk alternatives. Additionally, it is also a risk if you are sensitive to grains or gluten.

Rice Milk

healthy milk alternatives

Another popular grain-based milk alternative is rice milk. Rice milk is lower in fat than almost any other milk alternative, and not too high in calories either.
 
It has a very smooth, sweet taste, making it an excellent option for desserts. And also, of all the milk alternative's it's the least likely to trigger also an allergic reaction. 
 
But, it's also high in carbs, which is where it gets its sweetness from and can be watery due to its low fat and protein content. It is also still a grain, and if your diet excludes you'll want to find another option.

Mixed Grain Milk

The last grain-based milk alternative on the market is “mixed grain milk.”
 
Even though milk such as wheat milk, corn milk, rye milk, and barley milk exist, they are rarely if ever available to buy. Usually, you would go to a specialist store for them, or make them yourself. A mixed grain milk is a milk made with any combination of blended and strained whole grains.
 
The advantages to this are that you can control the different nutrient levels of the milk based on which blend you choose to buy or make.
 
But, the downside is that these blends can be very expensive. And often they have allergy-causing ingredients that make them unsuitable for many people.

Seed Milks

healthy milk alternatives

Quinoa Milk

Quinoa is a seed based milk, rather than a grain. It's healthy, rich in vitamins and minerals, very low in fat and high in protein. It's thick and smooth, rather than watery.
 
On the downside, quinoa milk has a very distinctive taste. It has the earthy flavor of quinoa. It can be a bit of a shock to someone who has never tried it before. You might want to try another option if the taste of your milk has to be very specific.

Hemp Milk

Another seed-based milk, produced from the seeds of the hemp plant.
 
Hemp is a delicious alternative to conventional milk. It has a nutty taste and a thick and creamy texture that make it a perfect drinking milk or dessert milk.
 
But for some people, the flavor of hemp may be too strong, which restricts the recipes you can use it in. It is also often a bit expensive.
 
It's low in calories, carbs, and fats, but the fats it does have are healthy omega oils. It is also a good option for people with soy or nut allergies.

Flax Milk

Another seed-based milk, flax milk has taste and texture that is close to cow's milk. This is because it contains natural omega three oils, like dairy, which give it that extra smoothness and flavor.
 
Flax milk is also very low in calories, and high in vitamins and minerals: Calcium, vitamin A, B complex vitamins, vitamin D, etc.
 
The only downside to flax milk is its price and availability, as it can be expensive, hard to find, and difficult to make yourself.

Sunflower milk

Our final seed-based milk is Sunflower made from sunflower seeds. It's low in calories, fat, and carbs, but its natural sugar content is a little higher than other seed-based milk. Additionally, it is full of calcium, providing almost 1/3 of our RDA, and also adds some additional trace minerals to your diet.
 
It has a robust taste of sunflower seeds. If you like this flavor then no problem, but if you are using it in tea or coffee, you may find it unpleasant.
 

Sunflower can also be tough to find in your market, so you may need to make it yourself.

To Make Sunflower Milk
Blend 1/4 seeds to 3/4 water and strain.

Nut Milks

healthy milk alternatives

Coconut Milk & Cream

A great option if you have nut allergies is coconut milk because coconut is technically not a nut. It's a traditional plant-based milk and forms the base of many delightful curries and desserts in Asia.
 
Excellent for your health, coconut milk provides a wide range of vitamins and minerals. You can also get it in cans or as a powder.
 
Coconut milk does have a strong taste of coconut, so if you are one of those people who finds the coconut taste overwhelming or soapy, this milk may not be for you.
 

Coconut Cream

Made by combining blended coconut meat and water, coconut cream has more fiber, fats, and protein than coconut milk. This also means it is more substantial, and better for thickening sauces and making desserts with.
 
Like coconut milk, it also has a potent coconut taste. This means that, unless you like coconut, you will likely only use it in curries and desserts.

Cashew Milk and Cream

While not a true nut milk either, cashew milk is creamy and delicious. Sorry, cashews are a weird kind of seed that grows underneath a pear-shaped fruit in the tropics.
 
Even though it is not a “real” nut, many people are allergic to cashews, so it is not automatically a safe milk alternative. It can also be challenging to find and expensive to buy. It is low in calories, fats, and carbs, and full of trace minerals.
 

Cashew Cream

A healthy alternative if you want a thick milk alternative for making desserts. You can make it quickly and easily at home if you want, or you can buy it at a health foods store.
 
Because of its mild taste, it is very versatile. And because it is so malleable too, you can use it as a cream, milk, cheese, or even a yogurt if you need to.
 
The big downside is that if you thought cashew milk was hard to find, cashew cream could be a total nightmare. It might be easier and cheaper to make it yourself.

Hazelnut Milk

healthy milk alternatives

Our first true nut milk! This milk is very available in supermarkets and almost any health food store now.
 
It has a smooth, nutty taste, and a moderate number of calories. Although if you choose one with no added sugar, it will be much lower. It is one of the most delicious non-dairy milk!
 
But, being a nut-based milk, it can trigger nut allergies, which could be a problem for you. It is also a little bland if you choose the unsweetened version, but too sugary if you buy a sweetened option.

Almond Milk

Our last moo-free milk alternatives is almond. It is another true nut milk and is one of the most popular ones on the market right now.
 
It has a very mild, slightly nutty taste which many people enjoy. It is also one of the lowest in calories of all milk alternatives while being quite high in vitamins and minerals.
 
But being a nut-based milk, it can trigger nut allergies, so you will have to avoid it if you are allergic to nuts. It can also be a bit too watery and does not lighten coffee very well; you need to add a lot to make it nice and pale.
 
Finally, when choosing your milk alternative, always look out for unsweetened, fortified varieties.

Making Healthy Milk Alternatives at Home

If you want the freshest, more pure and delicious milk, create your own. Packaged products have a longer shelf life, are more convenient, but they also have additives, and there's no comparison regarding taste.

Here is the primary method for preparing plant-based milk:

  1. Soak solid ingredients
  2. Rinse
  3. Cook if necessary (most grains make better milk if cooked)
  4. Combine solids with water in a high-speed blender or food processor
  5. Strain (if you choose)

Begin by soaking your solid ingredients by covering them with a few inches of water. Let them soak overnight or for at least 8 hours, (softer grains, like oats, can soak for just a few hours.) Then rinse and drain.

If you are making a grain-based milk, it is recommended you cook the grain for a better flavor.

You can adjust the ration of raw materials to water to your liking. For a more flavorful, creamy milk use a 1:2 ratio. If you desire a thinner consistency and more mildly flavor use a 1:4 ratio. For instance, when I make almond milk I soak 1 cup almonds overnight. In the morning I strain and rinse, then add them along with 4 cups of water to my high-speed blender. In general, the less water you use, the thicker and more flavorful your milk will be.

 The Equipment

The Solid Ingredients

  • Soybeans
  • Quinoa
  • Oats
  • White and brown rice
  • Hazelnuts
  • Almonds
  • Walnuts
  • Pecans
  • Cashews
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Flaxseeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Coconut

Recommended Plant-Based Milk Cookbook

I highly recommend this cookbook if you want delicious plant-based milk recipes. It is the bible of milk alternatives, helping you prepare, select, and cook all varieties.

The first section of the book provides instructions for making an incredible range of non-dairy milk, followed by suggestions for use. Then dive into recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; sweets and breads; and smoothies and drinks. Each recipe specifies the ideal type of non-dairy milk, and most alternatives, so you can tweak them for your dietary needs and taste preferences.


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Written by Jackie Parker

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