As the demand grows for more plant-based and dairy-free milk, so do the options and choices! This can be overwhelming, so let me take out the guessing game and explain how to make the best choices! So the plant-based milk options range from almond, coconut, cashew, soy, rice, oat, hemp and even hazelnut milk. The question is which is best?
I think its super important when following a whole foods diet to change the mindset that “milk” is the be all and end all when it comes to calcium. Calcium is in a wide range of healthy foods such as tempeh, green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, beans and some fruits. For example, just by including 1 cup of kale, 1 cup of bok choy, 2 figs, 2 tbsp of chia seeds, ½ cup of tempeh, and 30g of almonds can meet an adults daily requirements.
So depending on your lifestyle/dietary choices, you don’t necessarily have to be too concerned on plant milk that contains calcium fortification. Because plant milk, especially store bought aren’t the greatest source of calcium if not fortified, this is because they typically only contain anywhere from 3-15% of the calcium dense product that’s being blended to create the milk e.g. almonds or soybeans.
WHAT MILK DO I CHOOSE?
Well, there is no simple answer to this as it is based on your personal taste preferences and of course the drink or dish that it is going into. A good soy or cashew milk is always full and creamy in a coffee, while almond, rice and coconut milk I find are great in smoothies and cereals. What I can tell you is… what to look out for when purchasing store-bought plant milk and what are the simplest kinds of milk to make at home. I took a trip to the shops and perused the nutrition panels of particular plant milk and here is what I found. As we discussed in my last post, the order of the ingredients listed on food products is listed largest to smallest.
This almond milk contained filtered water, sugar, 2% whole almonds, calcium and a stabiliser and emulsifier. So I guess all in all there aren’t too many ingredients which is a plus, the main concern is that there is sugar added before almonds! Essentially if you are paying $3 for a litre of almond milk you would likely prefer it to be a little more then sugary water with a couple of almonds thrown in.. From a nutrition standpoint, it is not terrible, while not too calorically high its virtually empty calories in terms of nutrients and the preservatives are thrown in to extend the shelf life.
Next up we have a soy milk, while potentially being a good alternative for those looking to add some fortified vitamins if there are concerns of not meeting requirements from whole foods there are a few too many ingredients for what should be a pretty simple product. ALARM BELLS, while the second ingredient is organic soybeans (yay), the third and fourth ingredients are from barley, a GLUTEN containing grain ☹ This really throws a spanner in the works for my fellow coeliac or gluten intolerant souls because it means yes, we need to ask EVERY café what soy milk they use. This milk is a little more calorically dense (because of the barley) does contain a few more nutrients due to the fortification but still contains refined sugars, oil and flavouring.
Here we have another soymilk, this has 6 ingredients, no preservatives, no oil, calcium-fortified and gluten-free. This is what we are looking for if buying store bought soymilk. Fortunately, a lot of cafes use this brand!
Last but not least, another good alternative, an almond milk I found in the refrigerator section, while a little more pricey, this was 4 ingredients and exactly what you expect to be in an almond milk.
Homemade almond milk: Soak 1 cup of raw plane almonds in hot water for 1-2 hours, blend almonds with 1-1.2 litres of filtered water in a high-speed blender for 1.5 – 2 minutes. *Note if you like sweet almond milk you could add a couple of Medjool dates to the blender. Separate the almond meal from the almond milk by using a nut milk bag a clean thin dish clothe e.g a Chux. Pour into a jar and refrigerate.
Homemade cashew milk: Soak 1 cup of raw cashews in hot water for 1-2 hours, blend cashews with 1 litre of filtered water in a high-speed blender for 1 minute. Wallah, no straining required just pour into a jar and refrigerate. Moral of the story is, homemade is always a great option because you know exactly what is going into your milk and it can literally be 2-3 ingredients depending on your taste. It is definitely much more nutrient dense as the homemade kinds of milk tend to contain more nuts/legumes! It is also much more cost-effective and environmentally friendly! If you are time poor, opt for the store-bought plant milk with the first two ingredients as water and almond, soybeans or the relevant nut etc. Also look out/avoid a whole heap of ingredients, sugars or unnecessary additives! My brand recommendations for Aussies are Bonsoy, Pure Harvest and Nutty Bruce.