Picking the Best Non-Dairy Milk for You
After focusing on the In’s and Out’s of Dairy Milk, lets consider the numerous non-dairy milks available.
With as many as 30 to 50 million American adults, being lactose intolerant, and even more people showing dairy sensitivities, it is important to consider alternatives to traditionally dairy beverages that are made from legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds.
The following chart shows the nutritional facts for 1 cup of unsweetened milk: (brands may vary)
It’ is important to note that many brands will add calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B’s to their milks. This information, along with organic versus non-organic, GMO ingredients, sweetener content, and other additives, can help you decide which brand is right for you.
Organic vs. Non-Organic
You may be aware that non-organic foods have been sprayed and treated with pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. These chemicals aren’t necessarily digested or removed from our bodies easily, and can cause digestive issues, a breakdown of the intestinal lining and the immune system, various cancers. Conventional (non-organic) foods often contain genetically modified ingredients. Since liquids are absorbed into the blood steam at a faster rate than solid foods, it is important to consider reducing such products from your diet.
Sweetened vs. Unsweetened
Sugar and sweeteners are added to almost all processed foods. Sugar might make our food sweeter, but it is also linked to a myriad of avoidable diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancers, hyperactivity, depression, etc. It is highly addictive, causes chronic inflammation, and is consistently added to non-dairy milks. If the container doesn’t say unsweetened, it contains sugar. A better way to determine if a milk has added sweetener, is to read through the ingredients list. Even then, companies will list sugar in a way to make the consumer feel like it is a healthy type of sugar, such as cane sugar or evaporated cane juice, agave, maple syrup, honey, molasses, beet sugar, date sugar, and more.
Always remember: sugar is sugar. It is easy to see the word sugar in ingredients lists, but it can be listed under a number of other names that most people would not necessarily read as “sugar.” A great rule of thumb is to look for words ending in “–ose.” Sucrose, maltose, fructose, glucose, galactose. We get enough glucose to make our bodies function from the carbohydrates found in whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. We don’t need added sugar to be able to get through the day, no matter how convincing your brain is during your 3:00 coffee break!
Common additives in non-dairy milks:
When shopping for a milk, you should always look at the ingredients list to see if there are added sugars, but there are other additives and preservatives that are being added to the milk. Some common additives you will notice:
Carrageenan is derived from Irish moss and used as an emulsifier. It has a seaweed like odor. It has been shown to stimulate the formation of fibrous tissue and cause cancerous tumors. As of 1980, the FDA states more evidence is needed but that the current amount of carrageenan found in foods is hazardous.
“Natural Flavors” can mean a number of things. Derived from distillation and solvent extraction, or enzyme action to obtain materials from plants and animals. This process can change the chemical structure of the components.
Vegetable oil’s are commonly found in milk alternatives, such as canola oil, corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, or soybean oil. These oils are extracted with high heat and solvents. They are completely unneeded in nut and seed milks. It is best to avoid brands that use any kind of oil in making their milk.
Soy has no place in non-dairy milks, unless, of course, the milk is soymilk. Soy is a highly sprayed food and is a GMO unless otherwise noted. In general, it is best to stay away from foods that contain soy, unless it’s a soy-based food, such as edamame, whole dry soybeans, tofu, etc.
But what about soymilk? Soymilk is more processed than nut or seed milks and can possibly cause hormonal issues in people that are sensitive to phytoestrogens. With that being said, it could be the non-dairy beverage of choice for those with nut allergies, as well as lactose intolerance.
Xantham Gum is made from pure culture fermentation of carbs with Xanthomonas campestris. It is also called corn sugar gum. It is used as thickener, and to suspend, emulsify, and stabilize water-based foods (dairy and salad dressings). It is commonly used as a pseudo plasticizer in salad dressing to help them pour and added to animal feed as stabilizer, thickener, suspending additives.
Making your own homemade nut milks is ideal. They don’t have any additives or preservatives, and you have full control over the consistency, sweetness, and creaminess, as well as the quality of the ingredients used. Plus, most brand name non-dairy milk companies skip the very important soaking step. Soaking is an important step in making nut and grain milks because nuts and grains have a naturally occurring enzyme (phytic acid) that inhibits the absorption of specific minerals in the body. (And, yes, all grains and legumes should be soaked for 6-12 hours before cooking for this reason.)
Check out this super easy nut milk recipe:
Basic Nut Milk Recipe
1 cup of raw unsalted nuts (One or more of the following: almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts and macadamia)
4 cups of water, plus water for soaking
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¼ tsp. cinnamon powder
1/8 tsp. sea salt
1. Soak the nuts in water for 8-12 hours in the refrigerator. Cashews just have to soak for 2 hours, almonds need 12 hours, and other nuts get soft enough after about 8 hours.
2. Rinse the nuts under fresh water
3. Put the nuts, dates, vanilla, cinnamon, salt and water into a blender with the 4 cups of water. Blend until, creamy and frothy; about 2 minutes.
4. Set up 3-4 layers of cheesecloth into a sieve over a large bowl.
5. Pour the nut water blend through the cheesecloth, into the bowl. Squeeze and wring out the cheesecloth over the sieve to get as much liquid out as possible.
6. Pour the milk into 2-3 mason jars and keep in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days.
If you prefer your milk thinner, just blend with more water. Add just a little water at a time. You can always add more water but you can’t take it out.
Blending the nuts with warm to hot (not boiling) water will create creamier milk.
Besides dates, other natural sweeteners to try include: 3-5 tsp. of agave, maple syrup, or honey
It is a good idea to date your fresh milk to keep track of when it was made.