Pea? Coconut? Almond? Why Non-Dairy Milks Are the Newest Food Craze

April 06, 2017

Supermarket shelves are now lined with countless milk varieties—and many options are non-dairy. What’s driving this trend? Many experts credit not only the rise in food allergies, which makes cow’s milk off limits for many, but also the push for more plants. “More people are now turning to plant-based foods to meet their nutritional needs,” explains Laura Dean, R.D., dietitian at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health.

Which milk type should you try? Here, Dean spotlights the pros and cons of seven common options.

  1. Soy: If you don’t want to give up the texture of cow’s milk, consider soy. It has about the same amount of calories and protein as cow’s milk but contains less fat. Folks with small kids or those who have a soy allergy, however, should steer clear. “Soy milk can be constipating for kids,” Dean says.
  2. Almond: Although it’s made from almonds, this milk actually contains few almonds in the end, which explains why its protein content is low. Yet it has other benefits. “It’s high in calcium and vitamin D, similar to what you’d find in cow’s milk,” Dean says. However, almond milk has a more watery consistency so if you’re not a skim milk fan, you may not like this option.
  3. Hemp: Unlike almond milk, hemp milk, which is made from hemp seed, is naturally higher in protein, Dean says. It’s also higher fat milk, which can help kids who aren’t drinking cow’s milk obtain the calories they need.
  4. Coconut: Craving a little sweetness? Coconut milk is naturally sweet, which means you can satisfy that sweet tooth without having to sip extra calories from added sugars, Dean says. Yet while it’s a good source of calcium, it’s not strong in vitamin D.
  5. Cashew: People with a nut allergy should steer clear. “Some brands mix almond milk with cashew milk so you should always check food labels,” Dean says. Although calories and fat are lower than what you find in cow’s milk, cashew milk is a good source of calcium and vitamin D.
  6. Rice: This watery milk doesn’t earn many accolades from Dean, namely because of arsenic concerns. Rice has recently been found to have higher levels of arsenic, which could harm health, especially in young kids, so Dean advises not giving this option to kids. On the flip side, though, rice milk does provide a good amount of calcium and vitamin D. And because it doesn’t have much flavor, it does well in recipes that call for milk.
  7. Pea: Using pea protein is the biggest trend in non-dairy milks, and there’s good reason to jump into the frenzy. While it stacks up to cow milk in terms of calories, protein and fat, pea milk is even higher in calcium and vitamin D. There’s also a unique benefit: “This is the only milk, whether from a cow or plant, that contains iron, namely because it’s made from peas,” Dean says. Pea milk has a creamy consistency – and it is white in color, which often surprises people – and is one of the best non-dairy milks for kids in particular.

Lastly, no matter which non-dairy milk you choose, stay away from sweetened versions. “Most people get enough sugar in other places so there’s no need to add it to what you’re drinking,” Dean says. Instead, she says, stick with unflavored or original versions of the non-dairy milk you choose.

-- By Karen Asp

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