The milk section of the supermarket sure is complicated these days. There’s almond milk, soy milk, rice milk, meatloaf milk, and more. Actually, that last one is completely made up, but who knows someday, really.
And almond, soy, and rice are the usual suspects. To make things even more perplexing, there’s a new class of “alterna-milks” on the market right now. So no wonder consumer confusion abounds.
According to a 2018 study, 73 percent of consumers surveyed believed that almond-based beverages had as much or more protein per serving than milk. False: cow’s milk has eight times as much.
Why are there so many of these alterna-miks? Credit the rise of veganism, concerns over sustainability, and a drive for lactose- and cholesterol-free options, says Dina Cheney, author of The New Milks.
You already know how the old guard stacks up nutritionally, but are any of these new concoctions worth trying?
“Your choice really depends on your goals,” says Sandra J. Arevalo, RD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Here’s a guide to the latest options:
Sales of this grain-based beverage are up 425 percent, on track to displace almond milk as the No. 1 alternative to cow’s milk. Oat milk’s popularity may be due to the naturally sweet flavor and creamy texture. But it comes at a price: “Oats are a grain with a lot of starch, so this beverage has more carbs than almond milk—about six times more,” says Arevalo.
Nutritionally, oat milk is equivalent to 1-percent cow’s milk. But it only contains about half the protein of cow or soy milk. Brands like Oatly tout the health-promoting powers of beta-glucans, a type of fiber that may help with blood glucose control and cholesterol. While the power of beta-glucan is true, one 8-ounce glass of oat milk contains half the nutrient than what you’d find in a bowl of oatmeal (2 grams versus 4 grams, Arevalo says).
Tastes like: Kind of like cereal milk left in your bowl: creamy, thick, and sweet.
Peanut milk possesses similar properties to other nut-based milks, such as those made from almonds and cashews. Drink a glass and you’ll consume some healthful polyunsatured fats and a little fiber. But you’ll also take in 8 grams of protein, which is comparable to cow’s milk.
Elmhurst, a brand run by a former dairy, says it distinguishes its milk by using a technique that extracts more flavor—and nutrition—from base ingredients. They even make special formulations for baristas—and their products are shelf-stable.
Tastes like: Peanuts? But, really, unlike almond and other nut milks, the flavor is much more concentrated and rich, not watered down.
While hemp milk has less protein and fewer carbs than oat milk, it also has fewer calories overall. Hemp milk package lingo might state that the milk is a good source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. That’s sort of true.
The type of omega-3s in hemp milk are called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is different from the types found in fish (DHA and EPA). The latter are ideal because your body converts ALA to those forms, but less efficiently. So ALA isn’t a substitute for DHA/EPA but it has been shown to have heart-healthy benefits on its own.
Tastes like: Nothing. If you pay close attention, you might be able to detect a faint taste of sunflower seeds.
Pea milk prides itself on protein, of which it contains 8 grams per serving. That’s on par with cow’s milk. In addition to iron and calcium, pea milk has “a nice amount of vitamin A, as well, which is good for vision, skin, and nail health,” says Arevalo.
Tastes like: A really smooth protein shake with no flavor. That’s a good thing!
This supermarket newcomer is actually a mix of yellow pea protein and tapioca to lend texture, with a little potato starch thrown in. Potato milk stacks up all the right nutrients (B12, D, calcium) but only through fortification, like cereal. And like most cereal, it has added sugars too. Even the original flavor has six grams of the stuff.
Tastes like: Sweet, earthy, and a tad starchy, with a thickness like watered-down yogurt.
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