This guest post comes from contributor FP Naomi.
A while back I posted on the various kinds of oil used in cooking and which are actually the healthiest. A lovely reader suggested I do a follow up with milk. It was a great suggestion, and I want to thank Danielle for leaving the comment. My research proved to be very interesting and full of controversy, so here I have it for you.
I faced dairy, hemp, almond, coconut, and soy milk against each other. With positive and negatives surrounding each, the verdict comes down to your own ideals. Do you want milk that is local and organic, high in protein, rich in calcium, or are you simply looking for the best flavor? Read on to find out which milk is the best match according to your personal needs.
Local Availability: Unless you live in a warmer climate like the Middle East, Southeast Asia, or California, almonds are not local to you. The money you spend on almond milk will not go back to local farmers, and it will have traveled a long way to get to you.
Level of Wholeness: Most almond milk is highly processed. The store bought kind will usually come with added preservatives, thickeners, and a whole lot of sugar. Look for organic unsweetened versions, or make your own. Be careful when perusing the grocery store though, “all natural” does not mean organic. I usually purchase the brand Pacific who makes a great organic sugar-free almond milk.
Nutrients: Organic unsweetened almond milk is great for you. It’s low in fat, has less sugar that cow and soy milk, contains zero cholesterol, and is high in magnesium and vitamin E. While it does have protein and calcium in it, there is not a whole lot. You’re much better off eating whole almonds if you need protein or dark leafy greens if you need calcium. If you have a nut allergy, do not drink almond milk.
Flavor & Uses: Many people say that almond milk is their favorite for flavor and consistency. I personally agree. It has just the right amount of nutty creaminess, and is not overpowering. It’s the easiest to down with a bowl of cereal and mixes well into a creamy soup.
Local Availability: Soy beans are grown all over the world, but yet, it’s hard to find local soy milk. To see if there is someone producing it near you, you can investigate a local farmer’s market or organic farm. Someone in charge will probably know if it’s available.
Level of Wholeness: Soy has been gaining a bad rap lately. The bean is so widely grown and its crops are some of the worst when it comes to pesticides and GMO’s; 90% of all soy crops grown in the US are genetically modified. There have been studies linking over consumption of soy to cancer; however, nobody has really proven the correlation as of yet. Your best bet is to buy organic to avoid the pesticides, GMO’s, and highly processed nature.
Nutrients: If you’re in the market for protein, soy is your go to. It is rich in dietary versions such as amino acids, as well as other health boosters, isoflavones (a class of organic compound) and fiber. Soy contains only 1/6 the amount of calcium found in dairy milk, and if you are allergic to soy or legumes, you cannot drink soy.
Flavor & Uses: Soy milk is very rich and creamy. It is a great coffee creamer, and can be used to make dairy-free ice cream or yogurt. Because of its high protein levels, soy is also ideal for post workout smoothies.
Local Availability: If you live in the United States, hemp milk will not be local to you. The plant is outlawed in the country, and most hemp seeds are shipped to us from Canada. The production of the milk may happen here, but the growing never does.
Level of Wholeness: A lot of hemp milks, as with almond milk, are made with thickeners. Keep an eye out and try to pick organic brands.
Nutrients: First off, hemp seeds are considered a superfood, so they are jam-packed with goodness. Hemp milk is ideal for anyone with a nut, soy, or dairy allergy. It contains none of them and is still very high in protein. It is also rich in omega 3 & 6 fatty acids, is low in sugar, and contains zero cholesterol. Calcium-wise, hemp is your best alternative to dairy with roughly 400 milligrams per a cup.
Flavor & Uses: The flavor to hemp milk is very subtle, but slightly nutty. It goes well with cereal, smoothies, baked goods, and is great if you want a glass to drink. I hear you can also make hemp milk at home, although I’ve never tried it myself.
Local Availability: Coconuts only grow in tropical environments. Unless you live in one of those places, you will not be able to find local coconut milk.
Level of Wholeness: Coconut milk will often contain additives, so please, go organic.
Nutrients: Coconut milk, like hemp, is great for anyone with nut, soy, or dairy allergies. It is low in cholesterol, carbs, and sodium while providing a nice dose of mood-enhancing B12. It does not have a high amount of protein, so if you’re trying to recoup after a workout, go with another option. Coconut milk is also high in saturated fat, although it is thought to contain an unusual kind that is rich in lauric acid and actually reduces cholesterol.
Flavor & Uses: Since coconut milk is ultra-creamy and high in fat, it is well used to make dairy-free ice cream and tastes great in curry or creamed soup.
Local Availability: This is the one milk that everyone can find local. Cows are everywhere.
Level of Wholeness: The less fat a milk is, the more processed it is and the more sugar that is added to it. I, personally, would rather consume fat over too much sugar, so I go for raw grass-fed milk that I can get at my local urban farm. It is the least processed, but there are health concerns for children, elderly, pregnant, or immune deficient people. Do not drink raw milk if you fall into one of these categories.
Nutrients: Dairy milk is, obviously, very high in calcium as well as protein and vitamins A and D. Certain research suggests that consuming milk in its most pure, raw, organic state, from grass-fed cows, can potentially promote heart health, control diabetes, help vitamin absorption, and even aid in weight loss.
Flavor & Uses: If you’ve never tried raw grass-fed milk, you should. It’s the richest, it’s slightly sweet, and it’s the most delicious. It works best for making cheese, cream sauces, and baking. I would not drink it by the glassful or pour it into a smoothie simply because of its high fat and calorie content. Use it sparingly.
Check out Naomi’s blog Numie Abbot.