How to choose the right plant-based milk for you

how to choose plant-based milk

Whether you avoid milk because of an allergy, lead a vegan lifestyle, are concerned about the environment or you prefer the taste, more people are opting for swapping to plant-based milk alternatives.

Today we are spoiled for choice when it comes to plant-based milk, with increasing varieties showing up on our supermarket shelves and on our coffee shop menus. Options include oat, soya, cashew, almond, coconut, rice and more.

But all that choice can be overwhelming. We have looked in to how plant-based milks are made, and asked one of our members to describe how he uses different milks, to help you find a perfect match. 

One of our LiberEat members, Sean, shares what he found when looking for milk substitutes and swaps. Sean works in one of the big 4 accounting firms and leads a busy jet-setting life. Two years ago, a stomach infection left him sensitive to milk products.

 

“When I found out I couldn’t have dairy I thought I would have to give up lots of my favourite lattes and smoothies, but now there are lots of alternatives. I have tried all of the milk swaps I’ve found in the supermarkets now.”

OAT

Oat milks are made from the liquid leftover when oats are soaked in water. Oat milks are also good for the environment as oats only require a sixth of the water that almonds require to grow. Oat milk is also cheap and easy to make at home.

“I found oat milk to be the tastiest and most similar to the creamy taste and texture I missed most since avoiding cows milk products in my diet. It made excellent coffees at home and even out and about. It is my first choice of milk when buying a barista prepared drink. I found oat milk also to be the best for using in breakfast smoothies where I would combine fresh berries, a banana, fresh Greek yoghurt, granola and finish it off with some oat milk – delicious!

However, when having friends over it didn’t suit everyone. My best friend has coeliac disease and so couldn’t have the oat milks available in our local supermarket. This meant I had to serve her a black tea or go out and buy another substitute. Some brands are gluten free, so if I could find one of at my local supermarket then I would consider using it again, and not bother keeping backups.”

Pros of Oat Milk

  • Often fortified with calcium and has 10% of daily required intake of iron.
  • It’s low in fat compared with whole milk
  • Good for the environment
  • Closest taste to cow’s milk and not likely to curdle in hot drinks

Cons of Oat Milk

  • Maybe processed in same facilities as gluten, so important to find a gluten free brand for coeliacs
  • High in sugars compared with other milk alternatives

SOYA

Soy or Soya milk (same thing) is made with either soybeans or soy protein, and often contains thickeners and vegetable oils to improve its taste and consistency. Soya milk is naturally free of cholesterol and low in saturated fat. It also contains no lactose. Soybeans and soy milk are a good source of protein, calcium (when fortified), and potassium.

In their natural state, soybeans taste quite bitter, so the milk is heavily processed to mask the flavour. This is also why sweetened versions tend to be the most palatable.

“Soya is the most readily available and usually the cheapest plant-based milk in every supermarket. If shopping at discount retailers, you can pick up a carton of soya for well under a pound. It also one of the most versatile – with the sweetened milk being great in cereal and hot drinks and the unsweetened suitable for use in cooking. I find soya milk lacks any real strong flavour so this makes it great for using in savoury meals, I have made a mean macaroni cheese using soya for the base of my sauce.”

Pros of Soya Milk

  • It’s a good source of potassium and can be fortified with vitamins A, B-12, and D, as well as calcium.
  • It contains as much protein as cow’s milk, yet is lower in calories than whole milk and about equal to the calories in skimmed milk
  • It contains very little saturated fat.

Cons of Soya Milk

  • Soya is a common allergen for both adults and children.

COCONUT

Coconut milk is one of the more expensive plant-based milk alternatives. It is made from white coconut flesh, grated and soaked in hot water so that the coconut cream can rise to the top and be skimmed off. The remaining liquid is squeezed to extract the coconut milk, which is basically a more diluted and lower fat version of the coconut milk you can buy in cans and use in cooking.

It contains the most fat of all the milk alternatives, double the amount in whole fat milk. However, coconuts are high in a wide range of vitamins and minerals including C, E, B, iron, selenium and magnesium.

“Coconut milk had a slight coconut flavour, so to enjoy this you really need to like the taste of coconut. This is one of the more recent milks I have tried and as much as I like the taste, I do not use it as an everyday substitute. It’s taste makes it much less versatile for use in cooking for dishes which don’t require the flavour of coconut. I also found it to be one of the worst for use in hot tea and coffees at home. However – I have since discovered an iced coconut milk frappuccino and my life has not been the same since!”

Pros of Coconut Milk

  • Coconut milk is safe for most people with nut allergies. 
  • It can be fortified to be a good source of calcium, iron, selenium, potassium, magnesium, vitamins C, E, and B

Cons of Coconut Milk

  • It’s not a good source of protein.
  • It’s high in fat compared to other milk alternatives
  • It may contain carrageenan, which may cause digestive issues in some people.

ALMOND

Almond milk is one of the most popular milk alternatives. It’s made with either whole almonds or almond butter and water, and has a light texture and slightly sweet, nutty flavour. It may also contain starches and thickeners to improve its consistency and shelf life. Almond milk is typically lower in calories than other milks, as long as it’s unsweetened. It’s also free of saturated fat and is naturally lactose-free.

Even though almonds are a good source of protein, almond milk is not. Almond milk is also not a good source of calcium. However, many brands of almond milk are supplemented with calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin D.

“Second to soya, almond is the second most readily available plant-based milk substitute in everyday supermarkets. Due to it’s sweet taste, almond milk can be pleasant to consume cold in smoothies, in cereal and some even have it in teas and coffees too. There are also vanilla flavoured versions, which go well with coffee. It also works as a milk substitute in baking recipes. I have found almond milk isn’t great when heated up – something I found out after making what had to be the world’s worst hot chocolate! However, given its low price and how easy it is to get, I still reach for it from time to time.”

Pros of Almond Milk

  • It’s low in calories. 
  • It’s typically fortified to be a good source of calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin D. 
  • It’s vegan and naturally lactose-free.

Cons of Almond Milk

  • It’s not a good source of protein.
  • It may contain carrageenan, which may cause digestive issues in some people.
  • There are some environmental concerns about the amount of water used to cultivate almonds.

RICE

Rice milk is made from milled rice and water. As with other alternative milks, it frequently contains additives to improve consistency and shelf stability. Out of all the milk products, rice milk is the least likely to cause allergies and is often found in free-from products. This makes it a good choice for those with allergies to milk, soya or nuts.

While rice milk can be fortified with calcium and vitamin D, it’s not a natural source of either and is low in protein, just like soy and almond milk

“Compared to the other milks, rice milk is a bit sweeter making it good for tea and smoothies, but might be too sweet for some. It is less creamy than oat milk which some people might prefer. It’s not one I have tried much as it is not easily found at my local supermarket yet.”

Pros of Rice Milk

  • It’s the least allergenic of milk alternatives.
  • It can be fortified to be a good source of calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin D.
  • Rice milk is naturally sweeter than other milk alternatives.

Cons of Rice Milk

  • It’s high in carbohydrates, so it’s the least desirable choice for people with diabetes.
  • It’s not a good source of protein.

HEMP, CASHEW, QUINOA, PEA

“I haven’t tried these other milks because they are not available in my area. Sometimes in cafes it might be an option, but the supermarkets near me just aren’t retailing them. Maybe one day I will be able to try them at home but for now I will stick with soya”

 

What is your favourite plant-based milk? Let us know in the comments below.

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