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The New Milky Way: 5 Non-Dairy Milks You Should Drink

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We know that milk does a body good: It builds bone, aids weight loss, and helps you recover from a tough workout. Turns out, nondairy alternatives are worth sipping, too. These drinks, which aren't just for people who are lactose intolerant or vegan, are a great way to up your consumption of good-for-you plant foods, says Andrea Giancoli, RD, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Here, get the skinny on five popular plant-based milks. Whichever you try, make sure it's unsweetened and fortified with calcium (look for one with at least 20 percent of your daily recommended intake, or 200 milligrams per one-cup serving) and vitamin D.

Gulp It Down

Coconut

45 calories, 5g fat (4g saturated), 1g fiber, 1g sugar, 0g protein

Unsweetened coconut milk has more saturated fat than other plant-based milks, but it consists largely of lauric acid, a type of saturated fat that seems to be innocuous. "Lauric acid doesn't appear to have any negative impact on arteries or to increase heart-disease risk," says David L. Katz, MD, the director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center. Good news, especially when you consider that coconut milk's velvety texture seems downright indulgent.

Substitute it for cream, which has more than 10 times the fat, in potato-leek and butternut squash soups. "It's an equal replacement, but because coconut milk is thinner, you may want to add flour or cornstarch as a thickening agent," says Julieanna Hever, RD, the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition. Or try this next time you make brown rice: Use one part coconut milk to three parts vegetable broth or water; stir in pineapple chunks, chopped macadamia nuts, and red pepper flakes. At the supermarket, go for coconut milk in a carton (which is made by grinding and pressing the flesh of the coconut, then diluting it with water) rather than canned coconut milk (made the same way but not diluted, so it has more calories and fat).

Soy

80 calories, 4g fat (0.5g saturated), 1g fiber, 1g sugar, 7g protein

Soy milk, made by soaking and then grinding soybeans, is the most popular dairy alternative on the market; we love that it packs serious protein. "Soy has more protein per calorie than any other food in the plant kingdom," says Christopher Gardner, PhD, the director of nutrition studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center. With seven grams in a cup (cow's milk has eight), soy milk is an ideal replacement for dairy when you want to build muscle.

Soy has a neutral flavor and a full-bodied consistency that can help slim down high-cal dishes like mashed potatoes. Boil and drain spuds, swap soy beverage for cream (to prevent curdling, take the pot off the burner first) and add garlic, chives, or rosemary for a savory kick. Craving something sweet? Soy milk works even better than fat-free milk in instant pudding (follow the directions on the box, substituting the same amount of soy for the dairy milk). "Skim milk is notorious for thinning out pudding, but the high-quality protein in soy solidifies better for a thicker, more decadent dessert," says Cynthia Sass, RD, the author of S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.

Almond

30 calories, 3g fat (0g saturated), 1g fiber, 0g sugar, 1g protein

If you're watching your waistline, unsweetened almond milk -- with about one-third the calories of skim -- is a smart bet. It's good for your complexion too: One serving packs 50 percent of your recommended daily intake of vitamin E, an antioxidant that protects your skin from sun damage caused by the effects of free radicals.

The mild, nutty taste works well as a base in smoothies (add some almond butter as well to pump up protein). Or make a creamy avocado dressing, suggests Denise Jardine, the author of The Dairy-Free & Gluten-Free Kitchen. Blend 1 ripe avocado with 1/2 cup almond milk, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 tablespoon miso, dill, black pepper, and some chopped green onion on high speed for about one minute; refrigerate for at least two hours.

Next:  More Milk, Please

 

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