By Matthew Kadey, Experience Life
Whether you are allergic to milk, lactose intolerant, vegan, or simply in search of a nondairy option, you’re in luck. Alternatives to cow’s milk have never been more numerous, or more popular. Last year, U.S. retail sales of plant-based nondairy beverages, such as soy, almond, rice, coconut and hemp milk, reached a whopping $1.3 billion, and in less than five years, annual sales are expected to top $1.7 billion.
The growing popularity of milk alternatives comes directly at the expense of cow’s milk consumption, which declined to a decade low of 20.6 gallons per person in 2009. Americans are opting for milk alternatives because of their perceived nutritional benefits, but those benefits come with some caveats, says Kathie Madonna Swift, MS, RD, an integrative nutritionist and coauthor of The Inside Tract: Your Good Gut Guide to Great Digestive Health (Rodale, 2011).
Many nondairy drinks are fortified to resemble conventional milk’s nutritional profile, but Swift notes that the bioavailability of these nutrients, such as calcium, is highly dependent on many factors, including an individual’s digestive function and integrity. And many of these beverages contain added sugars and oils as well as additives such as guar gum and carrageenan.
Swift also points out that milk alternatives are not replacements for whole foods. “I prefer that the mainstay of one’s diet be true whole foods with only 10 to 20 percent made up of more processed items, such as nondairy alternatives,” she says. “After all, almond milk is not a whole food like actual almonds, nor is rice milk a whole food like brown rice.”
Still, each of these beverages offers some benefits, ranging from high levels of protein and essential vitamins to healthy fats and antioxidants. And for millions of people whose digestive systems can’t tolerate cow’s milk, they can be a lifesaver. Read on to learn which of these milk alternatives might be right for you.
Read more: Basics, Conscious Consumer, Diet & Nutrition, Drinks, Eating for Health, Food, Health, Vegan, Vegetarian, almond milk, coconut milk, cow milk, dairy, dairy alternatives, dairy-free, goat milk, hemp milk, lactose intolerance, milk, milk allergy, milk alternative, milk alternatives, nondairy milk, nut milk, raw milk, rice milk, slideshow, soy milk, Whole Foods
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