The spill on plant-based milk

There are numerous options for dairy alternatives, but which one is right for you? 

There are plenty of milk alternatives to choose from.
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Looking to lessen your environmental impact can be a daunting task—it’s hard to know what power you have to make a positive impact on the climate. 
 
One of the simplest things you can do is limit your consumption of animal products. You don’t have to go full vegan or even vegetarian to make a big difference, even refraining from eating meat 1 to 2 days a week can be a huge benefit to the global environment. 
 
Limiting dairy products is a simple way to approach this change. Producing a glass of dairy milk results in almost three times the greenhouse gas emissions of plant-based alternatives. Making a plant-based option instead of regular cow’s milk is an easy way to promote environmentalism.
 
With the popularity of plant-based diets exploding in the 2010s, alternatives to dairy milk have flooded grocery store shelves. With so many options, making the switch can be daunting. To combat some of that dietary anxiety, I’ve gathered all of the information you might want to know before venturing into the plant-based aisle. 
 
Nutrition
 
From a dietary standpoint, there is a huge range of nutritional values that different milks boast. When comparing plant-based options to cow’s milk, it’s difficult to find an option that matches up.
 
Soy milk comes out as a top contender, with the most similar nutrition to dairy milk. Although lower in every macronutrient than cow’s milk, soy milk is higher in fats and proteins than other plant-based milks. Soy is naturally high in estrogen, which can sway some people away from the protein. However, recent studies have confirmed that consuming soy multiple times a week is perfectly safe.  
 
Almond milk is arguably the most popular dairy alternative, but nutritionally weak in proteins and carbs. Almond milk maintains its appeal through its high percentage of calcium, an even greater amount than cow’s milk.
 
If you prefer a milk that’s heavy in carbs, rice milk is excellent at boosting carbohydrates, but also is fairly high in sugars and low in protein. 
 
Most plant-based milks will be found at the store in both sweetened and unsweetened versions, which will change their nutritional value. Micro and macro nutrients can also vary by brand, so if you’re looking for specific health benefits, it’s always a good idea to check the back of the box before you make your purchase. 
 
Environmental impact
 
Environmentally, some milks fare better than others. Although almond milk is popular, it has been slammed in recent years for the large quantity of water needed to produce it. 
 
Producing just one glass of almond milk requires 74 litres of water. While the nutty beverage is still more environmentally conscious than a glass of cow’s milk, there are other options that have much less of an environmental impact. 
 
Oat milk’s rise to fame in the past two years has coincided with the publicization of almond milk’s negative impact. Although oat milk produces slightly higher emissions than almond, it requires significantly less water and land use.
 
Soy milk usually comes out on top when ranking which milk boasts the lowest environmental impact. The alternative produces higher emissions than oat milk but makes up for it in more sustainable farming practices. Overall, the two are fairly comparable and both make for great environmentally conscious options. 
 
Taste
 
When it comes to pure taste, people have different opinions for what makes the best cold glass of milk or addition to your morning coffee. If you’re looking for the option that has the most similar taste to cow’s milk, there’s a long-standing debate with no clear answer. 
 
Rice milk has stuck around for decades, possibly due to its largely inoffensive taste. An unsweetened cup of rice milk doesn’t taste bad, but it’s hard to argue that it tastes good. The good news is that the neutral taste will do little to alter anything you throw it in, from coffee to cereal. The bad news is that the texture may be hard to get over, as rice milk’s watery consistency is a far cry from a cup of whole milk.
 
On the other end of the texture debate, cashew milk is famously creamy. With similar nutrition and taste, cashew is a great alternative if you like almond milk if are looking for something fuller. Cashew milk has a less nutty flavour than other nut milks, so it’s perfect if that’s a taste you’d prefer to avoid. 
 
Coconut milk isn’t going to let you forget where it came from—in order to enjoy a glass, it’s best that you’re already a lover of the tropical fruit. If you’re a fan of coconut flavour, this milk might be your perfect addition to your morning smoothie 
or coffee. 
 
In a short time, oat milk has become one of the most talked about dairy alternatives: even people who have had a hard time with anything other than dairy milk have advocated for making the switch. The milk has become so popular that it was introduced at Starbucks this August, rolled out alongside their famous Pumpkin Spice Lattes. If you’re not sure about making the switch from classic 2 per cent, ordering your favourite drink with oat milk might just change your mind. 
 

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