• Louise Atkinson

Soya milk or Almond milk - which is best?

Sales of non-dairy milks have more than doubled worldwide in the last seven years, but are they healthy?

For the 20 per cent of the population who are actually intolerant to the lactose in dairy products, the answer is yes, but many people don’t realise their milk substitute – whether it’s hemp or almond milk – could be loaded with sugar, preservatives or other additives to make it taste and look like milk.

So if you’re off dairy, which alternative should you choose?

Nutritionist Emily Maguire recommends picking products which have been fortified with calcium, to replace the calcium in cow’s milk. ‘Some milks can contain more sugar than they do soya beans or almonds’, she warns, so check the ingredients list and go for unsweetened options, too. Organic versions may contain fewer additives and stabilisers..


Here she gives her verdict on the most popular milk alternatives:


Soya

Cost: from 85p per litre (long life)

Fat content: 1.8g per 100ml

Thicker than cow’s milk with a naturally sweet taste that works well in tea and coffee. ‘Although soya milk is a good source of protein (close to that of cow’s milk), soya beans contain plant hormones called phyto-oestrogens and it is not yet known whether they are beneficial or harmful to the health,’ says Emily. Most milks contain around 6% soya bean – the rest is water.

Verdict: 6/10 – ‘A universally available milk alternative which is tasty in coffee and tea but the jury is out on taking too many plant oestrogens’


Nut

Cost: £1.70 per litre

Fat content: 1.1g per 100ml

Almond, cashew and hazelnut milks have a similar texture to cow’s milk but are slightly beige in colour, and are not so sweet to taste. Many brands contain about 2% nuts – the rest is water.

Emily says: ‘Nut milks are a good source of vitamin E (an antioxidant which helps protect the cells from damage), lower in calories than cow’s milk (13 cals per 100ml compared to 50 cals for semi skimmed milk), but they tend to be lower in protein (0.4g per 100ml compared to 3.4g).’

‘As almonds contain calcium, almond milk gives you nearly 50% of your daily needs in one cup.’

Verdict: 8/10 ‘A nutritious alternative to cow’s milk which you can easily make from soaked nuts at home – but watch out for the high water/low nut content in some brands.’


Lactose Free

Cost: £1.35 per litre

Fat content: 1.5g of fat per 100ml

Cow’s milk which has been treated to remove most of the lactose. ‘The enzyme lactase has been added so people with lactose intolerance can more easily digest it,’ says Emily.

Verdict: 9/10 ‘Tastes the same as cow’s milk (and behaves the same in drinks and cooking)- a great option if you’re lactose intolerant.’


Coconut

Cost: £1.70 per litre

Fat content: 0.9g – 2.1g per 100ml (depending on brand)

‘Lower in calories than cow’s milk (20 cals per 100ml) if you look out for lower fat versions,’ says Emily. Usually made form a blend of coconut butter/cream (2-9% depending on brand) with rice with water.

Verdict: 7/10 ‘Creamier than other milk alternatives but the strong coconut taste can be overpowering.’


Rice

Cost: £2 per litre

Fat content: 1g – 1.3g per 100ml (depending on brand)

‘This is a good option for people with multiple allergies (such as dairy, nuts and soya) and although rice milk is thinner than cow’s milk it is usually sweeter than nut milk. It doesn’t work well in cooking and has a naturally higher carbohydrate level (11g per 100ml) and calories (60 cals), but is lower in protein (0.1g per 100ml).’ Contains 14%-17% rice (depending on brand) with a little sunflower oil and water.

Verdict: 6/10 ‘An option if you have multiple allergies but it’s lower in protein than cow’s milk.’


Hemp

Cost: £1.50 per litre

Fat content: 2.8g per 100ml

‘Made from hemp seeds which are rich in omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids which are useful many aspects of mental and physical health.’ It can have a grainy texture and may separate when poured into hot drinks. May contain 3% hemp extract, sweetened with grape juice extract – the rest is water.

Verdict: 8/10 ‘A great alternative if you have multiple allergies with the additional benefit of omega-3 fatty acids.’


Oat

Cost: £2 per litre

Fat content: 3g per 100ml

‘Another good option for people with multiple allergies plus a source of antioxidant vitamin E. However, it has a thinner consistency than other milks, and may be higher in sugars (4.1g per 100ml compared to 0.1g for soya). Some brands may contain gluten, so avoid if you are coeliac or intolerant.’ Contains 10% oats.

Verdict: 6/10 ‘May not be suitable if you have gluten intolerance, and watch out for the higher sugar content.’


Goat

Cost: £1.60 per litre

Fat content: 0.1g - 3.6g per 100ml (skimmed or whole milk)

‘The different proteins and smaller fat particles in the milk make it easier for many people to digest and less likely to trigger allergic or intolerance reactions. It contains less lactose than cows milk, and goats are able to convert the carotene in their diet into vitamin A, making the milk more creamy, though it can taste slightly cheesey,’ says Emily.

Verdict: 9/10 ‘A good option – rich in vitamins and minerals such as calcium, as well as prebiotics to boost gut health – but it can be an acquired taste.’


A2 milk

Cost £1.39 for per litre

Fat content: 1.8g per 100ml

If dairy milk triggers gut problems you could be intolerant to a protein called A1 found in most cow’s milk, however, some British dairy herds have now been selected to produce milk containing the much less reactive A2 protein which is less reactive. ‘This tastes exactly the same as ordinary cow’s milk and shares the same nutritional profile, as well as being less expensive than many non-dairy milks,’ says Emily.

Verdict: 8/10 ‘A nutritious option worth trying if you suspect you might be lactose intolerant or allergic to cow’s milk.’

* This is a version of a feature written by Louise Atkinson for the Daily Mail

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