More than ever, supermarket shelves are brimming with dairy-free alternatives. So are they a healthier option than cow’s milk? And which should you choose? Our dietitian Melissa Meier helps you decide what will work for you.
 
If you’re vegan, dairy intolerant or just don’t like the taste of cow’s milk then nut milks offer a great alternative. But before you choose, it’s worth noting how they are made: essentially nut milks are a solution created by soaking nuts, then crushing them, then squeezing out the ‘juice’. The result is blended with water and, voila, you have ‘milk’.  
 
On the plus side they are free of lactose, cholesterol and are low in saturated fat. If you’re opting for these over cow’s milk because you want to avoid the kilojoules in dairy, it’s worth noting that some nut milk brands have added sweeteners, vegetable oil and salt to boost their flavour, so it pays to look at the ingredients list and check.
 
How nutritious are they? Well, compared with dairy, which contains bone-strengthening calcium and muscle-building protein, nut milk sometimes contains as little as five nuts per glass. Fortunately some brands are now fortified with both calcium and protein so you get the nutrition you need. 
 
The variation in brands is wide, so it pays to compare the nutrition panel on the packs to make the healthiest choice for you. Also, if you know the calcium and protein content in your favourite milk isn’t as high as cow’s milk, you can make sure that you add other things to your diet that will help you get the nutrients you need. Here we’ve highlighted varieties that are among your best choices.
 
SOY
 
Soy milk has a protein and kilojoule profile that is most like cow’s milk, which is why it’s long been a popular choice for non-dairy drinkers. Just be sure to choose a variety that is also fortified with calcium. For vegetarians and vegans its high protein content makes it a good choice. Plus, soy milk has a low glycaemic index (GI), so it’s good for lasting energy and you’ll stay fuller 
for longer. 
 
OAT
 
Oat milk can be a source of fibre, which is good for heart health, but it has less protein and roughly double the amount of carbohydrate of regular cow’s milk, so you should be cautious if you have diabetes. Oat milk is also naturally low in calcium, so choose one that is fortified.          
 
RICE
 
Another higher carb option, rice milks are usually made from brown rice and are again naturally lower in protein and calcium. They also have a high glycaemic index, 
so you won’t stay full for very long.
 
ALMOND
 
You’ve seen it popping up in magazines, cafes and even on the television – almond milk is really one of the latest nutrition fads. Unfortunately, almond milk provides little nutrition and may even come sweetened with sugar. If you choose to use almond 
milk, opt for an unsweetened variety.                          
 
COCONUT
 
The coconut trend is well and truly here to stay, but just because it’s in vogue, doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. Coconut products are naturally high in saturated fat, so it’s best to avoid consuming them regularly. Save coconut milk (along with coconut yoghurt and coconut oil) for a treat.                        
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