As increasing numbers of people are turning to alternative milks and butters, Susan Lattin asks Kirsten: “I am confused about soya milk and whether nut milks are a better option? I’m in my fifties.”
Not everyone wants to drink cow’s milk. There are a number of reasons you might choose to avoid it, including the fact you may be intolerant to lactose, or to a milk protein called casein. Perhaps it’s an ethical choice, for environmental or compassionate reasons.
Fortunately, there are plant-based alternatives you can buy instead – or actually make! – but which ones are best?
The choice used to be so easy: cow’s milk or soya milk.
Then there was a flurry of controversy around soya milk, due to compounds in soya called isoflavones. Can soya affect your thyroid? Will drinking soya milk increase your risk of breast cancer, or worsen your menstrual or menopause symptoms? Or can soya isoflavones actually help prevent such problems?
I have followed the research on these questions for years, and there are conflicting conclusions. So it may be an idea to at least vary your plant-based milks.
NUT, RICE, OAT, AND HEMP MILKS
There are many other plant-based milks available to buy these days, and they don’t contain the isoflavones that have made people wary of soya.
What’s the difference?
Nut milk – nutrients
Nut milk (almond, hazelnut, cashew etc.) contains more vitamin E than other plant milks, an antioxidant good for your heart, skin and fertility.
Using nut milk
Nut milk is great in smoothies, soups and most recipes.
Nut milk in tea and coffee
Nut milks have a tendency to curdle in tea and coffee, unless they contain added stabilisers. They add a nutty, slightly sweet flavour that some really like, especially in coffee.
Oat milk – nutrients
The beta glucans in oat milk naturally boost your immune system.
Using oat milk
Oat milk is quite light so you may wish to add a little coconut cream, nut butter or brown rice flour to thicken. It’s great for breakfasts, such as pancakes and smoothies, and is perfect for porridge.
Oat milk in tea and coffee
Oat milk is usually too thin for hot drinks, it seems to disappear.
Rice milk – nutrients
Rice milk is much sweeter than other milks, with 10 times the natural sugars of soya milk, and less protein.
Using rice milk
Rice milk works really well in baking, especially cakes and pancakes. As with oat milk, you may need to add some extra thickening ingredients.
Rice milk in tea and coffee
You need a lot more rice milk than dairy or soya milk, but it works well and doesn’t seem to curdle, depending on the brand. Great if you usually take sugar!
Hemp milk – nutrients
Hemp is naturally a better source of calcium, although many plant milks have added calcium and other nutrients. You need calcium not just for your bones and teeth, but also your nervous system, your muscles (including your heart) and more.
Using hemp milk
Hemp milk doesn’t have the natural sweetness of nut, rice and oat milks, so is better in savoury recipes. Use in soups, creamy sauces and vegetable smoothies.
Hemp milk in tea and coffee
When unsweetened, hemp milk has a distinctive taste and smell that some like, but I’m not keen on it. It’s also quite thin.
All plant-based milks can be tricky in tea and coffee. Some brands use stabilisers and thickeners to help, and some seem to manage without additives – so it’s really a case of trial and error. Another tip is to warm the milk before you add it.
Nut milk recipe
1. Soak 100g nuts overnight in water. Rinse and drain.
2. Blend with 300-500ml water, depending on how thick you want it, and strain.
3. Get stuck in
Sussex-based Kirsten Chick has been talking nutrition for over a decade in workshops, on courses and retreats, and to the hundreds of people who come for one-to-one consultations. And then there are those she meets socially who open with, “Oh, you’re a nutritionist? Can I just ask what you think about…?” So here’s your chance to ask… email email@example.com with ASK KIRSTEN in the subject line and she’ll pick someone each month to respond to.