by Geri Walton ~ February 1st, 2009
Almond milk, soy milk, and rice milk are used for a variety of reasons. For instance, some people don’t like the taste of cow’s milk. Other people may be lactose intolerant, or sometimes people are vegetarian or vegan and don’t want to consume animal products. Health conscious consumers may also believe almond, rice, or soy milks are healthier than cow’s milk. So, if you’re wanting to choose the best milk for you, here’s how the differences in these alternative milks.
Almonds may be one of the healthiest nuts you can eat. In fact, they are often noted for their heart-healthy benefits because about 70 percent of almonds is monounsaturated fat. They’re also a good source of protein and fiber. Even the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) thinks they are healthy because in July 2003 they approved the following statement to be used by nut manufactuers: “Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts [such as name of specific nut] as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.”
Almonds are known to be rich in minerals and vitamins. Almond milk has also been popular since medieval times because it lasts much longer than cow’s milk. Most almond milk drinkers would also agree almond milk is tasty. Other advantages to almond milk include it’s lack of cholesterol and the fact it doesn’t cause lactose problems. It’s also extremely popular with vegetarians and vegans because it’s not an animal product, and it can be used as a substitute in recipes requiring cow’s milk.
On the downside, the amount of almonds in almond milk is considered small, and, in addition, almond milk usually has added flavoring, sweeteners, and additives that although may make it tastier also makes it less nutritious. Nuts are also a highly allergenic food and some people may unable to consume almond milk for that reason. Additionally, the fiber is usually removed from almond milk, and, because it’s processed, some nutritionists maintain it doesn’t fit the definition of a wholesome, natural food.
If you’re intersted in almond milk, it may be better to make your own rather than buy it, and if you decided you want to do so, here’s a quick recipe: Add 1 cup almonds to 3 cups spring water and blend in your blender. You can drink it as it is (with the pulp) or you can strain the pulp through a fine sieve. If you want to sweeten the milk, you can stir in a little honey or agave nectar. You can also return the almond milk to the blender and blend in four to five Medjool dates.
In case you haven’t heard there seems to be controversy around soy products and soy milk. While the FDA and the American Heart Association (AHA) tout soy’s benefits, some doctors, scientists, nutritionists, and others are against it. For instance, John R. Lee, M.D., asserts “that women who are eating soy with every meal, or even every day, may be damaging their health.” Moreover, renowned food critic, Beatrice Trum Hunter, who is also an author of numerous books including the classic The Natural Foods Cookbook, claims soy contains “anti-nutrients” and that these anti-nutrients may harm you because they prevent the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals, which in turn results in vitamin and mineral deficienices and leads to illness.
Another critic who believes soy has anti-nutrients is Kaayla Daniel, PhD, author of The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America’s Favorite Health Food. In an interview with Muscle with Attitude, Daniel claims extra soy was left over from soy oil extraction and so farmers began feeding it to farm animals but you can only feed so much to animals before they develop “serious reproductive and other health problems.” She maintains that to get rid of the extra soy a “top-gun” marketer developed the bright idea to market it as a “health food” and it took off from there. Daniel also alleges that soy may not even be safe for human consumption and that instead of being healthy, it is actually a highly processed food filled with sugar.
Rice milk is made from processed short-grain brown rice and may be one of the best non-allergic milks as more people tend to be more allergic to soy or almond milks. You can find rice milk in many flavors at the grocery, such as almond, vanilla, or chocolate. You can also buy an unflavored form that is often used in recipes as a replacement for traditional cow’s milk.
Although this carbohydrate-rich drink is also often fortified with calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin D, it is usually sweetened with some sort of “rice syrup, evaporated cane juice, or…other natural sweetener.” Whereas cow’s milk is protein-rich, rice milk has no protein, and, when compared against cow’s milk for it’s natural fat content, there is little fat in rice milk, and, therefore, it’s a unsuitable choice for young children as a replacement for cow’s milk. Additionally, to make rice milk more appetizing and to thicken it, manufacturers also often add a natural thickener, such as tapicoa or carrageenan, which according to Russell L. Blaylock, M.D., in his book Health and Nutrition Secrets is linked to “colon cancer…[and may] worsen inflammatory bowel conditions such as ulcerative colitis.”
One critic, Dr. Ben Kim, claims that “many brands of soy and rice milk [also] contain polyunsaturated vegetable oils which can contribute to an imbalance of essential fatty acids in your body. He claims that although that may seem harmless, in reality it can contribute to a “chronic imbalance of essential fatty acids, [which] is a major cause of cardiovascular disease.” Additionally, Kim believes the added sweeteners often found in alternative milks results in “significant stress on your pancreas and liver.” He maintains that such stress can “raise insulin levels, which significantly increases your risk of suffering from unhealthy weight gain, high blood pressure, heart disease, premature aging, and several other negative side effects.”
Although almond milk, soy milk, and rice milk may offer benefits to lactose intolerant people, it seems as if these “healthy” foods may not be so healthy after all. Overall, it seems as if each of these alternative milks has a problem: Soy is controversial, rice milk is primarily carbohydrates, and, although almond milk may be the healthiest, if it has added flavoring and sugar, so you are probably better off eating a handful of nuts instead. When purchasing one of these alternative milks, you need to the read the label and see what flavorings, sweeteners, and additives have been included in it. In some cases making your own milk at home may be the solution, so, if you’re interested, besides the almond milk recipe above, here’s a recipe for rice milk and one for soy milk. If you’re interested in learning more about cow’s milk, read Raw Milk Versus Pasteurized Milk.