Which nondairy milk is right for you?

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It was Christmas of 2011. My mother had bought several logs of Trader Joe’s goat cheese — my favorite — which I happily slathered onto thick slices of baguette. The cheese-to-bread ratio was probably along the lines of four-to-one (don’t judge). I was sprawled out on the couch in a lactose-induced haze after dinner when I was hit with a stomach ache. I imagined it wouldn’t feel too dissimilar to having Mount St. Helens continuously erupting in your stomach. It was then that I realized that I might be a tad lactose sensitive. No wonder I could never eat too much pizza or drink too much milk without being sent back to my bed to squirm in pain for what felt like the rest of eternity. I’ve often had to limit my dairy intake to escape the dreaded stomach pains. But that’s not always feasible if you’re planning on munching on some mac ‘n’ cheese or just need something to go with your cereal. That’s where nondairy milks come in. There are so many to choose from — though the task of finding the right one may be a bit daunting. Fear not, though. If you’ve had similar lactose issues, are a vegan or just don’t like cow’s milk, then this guide to nondairy milks should be perfect for you.

Soy milk

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This is the original nondairy milk. It is the best known and the most ubiquitous. Its popularity even led Newt Gringrich to coin the term “soy latte liberalism” as a term to sum up the “failures” of Democrats. Packed with protein and calcium, soy milk makes an excellent substitute for dairy milk in matching its nutritional content. Soy milk does have a love-it-or-hate it aftertaste. But this can be masked in a frothy latte or a spicy chai. This brings up another point. Soy is one of the creamier and thicker alternative milks of the bunch, which makes it great in coffee and tea. It’s less watery than other milks such as almond milk and rice milk.

Recommended brand: 365 Everyday Value Soy Milk (Whole Foods)

Almond milk

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This is the trendiest of the alternative milks by far — and with good reason. Even Bill Clinton is touting the powers of the wondrous almond milk in helping him transition to being vegan. The taste is mild but very well liked for its subtle nuttiness. Even some dairy drinkers will even admit to liking it more than cow’s milk. Gasp. Bonus: It is low in calories and is full of vitamin E and calcium.

Recommend brand: Califia Farms Almond Milk

Coconut milk

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This milk might be edging out almond milk as the new hip milk to consume. Because of its slight but noticeable coconut-y flavor and twinge of sweetness, people are buying more and more coconut milk. It is low in calories — similar to almond milk. But it comes at the cost of being low in protein and low in calcium.

Recommended Brand: Trader Joe’s Original Unsweetend Coconut Milk

Rice milk

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Rice milk is low in allergens, making it an excellent alternative to almond or soy milk. It does not come with much else, though. It is low in protein, vitamins and minerals but is high in calories, due to the natural sugars found in rice. It also has the thinnest consistency of the bunch. Overall, it is probably best to stay away from rice milk from a nutritional standpoint, but if you are just in it for the taste and have a sweet tooth, go for it.

Recommended brand: Rice Dream

Hemp milk

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You will not get high from this. Whether this adds or detracts from hemp milk’s desirability is dependent on you. Hemp may not have any high-inducing THC, but it does have an abundance of nutrients and minerals, such as omega-3 fatty acids and 10 essential amino acids, which are very important if you’re a vegan. Beware of the taste, though. It’s an acquired taste. If you are not feeling the taste, it will only be exacerbated by the thicker texture.

Recommended brand: Pacific Natural Foods Hemp Milk 

Oat milk

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This is for the rice milk lovers who want to be adventuresome. It has the same sweetness and thin consistency as rice milk, but it comes with more protein, fiber, iron, vitamin A and vitamin C. Still, realize that it also shares with rice milk a high sugar content and more calories than other milk alternatives.

Recommended brand: Pacific Natural Foods Oat Milk 

Quinoa milk

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Hold up. The current health food grain darling now can be made into milk? Well, yes, it can. It has been flying low on the radar of health foodies, but it’s just waiting to explode on the nondairy milk scene — well, if there is one. It has the nutty flavor of almond milk and the thin consistency of rice milk. It also is full of protein, vitamin D, vitamin E and calcium, but that comes at the cost of being high in sugar and high in calories. You may also have a harder time finding this particular milk in grocery stores, so you might have to make it yourself.

Recommended brand: Suzie’s Quinoa Milk

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Contact Nora Harhen at [email protected].