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The Healthiest Milk for Your Coffee, According to Registered Dieticians

Last summer, a Tiktok video about coffee went viral: Good morning, everybody, the speaker began. Did you know, if you replace your morning cup of coffee with a nice hot cup of green tea, that you can lose up to 87 percent of the f*cking little joy you have left in this life?I think of this every time Im about to order a cappuccino not with traditional cows milk, but with almond milk, which I perceive as the greener, healthier option. Its void of natural sugar and saturated fatand also creaminess and froth, a.k.a. the principles of a cappuccino. As I stand at the counter, the barrister waiting for me to make a decision, I consider my options: a coffee thats arguably better for me and the environment, or one that can provide a little more joy. Do I really have to choose?Absolutely not, says Vineet Sidhu, a registered dietitian and neuroscientist at Fortify in Winnipeg. There are some plant-based milks that are rich in nutrients, low in sugar and saturated fat, boast a creamy texture and have the ability to frothyou just have to choose the right one.But, that proves to be a challengethere are many options available (almond, hemp, coconut, oat, soy, potato), and they all have caveats. Whats good for one person may not be good for another; likewise, what makes a good addition to a black coffee may not make a good ingredient for a cappuccino.Here, three registered dieticians share their thoughts and expertise to help you choose the right milk for you.

First, the deal with cows milk

Studies show fewer people have been drinking cow’s milk over the past few yearsand the number of alt milks on offer at your local coffee shop supports that. According to Sidhu, this is due to a number of reasons, including health concerns (such as lactose intolerance, allergies or heart health problems, in which people want to avoid dairy and/or reduce their intake of saturated fats), morally-derived reasons (like veganism or environmental concerns) and cultural traditions (part of a community where cows milk isnt consumed).Others are turned off of cows milk simply because its high in fat, but that doesnt mean its an unhealthy pick. Cow’s milk is a great source of protein and calcium, says Vandana Gujadhur, a Toronto-based registered dietician. A reminder: Protein helps you stay fuller longer and calcium is essential for bone health.But you can get vitamins and minerals from alternative milks, too. Aside from their natural health benefits, many of them are fortified with certain nutrients to match the nutrient profile of cow’s milk, says Gujadhur.

Almond milk

Almond milk is low in fat, carbohydrates, protein and calories. If someone is trying to keep their calorie count down, then almond milk is a good choice, says Gujadhur.But almond milk is also low in nutrients. Its basically just flavoured water, says Nanci Guest, a registered dietician in Collingwood, Ontario. You’re not really getting any nutritional value out of almond milk, because there could be just one or two almonds in a cup.Even so, some baristas have found a way to get a thick froth with almond milk. The secret: Youll need freshly made almond milk that contains more than just two almonds.

Oat milk

Another popular plant-based milk is oat milk, which has more fibre than most other non-dairy alternatives, says Gujadhur. It has a naturally sweet taste that makes it a good choice for cereal and smoothies. Its also creamy, rich in flavour and can froth. Whats more, its typically fortified with micronutrients like calcium, vitamin D, and B vitamins, so it has health benefits, too.In my own experience, oat milk often tends to be the milk alternative people use when they want to move away from dairy, as it offers a comparable flavour and texture, says Sidhu.But oat milk isnt the best choice for everyone. Sidhu says she wouldnt suggest it for people with diabetes, in particular, because its high in sugar and carbohydrates. That might raise more glucose in an individual than almond or soy milk might, she says. Oat milk contains gluten, too, so its not a good option for people with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease.

Soy milk

Soy milk was the first commercially available plant-based milk in North America, and it continues to be the most popularand for good reason. Soy milk is among the few plant milks that is high in protein, comparable to that of cow’s milk, says Gujadhur.Soy milk contains isoflavones, which have estrogen-like effects, and there have been concerns about the impact it can have on the body. But research indicates that isoflavones can actually help to lower the risk of cancer.Since soy milk does contain estrogenic properties, Sidhu recommends it more for women who are going through menopause and are not producing as much estrogen, to help prevent osteoporosis.Coconut milkCoconut milk has a little bit more fat than other alt milks, and that means it can hold froth better, says Gujadhur.Not only is it high in fat, but, naturally, calories too, so its best for people who are trying to increase their energy intake, she says.Hemp milkHemp milk is a great source of polyunsaturated fats, which can help reduce bad cholesterol levels, thereby lowering the risk of heart disease and stroke. Whats more, Gujadhur says, it has a creamy texture, making it perfect for coffee and tea.The catch: It has an earthy taste and chalky texture, which may not appeal to everyone.

Are we missing any nutrients by not drinking cow’s milk?

Since cows milk provides adequate levels of protein and calcium, you should find a replacement source for that protein and calcium you may be missing out on, says Guest. For my clients who don’t want to eat breakfast, I tell them to get a large soy latte, because that gives them eight grams of proteinthats a decent source of protein, she says.Most plant-based milks are fortified with calcium, vitamin A, D, and B12, so its easy to replace any lost nutrition. But often organic plant milks are not fortified, says Guest.And that also goes for home-made plant milkit lacks essential nutrients found in cow’s milk since theres no fortification, says Gujadhur. But as long as your nutrient needs are met through the consumption of other foods during the day, theres no problem. If plant milk replaces cow’s milk in the diet without taking the rest of the day’s nutrient consumption into consideration, then fortified plant milk is better.

Who may want to consider switching from cows milk to a plant-based alternative?

The main reasons someone should consider moving away from dairy is cultural beliefs, allergies, intolerances and heart health conditions. Cows milk has more saturated fats (as does coconut milk) which should be avoided by those with heart conditions, says Sidhu.If you suspect dairy gives yous blemishes and are considering swapping cows milk for oat, check this out: A 2016 study found that high glycemic foods may exacerbate acne. If thats the case, cows milk is actually a better option than the highly glycemic oat milk.

What kind of environmental impact does milk have?

Dairy makes a significant impact because of the land use it requiresnot just to farm the cows, but also to grow the grain they need to eat. That means a lot of land is changed over from forest or other vegetation, says Guest. Then theres all the water and energy use, and emissions. The energy requirement for cows milk is about 10 times that of most plant milk, she says.After cows milk, almond milk has the second-largest environmental impact. It uses more water than other plant-based milksbut still significantly lower than whats used for cows milk.

What do the experts drink?

Gujadhur drinks cows milkspecifically, A2 milk. Its a homogenized milk that undergoes less processing such as pasteurization, homogenization and fortification compared to commercial plant milk. A2 milk is known for being easy to digest, and Gujadhur says it has a great flavour, too.Sidhu also opts for cows milk, but swaps it out for oat milk on occasion. I drink dairy when it’s important for me that the flavour is true to dairy milk, like with chai tea, she says, But on the other hand, I do love drinking cappuccinos, and I find that oat milk froths the best for that.Guest chooses soy, primarily because of the protein it offers. Soy is one of the few foods that can say it’s heart healthy on the label, she says. Also, the plant estrogens actually help lower the risk of breast cancer, and its better for climate and the environmentso it ticks off all the boxes.Now that you know about the best plant-based milks, find out how a trendy plant-based egg compares to the real thing.

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