There are many types of milk alternatives such as hemp, rice and cashew. Today we are going to be discussing five of the most popular milk alternatives; soy, almond, oat, hazelnut and coconut.
Alternative 1 – Soy
Milk from soybeans is what most people think of when asked for alternatives as it was the first of its kind but now it has many competitors that we will talk about as well.
Sugar and fat content varies from brand to brand but the average for a cup is under 5 grams of fat and around a gram of sugar if there are no added sugars. It also boasts 7 grams of protein per cup and many brands add vitamins to further boost its benefits.
Soy milk is the most similar to cow’s milk in terms of nutrition. Studies have begun that suggest it reduces the risk of cancer and is possibly heart-protective (FDA 2017)
In terms of environmental impact, soybeans are mostly grown to feed livestock as well as provide us with our soy milk, this requires soybeans to be grown over very large areas of land. There has been deforestation in some areas of the Amazon but soy milk is one of the least environmentally impactful alternatives and does not require as much water as others.
Alternative 2 – Almond
Made from water and ground almonds, almond milk has grown in popularity over the past 2 years due to its low calories and popular taste. It’s thicker than other alternatives due to its unsaturated fats. Compared to the 7 grams of protein in a cup of soy milk, almond milk only has 1 gram.
The largest producer of almond milk worldwide in the USA, specifically California. Although almond milk has gained a lot of popularity, with that popularity comes the understanding of its environmental impacts. Almond growing uses a lot more water than other nuts and legumes, 12 litres per kernel.
As well as this, it’s very negatively affecting the Californian bee population. Many farmers use pesticides and it has an incredibly damaging effect on local wildlife and the wider ecosystem.
Alternative 3 – Oat
Like almond milk, oat milk has become very popular in recent years. It’s similar to soy milk in its nutrition and has a sweet taste which is popular among those who eat cereal. Oat milk can reduce cholesterol levels and blood sugar levels, it’s also very easy to make at home by combining oats and water.
Like soy, oats are primarily produced in very large quantities and are the only plant for miles. Due to this lack of diversity in plant life, the soil grows more infertile, decreases the insect diversity and pesticides can harm local wildlife.
Alternative 4 – Coconut
Many people think of coconut milk as a holiday treat and not an everyday staple but has many benefits and it is great to cook with due to its creamy and sweet taste. One cup contains 45 calories and 4 grams of fat but has no protein or carbohydrates.
The environmental impact of coconut milk is less than that of other alternatives. Coconut trees do not require much water and help the environment by absorbing carbon dioxide in bigger quantities than the other plants listed. The issue with coconut trees is their location, they grow in tropical areas. This can put pressure on the wildlife and environment due to the destruction of habitats.
Alternative 5 – Hazelnut
Hazelnut milk is a big favourite due to its popular taste and creamy texture. It has 30 calories per serving, decreases cholesterol and one ounce of hazelnuts gives you 21% of your daily vitamin E.
So what about the environmental impacts? Hazelnut is the best choice on this list to help protect the environment for now. We say for now because we haven’t seen the full impact of large-scale production yet. The trees are pollinated by the wind carrying the pollen, not insects and hazelnuts grow in areas that have high rainfall, requiring less pressure on watering systems.
While we have discussed the environmental impacts of each alternative, it’s important to note that all of these options are much better for the environment than dairy milk.
To read more about veganism you can read another one of our articles ‘The Truth About Veganism’