Plant-based, low carb milk products such as almond, soy, and flaxseed milk are becoming increasingly popular. But just how beneficial are they as an alternative to dairy milk?
In the following article, we’ll investigate why low carb milk is increasing in popularity, and why some are avoiding dairy milk altogether. We’ll also list the top four low carb milk options, plus an additional alternative milk product you may not be familiar with.
Why avoid dairy milk?
Like a lot of foods we consume, traditional dairy milk and its relationship with our health is a somewhat controversial topic.
On one hand, those who believe dairy milk is good for us and should form part of a regular healthy diet will cite milk’s abundance of beneficial nutrients including Vitamin D (contributes to the body’s ability to absorb Calcium), Protein (the building blocks of the body) and Potassium (contributes to regulating blood pressure and fluid balance).
On the other hand, there are many who are far less enamoured with dairy milk and believe it contributes to a wide range of negative health issues largely blamed on increased inflammation in the body. And, while there’s anecdotal evidence supporting this school of thought, it’s far from mainstream medical opinion and remains largely unsettled.
Inflammation is generally not all that well understood. And, when casually linked to chronic disease without much in the way of a clear explanation, as it often is, it tends to become even less well understood.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is a standard immune system response to trauma often in the form of cell damage and/or the introduction of a pathogen. Put bluntly, without inflammation, the body would be unable to heal. Chemicals from white blood cells are released into the bloodstream, causing an increase in blood flow to the area of trauma, ultimately aiding the healing process. In this capacity, inflammation is highly beneficial.
The problem is that some substances we consume are also treated similarly to pathogens, and are considered harmful by the body and also elicit an immune response in the form of inflammation.
So, while inflammation can be beneficial, low-level chronic inflammation, like some people may experience from dairy can potentially lead to long-term health implications. This includes exacerbating existing health conditions such as Rheumatoid Arthritis (an inflammatory form of Arthritis) and Atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of the arteries that may result in stroke).
Because of this, along with an increase in Lactose Intolerance, Veganism and the popularity of low carb and Ketogenic diets, low carb milk in the form of plant-based milk products are fast becoming a hot ticket item.
In the section below we’ll list the four most established alternatives to dairy milk, along with a cultured milk product that has shown benefits in regard to inflammation and lactose intolerance.
We’ll also give our take on the taste of each.
Unsweetened almond milk
Almond milk is produced by grinding Almonds with water and straining the excess Almond pulp. The actual almond content, however, is considerably lower than you may realise. In the case of Almond Breeze a popular almond milk brand, the overall almond content is less than 2 %.
Because of this, almond milk has its fair share of detractors but despite this, remains the most popular plant-based milk alternative to dairy milk. The reason for this is simple, it’s low in calories and many people agree that its light, nutty flavour tastes superior in comparison to other plant-based milk. Look for brands with a high almond content.
As seen above, unsweetened almond milk is quite low in calories at 25cals percup, contains no sugar and, while being low in Protein, considering the taste it's little wonder it continues to increase in popularity.
Unsweetened flax milk
Flax milk is produced by blending flax seeds with water and is simple enough to make at home.
While not to everyone’s taste, if you enjoy the taste of flax seeds then it is likely you will also enjoy the taste of flax milk. Predictably it has a nutty taste and a texture that is best described as moderate to light.
Flax milk is typically fortified with Vitamin A (great for teeth and bones) and B12 (keeps our blood cells in good health) and is also low in calories, coming in at just 25cals per cup.
My personal favourite. Coconut milk can be found in most supermarkets now and should not be confused with coconut water that comes from the young green coconuts.
Coconut milk tastes as one might imagine, very much like watered down coconut. Most people are familiar with the taste of coconuts, so if looking for a good milk alternative to try initially, coconut milk can make for a good stepping-off point.
Unlike almond and flax milk, coconut milk is higher in fat, at 4g per cup or 7% fat. The oil from coconuts is rich in MCT which has many health benefits.
Soy milk is produced by grinding pre-soaked, pre-cooked soybeans and then more or less filtering out the larger particulates. The taste of soy milk is...let's just say some tolerate it, a percentage of people enjoy it and a seemingly large percentage of people strongly dislike the taste.
One distinct advantage soy milk has over other plant-based milk is its Protein content, coming in at 7g of protein per cup, considerably higher than almond milk. However, it is also considerably higher in calories at 90cals per cup, containing just under the number of calories found in traditional dairy milk.
If you have any digestive issues or allergies I would recommend staying away from Soy.
Concerns over soy milk?
It should be noted, there have been concerns with regard to soy milk and potential link to breast cancer, fuelled partly by the fact that soy is a GMO (genetically modified organism) modified largely to withstand the effects of Roundup (glyphosphate).
Soy is a phytoestrogen, a naturally occurring compound which mimics estrogen in the body and has been suspected to contribute to the occurrence of breast cancer, however, recent studies dispute this claim along with recent meta-analysis that suggests soy products may even reduce the incidence of breast cancer in those who consume it regularly.
Unlike the other milk alternatives listed above milk kefir is a cultured, fermented beverage that can be produced from traditional dairy milk. As a result, it contains many of the beneficial nutrients of traditional dairy milk, and is fermented by live culturers so our bodies can process it easier. Most importantly, however, milk kefir has shown an ability to act as an anti-inflammatory when tested, due to the anti-inflammatory probiotic compounds.
Milk kefir is produced by adding kefir grains (colonies of bacteria and yeast) to either cow or goats milk. The kefir grains, essentially convert the lactose found in milk to lactic acid, making it tolerable for those with lactose intolerance.
From a taste perspective, unsurprisingly perhaps, kefir milk is similar to yoghurt and is often described as slightly ‘tart’ due to the lactic acid bacteria. If you're lucky enough to live near a dairy farm, a lot of farm shops now make their own kefir from unpasturised milk so it retains its full profile of nutrients
While there is still plenty of debate about whether milk is or isn't pro-inflammatory, our bodies are extremely complex and react differently from person to person. As a result, it’s very difficult to make broad claims about any food type in general.
If you experience chronic inflammation I’d certainly suggest testing a plant-based milk product and seeing if you notice a change in how you feel. Some people can deal with dairy better than others so its worth experimenting and seeing how your energy levels and general health is when you don't eat dairy for 30 days.