Eat This: Plant-Based Milks

Have you noticed how much the dairy aisle has changed? Gone are the days of the bags and cartons of only dairy milk, now goat milk is a staple as well as an abundance of milk that comes from plants. How can that be? Isn’t the most nutritious white stuff supposed to come from a cow or some other animal? I mean we even have buffalo milk cheese for goodness sake. That’s got to have some serious nutrients going on. So why on earth do we need to squeeze a soybean or pulverize an oat flake to make milk? Well, it’s not like this is a new thing. The earliest mentions of soya milk in written text are Chinese, from 1365 talking about soy bean milk. Egyptian cookery books first mentioned almond milk in the 13th century and it was spotted in literature from the UK literature in 1390. Basically, what you’re seeing as an ever growing section of the supermarket, no is not a new fad. Milk made from beans, nuts, seeds and grains really isn’t out there as much as you might think. Sure for health reasons, like easing digestive discomfort, IBS, diarrhea and even skin issues like eczema, swapping out the usual glass of or pour over your cereal of animal based milk can help, but plant based milks also fit into religious occasions like Ramadan and even Lent. 

I know that steering you off the usual glass of white stuff may seem crazy and nothing could be further from your mind, and I can imagine you sitting there shaking your head at the mere suggestion. Or maybe your fridge is already stocked with a variety of milks that comes from plants. 

No matter where you’re at, today on EAT THIS with Lianne, let’s do a deep dive into plant based milks–why on earth would you try it, how do you get milk from a nut, bean or seed anyway, what’s the best or healthiest option and how does it compare to dairy milk? I have my favourites, but really at the end of the day, most asked question that I get is “what will taste best in my coffee or tea?”

One of the first video taping that I ever did was for Jack LaLanne’s Power Juicer Elite that could also make soy milk. Quick sidebar – honestly, this is not a plug for the product, so don’t buy it. I think it was somewhere around 2002 and I was brought in to talk about making plant based soy milk with his unit. I might have been surprised that there was such a thing out there,  because I had never questioned how it was made. 

After my first daughter was born, I made her homemade almond milk as her drink of choice when I wasn’t around to breastfeed her from about 14 months onwards. I was doing a business course starting my new venture called Sprout Right at the time, and needed her to have an alternative and not dairy based. I knew Rice Milk wasn’t enough and I wanted her not to have all the sugar and extra ingredients, so I made it myself. Yes, people thought I was nuts, but really that’s not new for me. I became such a whiz at making it for her, and I even shared my recipe in both of my books SR Nutrition from Tummy to Toddler and SRFF. That was quite the labour of love to do–soaking and blending the nuts, straining it in cheese cloth then jelly making bags. Fast forward to now there are nut milk bags to strain out the pulp from the liquid to make it so  much easier. 

Why ditch the dairy, I hear you ask? Well dairy doesn’t need to be a villain here. You don’t have to ditch it entirely, I know you might like having the odd steak even when you’re trying to eat more lean meats and fish. It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing relationship. I still have clotted cream on my scones dahling – ok that sounds really high brow. We make scones once in a blue moon, but when we do, we have to find the right cream smother on them and then the jam. There’s that Brit in me coming out again. Sorry, I digressed. 

Do you need to ditch the dairy for all the plant based alternatives? Not necessarily but dairy is one of the top two foods that I recommend my clients ditch for a certain period of time. If you remember from episode 40 when we did a live consultation and talked with Rosanne. She had a bizarre number of what seemed unrelated symptoms going on – like swollen fingers to gut issues and about five urgent bowel movements a day? Oh and her sleep wasn’t good either. At the time, my one and only suggestion to her was to eliminate the cream from her coffee and other dairy that she was eating. I talked with her this past week as I’m now working with her, and you know what? No more digestive issues or odd swollen fingers. Her coffee intake lessened because she wasn’t having the cream, so that also helped with her sleep pattern. Adjusting your diet from what you constantly do every day is powerful, no matter what is going on. 

I find dairy sneaky. It seems to creep into many foods, kind of like sugar, and is easy to eat at every meal. Many of us don’t realise that they have issues with it because symptoms aren’t glaringly obvious to make you think that dairy is the culprit. I know people who crave cheese, couldn’t live without it. Then there are those that drink glasses of milk because it’s what they have always done. I sure grew up with having a glass of milk with each meal because my parents were told it was ‘healthy’. But what it’s dairy that is what is causing your gut issues of explosive diarrhea, blood in your stool, constipation or constant gassiness. What about your aches and pains, feeling creaky in the morning or even having high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Oh did I mention post nasal drip and sinusitis? Um hum. And there’s your kids’ ear infection, constant colds and skin issues like eczema. Yep, I’ve seen all of these improve without dairy. But it’s hard to know that when many doctors say there is no correlation and symptoms are not necessarily blaring at you or your symptom is like a slap in the face when you drink that glass of milk. 

By now if you’re a long time listener, you know that I question everything. Dairy is very often one that I look to as it’s quite sneaky with how it affects our body. Ok enough about that. I could go on and on, and if you want me to go into dairy more in another episode, just reach out and let me know. Social media, email or comment in the show notes on liannephillipson.com 

Let’s move onto plant based milks and break them down. Plant-based milks are made by grinding a bean or nut, then adding water, flavors, vitamins and minerals. The nutrients and amount of sugar in plant-based milk varies considerably based on how it was produced and what has been added. Cow’s milk contains protein, calcium, riboflavin and potassium. The nutrients are consistent in all products, but the amount of fat varies from no fat, low-fat and full-fat. Calcium-fortified soy milk is the closest to cow’s milk, but it is lower in other nutrients than cow’s milk. Some plant-based milks are very low in protein, which can be a concern for children and elderly, depending on how much of their diet relies on their milk intake. Plant-based milks are becoming more popular because some people prefer the taste and the variety of flavors. It is also preferred by people who are allergic or intolerant to milk with any of the symptoms that I mentioned earlier. And please know that the list is longer than there is time here for. 

You likely use a very popular plant based milk without knowing it and that’s coconut milk. It’s the liquid that comes from grated coconut meat and it can be really thick and creamy or thinner and more milk-like. Ever eaten a Thai Green Curry, or a Caribbean curry for that matter. I use coconut milk anywhere I’d use cream. I even have a can of coconut cream lined up to make a new Donna Hay ice cream recipe that looks deeeellllish. I’ll let you know how it turns out. You never know, I might share it with Chris or his lovely wife to try it out cause that’ll be the real test as Chris a connoisseur of ice cream. Well maybe that a bit of a stretch, but he eats a lot of it and knows what he likes and doesn’t. 

There is soy milk, almond, rice, cashew, walnut, hazelnut, hemp, oat, sesame–I think, and I’m sure I’m missing a few, but you get the gist. I wanted to know more about all the milks, and as you’re listening in, you do too. So, I reached out to a company who makes a wide variety of nut milks, and seem to have a different way of going about it that speaks more to the nutrition of the milks than others. I wanted to find out what makes a better option, what to look out for when buying any plant based milk, and a whole bunch more. 

I’m grateful to have found Dr. Shashank Gaur who specializes in the area of global nutrition and food-based nutrient delivery systems. He is our first Food Scientist on EAT THIS with LIanne, so I’m thrilled to geek out with him over this topic. Just so you know that he is the real deal, Dr. Gaur has published more than a dozen research papers in peer reviewed journals and holds 2 patents. Impressive! He is also the Vice President of Innovation at Steuben Foods and spearheads the research and development of low acid aseptic plant-based milk products sold under the brand Elmhurst Milked.

Let’s recap for a sec: from my perspective, the best plant based milk to add to cooking in my opinion is coconut. If you don’t want that coconut flavour, then oat is pretty creamy too. I’ve added almond to most recipes that call for milk, like pancakes and baking. My kids think it’s going to flop but it always works out. If I didn’t tell them, they wouldn’t know. More watery milks like Rice Milk and even some almond milks, won’t give you the fluffiness of cream in your eggs or mac and cheese for instance so watch out for that. It is a bit of an experiment, but I know I’m totally trying that cashew milk in the next milk based cocktail that someone makes for me. Wait, not sure when that will be, so I’ll make it up for myself!  

With any plant based milk, no matter what you do with it; try it in a glass, swap it in cooking or add it to a soup, add it to your coffee or tea and see how it goes. Pour it over your bowl of cereal or use in your chia pudding or oatmeal. As with any substitution I find that it often comes down to the expectation of how it tastes and feels in your mouth. Don’t swap it and immediately compare it to dairy milk, cause you’ll likely be disappointed. Just taste it for what it is and see if you like it. 

That grinding of a bean, nut or seed could give you a whole new taste sensation that leads to your taste buds having a dance party, and your belly chilling out like it’s in deep meditation. Sounds like it’s worth a shot to me. 

Remember that it all comes down to taste, preference and nutrients. 

If you want to drink dairy milk, fine, but there is no nutritional requirement that you have to drink milk or eat dairy products specifically. In the past, experts recommended eating dairy products to build bones and prevent fractures because of the calcium content. It turns out there’s not very strong evidence that drinking a lot of milk or eating dairy products has a real benefit when it comes to reducing fracture risk in particular. You can get calcium from leafy greens, broccoli, nuts like almonds and sesame seeds and tahini are really high in calcium. Actually giving better absorption than in milk. 

So I want to know, what is your favourite? What’s your go-to, what have you tried that worked or flopped? What are you trying in your cuppa joe, cuppa tea or cocktail tonight? I want to know! And I’ll share with other listeners so they too, can be inspired to try. 

While you’re heading over to sproutright.com/plantmilk and enter to win a box of assorted Elmhurst milk products, send me a note and let me know! Or find me on social media on both @SproutRight or @liannephillipson handles. This giveaway entry will expire on Dec 11, 2020 in case you find and are listening to this episode after that date. 

Go boldly into the plant-milk aisle. Try out something new this week in your soup, smoothie or even on your cereal. And while you’re tasting it, remember to EAT THIS one mouthful at a time. 

About Dr. Gaur

Dr. Shashank Gaur works as a Vice President of Innovation at Steuben Foods and spearheads the research and development of low acid aseptic plant-based milk products sold under the brand Elmhurst Milked. Dr. Gaur has a PhD from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, IL and a Masters from Cornell University, NY. He specializes in the area of global nutrition and food-based nutrient delivery systems. Dr. Gaur has published more than a dozen research papers in peer reviewed journals and holds 2 patents.

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