The ultimate guide to milk
Coconut, hemp, flax, soy, almond and rice milks are all the rage writes Rozanne Stevens
WITH the world becoming a global village and our consumer culture of demanding the latest and the best, our choices in milk products is extending far beyond the dairy isle.
Creamy liquids – milk – can be made from nuts, grains, seeds, beans and even the husky coconut. Some of these are traditional foods that are centuries old, and some are produced in response to special dietary requirements such as lactose intolerance to dairy milk.
Lactose is the natural sugar found in dairy milk, to which some people have an intolerance. Common symptoms range from mucousy nasal passages to bloating and digestive problems. The protein in milk, casein, can also cause digestive problems for some. I would fall into the snotty nose camp, but my love of cheese knows no bounds and I enjoy Greek yoghurt, so I will not be giving up dairy!
Interestingly, a study done by the Mayo Clinic shows that, although in some people, after eating certain dairy foods, mucous becomes thicker, it does not actually increase in quantity. I find I react more to ice cream, but I have no reaction to many artisan cheeses, probably because much of the lactose is broken down.
For many years though, I have been using non dairy milk for my smoothies. After reading Fit for Life when I was 11 years old, it was drummed into me not to mix dairy and fruit as the combination can be difficult to digest. I don't know if this is actually true, but it is now a habit. It has made me more aware of the dairy alternatives out there. But I absolutely have to use real milk in my tea, it's just not the same otherwise!
Ireland produces excellent quality dairy products and within this category we have many choices.
This household staple is high in calcium and has about twice the protein of other milks. Children should only have full fat dairy products, for the fat soluble vitamins. But, otherwise, most people choose skimmed milk to reduce saturated fat and calories. In a country with little daily sunshine, we can miss out on vitamin D which works with calcium to build string bones and teeth. So, milk fortified with vitamin D makes sense.
There are also lactose-free milks – I've used the Avonmore lactose-free milk and it tastes and cooks the same as regular milk. Ardrahan Lullaby Milk is a wonderful artisan dairy which contains more natural melatonin to help you sleep. www.lullabymilk.com, www.avonmore.ie
Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurised – the process of heating a food (usually liquid) to a specific temperature for a defined amount of time, and then immediately cooling it. This kills any potential bacteria and extends the shelf life. The concern about raw milk is that it can contain dangerous bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria monocytogenes, Campylobacter jejuni and Yersinia enterocolitica. These strains of bacteria can cause serious illness or even death.
There is, however, evidence that suggests that unpasteurised and non homogenised milk is easier to digest and does not cause the same intolerance issues. Modern farming techniques also means greater control over animal welfare and quality control. Personally, I love cheeses made with raw milk, which is a naturally fermented process and, again, easier to digest.
Soy milk is produced by soaking and grinding soybeans with water and then straining them. Soy milk is certainly the most popular non-dairy milk alternative and it contains high-quality protein, no cholesterol and is low in fat.
Soy protein has been shown to reduce high blood pressure and cholesterol. The isoflavones in soy can also alleviate menopausal symptoms. There is controversy over soy, so make sure you choose a non genetically modified soy milk, preferably organic, with no weird additives.
Goat's milk is commonly consumed in many countries around the world and contains the same amount of calcium as cow milk. Its flavour has been described as sweet and salty. This is a very popular choice of parents whose children suffer from intolerances or related conditions such as eczema and asthma. The taste is a little stronger than cow's milk, but you get used to it. You can use it in all your baking and cooking in the same way. Goat's milk yoghurts are also available in plain and fruit flavours.
Sheep milk is commonly consumed throughout Europe and the Mediterranean region. It contains more vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin E, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium than cow milk. Both sheep and goat milks may be more easily digested than cow milk because the fat globules are smaller. The only problem with sheep as a dairy herd is that the yield is tiny and not consistent throughout the year. Slane based organic farmer, Des Crinion, makes ice creams and cheeses from his organic sheeps' milk. Des Crinion, 041 9824588.
Hemp milk is made from ground hemp seeds mixed with water and has a creamy, nutty flavour. One cup unsweetened contains 70 calories, 6 grams of fat, 1 gram of carbohydrate and 2 grams of protein. Hemp seeds as a raw ingredient is an excellent source of fibre and essential fatty acids. Some brands add additional essential fats and vitamins to their products.
Almond milk and other nut milks actually date back centuries and are found in many cultures.
Almond milk in particular has become increasingly more popular in recent years, and is made from ground almonds that have been mixed with water.
Many people opt for almond milk for its nutty taste. It's also low in calories – one cup (unsweetened) contains only 40 calories. It's rich in magnesium, potassium, vitamin E and heart-healthy fats. Almond milk is very low in carbohydrate (1 gram per cup), which makes it a good choice for diabetics. One downside to almond milk is it contains very little protein (about 1 gram per cup), so, if you drink only almond milk, be sure to get enough protein from other sources. Also spotted on shelves are milks made from other nuts.
Rice milk is made from boiled rice, brown rice syrup, brown rice starch and water. Beware that some rice milk brands contain thickening agents, sugar and flavourings. Rice milk is a good choice for those with food allergies as it contains no soy or lactose. However, it provides less protein and vitamins A and C than other milks. Depending on the brand, it is also not suitable for diabetics as it is very high in carbohydrates.
Coconut milk, made from the ground white flesh and juice from coconuts, has traditionally been sold in a can and contains 550 calories a cup, and more than two days-worth of saturated fat.
It's traditionally used in cooking to create a thick, creamy sauce, such as Thai curry. Although high in calories and fat, the World Health Organisation conducted a study on coconut milk which revealed the overall health benefits of the fats in it, making it beneficial in moderation.
Flax milk is the most recent milk to hit the supermarkets. It's simply cold-pressed flax oil mixed with filtered water. One cup unsweetened has 50 calories and provides heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, but contains no protein.
Oat milk is made from oat groats (hulled oat grain broken into smaller pieces) and water. Sometimes other grains and beans are added. Oat milk is an excellent source of calcium, vitamin D and riboflavin, and one cup provides a surprising two grams of fibre. Oat milk does tend to be higher in calories – 130 calories for one cup (unsweetened).
Choose a milk that suits your taste preferences and overall dietary needs. Avoid milks that are sweetened with sugar or artificial sweeteners, as these add unnecessary calories to an otherwise healthy beverage.
Recipes taken from Relish and Delish cookbooks by Rozanne Stevens. For cookbooks and healthy cooking courses, log on to www.rozannestevens.com
Health & Living