Where would we be without delicious beverage alternatives to dairy? The non-dairy industry is booming now more than ever. While this calls for a plant-based party for dairy-free eaters everywhere, it also leaves room for some sneaky, not-so-great food product companies to make their way in and produce sketchy items. Cow’s milk sales have dropped 25 percent since 1975, while non-dairy milk has surged over $1 billion in sales with continuous growth every year. That’s pretty incredible, especially since we know that organic milk really does our bodies no good and that dairy has been consistently linked to multiple types of cancer. A slow battle, but a sure one, the non-dairy industry is finally more than just a new trend to try.
Before you pick up your next carton of almond or coconut milk (when you just don’t have time to make your own), be sure you know what to look for so you can avoid those less than healthy products out there. Many sneak some pretty scary stuff in that creamy beverage you drink each day, and could even be causing some digestive upset, blood sugar spikes, and other issues you probably didn’t think could come from something in a healthy, trendy label.
Top 5 Things to Avoid:
1. Evaporated Cane Juice, Cane Sugar or Cane Syrup
These sound pretty harmless, right? I mean, why would something bad be in non-dairy milk? For starters, the term “cane” automatically should be a red flag. This is code for sugar, and no, it’s not any better for you than white sugar granules or powdered sugar. It only goes through one less step of processing, is 99 percent sucrose (pure sugar), which makes it just as bad for your blood sugar as the sickeningly sweet white stuff you try to avoid. Cane sugar contains absolutely no nutritional value, and after processing of the milk, you can kiss the “non-refined” marketing label this sugar gets the goodbye. Most milk has more sugar in a serving than a whole piece of fruit that comes with actual benefits, unlike cane sweeteners that are used by companies to create a smooth texture and overly sweet taste.
Many wonderful brands do use this sweetener, so please choose unsweetened varieties as the healthiest option. Then, add your own healthy sweetener like liquid, alcohol-free stevia, raw coconut nectar, or even a little bit of organic Grade B maple syrup if you simply must have a sweetener. These are less-refined, lower glycemic, and actually contain benefits that any form of cane sugar does not. It’s also easy to do since unsweetened non-dairy milks are available everywhere. With added sugars being so controversial for our health, we’re always better off eliminating them instead of consuming them at all, especially in liquid beverages that we drink our calories instead of eat them.
You won’t see this on any non-dairy label, but you should know what kinds of milks to buy if you want to avoid it. First, learn where MSG lurks so you can see where to spot it. Then, purchase products that are labeled MSG-free and non-GMO. Organic is a plus, but MSG-free and non-GMO will also mean you’re making a smart choice. Codes for MSG typically found in non-dairy milks include “natural flavors” and “natural colors” (unless the product is labeled MSG-free). Many stores are now producing generic brands of almond, soy and coconut milk, which are a more likely source of MSG than some of the more well-known brands out there that have non-GMO certifications or MSG-free labels. MSG is known to cause allergies, headaches, and many other health issues, so keep your eyes peeled for this sneaky ingredient!
3. Emulsifiers- Xanthan and Guar Gum
Xanthan and guar gum are two other popular emulsifiers found in many non-dairy milks. These have been linked to digestive problems and even weight gain. Xanthan gum is a thickening agent made by fermenting a yeast with corn or another sugar source that’s not only linked to digestive problems, but even colitis and more severe issues. Guar gum comes from a bean plant, which is very hard to digest in such a processed form, regardless that it’s a source of fiber. One way to see how these gums work is if you put them in some water at home. Many people use these in smoothies to add thickness, or in baked goods. If you’ve ever done so, you know that if you use too much, you get a huge fluffy, thick goo that’s hard to even stir, much less ingest. Can you imagine what that does inside your tummy? Ouch! Many brands like Silk do not use xanthan or guar gum, and they have a small ingredient list at that. Hopefully other brands will follow suit too, so read labels to see if your favorite brand does.
4. Genetically Modified Oils
If you don’t already purchase a brand that’s non-GMO, this will give you reason to do so. Most non-dairy milks are made with some type of oil (in very small amounts). Though these products are very low in fat for the most part, the oil in them should still be taken into consideration. Canola, safflower and sunflower oil are all three common oils used in non-dairy milks. They contain very little risks, but are some of the top oils known to be genetically modified. So, if you purchase non-dairy milk that’s not certified non-GMO, you are likely ingesting genetically modified ingredients. The great thing is, non-GMO products do not cost more than other brands (for the most part), so spend your dollars wisely and sip with ease!
What to Look for on a Label
Thankfully, non-dairy milks are under more scrutiny than they used to be. Still to be sure you’re making a good choice, always choose a brand with the following benefits:
- 1. Non-GMO
- 2. Unsweetened
- 3. MSG-Free
Other Beneficial Things to Look For:
- 1 . Organic (which also ensures you’re not consuming GMO’s)
- 2. Contains nutrients like additional calcium, Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D (if from a good brand)
- 3. Gluten or Soy- Free (if you have an allergy or intolerance)
New brands pop up all the time, so before you pick up that new trendy bottle with a fancy package, just turn it over and read the label instead. The more consumers purchase the healthier options, the less unhealthy options we’ll have to avoid at the store. Even better, make yourself a batch in just a few minutes to use in your next smoothie or breakfast dish. From coconut to almond, to cashew and more, there’s no non-dairy milk you can’t make at home yourself.
Drink smart, safe, and enjoy your dairy-free milks with peace of mind!
We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 8,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to ten new recipes per day. Check it out!
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