Plant-based Milks for Diabetes Management

David Mendosa | June 16, 2016

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Americans are drinking less cow and goat milk these days, while drinking more milk made from plants. Some of us are quickly moving away from animal milk for four main reasons: 1) To avoid the sugar in milk 2) to limit carbs in our diet; 3) to reduce the calories we consume; and 4) as part of a vegan diet.Save

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Increasing popularity

According to Mintel, a global market intelligence agency, half of all Americans now drink non-dairy milk, spending $1.9 billion for these vegan beverages in 2015 (up 9 percent from the year before). Starting about four years ago, Americans began drinking more almond milk than soy or any other plant-based milks.

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Wading through choices

Along with the growth of plant-based milks have come an almost overwhelming number of options. But the task of choosing is easier for people with diabetes because we can ignore those high in carbs, which raise our blood glucose, or in calories, which increase our weight. Stay with unsweetened ones. Your individual taste preferences and those for organic, shopping convenience, and cost are also important.

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Almond milk

My current favorite almond milk is the unsweetened original Almond Breeze brand. It is one of the least expensive choices, yet tastes great and has only 30 calories and 1 gram of carbs per cup.

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Cashew milk

The Silk brand of cashew milk has the least calories of any plant-based milk I’ve seen: 25 per cup.  It also has only 1 gram of carbs per cup – which is a bit counterintuitive because cashews are the nuts highest in carbs. It also tastes creamy, if that matters to you.

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Hemp milk

Hemp milk comes from the seeds of the marijuana plant. But these seeds don’t have any psychoactive component. The Living Harvest Tempt brand has 80 calories and only 1 gram of carbs per cup.

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Coconut milk

Coconut milk has a pronounced taste that I personally don’t find appealing, although many people obviously prefer it to other milks: after all, coconut milk is third in popularity in the United States, following only almond milk and soy milk, according to a Mintel study in April 2016.

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Soy milk

For years, soy milk was the plant-based milk that most of us drank. But about five years ago, many people began to have health concerns about it. Soy is controversial in part because of unproven claims linking it to an increased risk of breast cancer. Almond milk sales are now three times greater than soy milk sales in the U.S., according to Mintel.

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Other plant-based milks

Rice milk was once one of the most popular plant-based milks, but it is perhaps the highest in carbs and provides relatively little nutrition. Oat, pea, pecan, and quinoa milks are also high-carb. Macadamia nut milk is expensive and only readily available if you live in Australia, for example, or if you make your own. (See next slide.) Unsweetened hazelnut milk, meanwhile, is low in both calories and carbs.

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Make your own

If you have the time and space, you may be able to make even better and less costly plant-based milk in your kitchen by using this detailed guide. With it you can make more than 22 different plant-based milks – far more than you can buy at pretty much any market.