Stroll the dairy case in today’s supermarket, and you’ll find that it’s no longer just about dairy. The milk section is now crowded with an array of nondairy milks—including soy, rice, coconut, hemp, and all of the many nut varieties. Ever wonder how all those nuts compare? Let’s take a look.
The good: They’re a great option both for vegans and the ~65% of the population who suffer from some form of lactose intolerance. Another bonus: They’re cholesterol and saturated fat free.
The not-so-good: Anyone with tree nut allergies, beware. Nut milks also have very little protein—far less than cow’s milk. Some varieties also have a lot of added sugars, salt, and thickeners, too.
How it’s made: Nuts are first shelled, often lightly toasted, soaked in filtered water, ground into a paste, and then blended with water. The “milk” is the liquid that is then strained from the nut solids, or pulp. Some manufacturers then add thickeners or gums, sugar, salt, and flavors. Most of the calories, fat, fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals are left in the pulp.
About cashew milk: There are ups and downs. It’s a rough comparison when you look at whole cashews versus cashew milk, but here’s the rundown: On the upside, a cup of unsweetened cashew milk has just 25 calories (!!), 2g fat, and 0g sat fat (ha—about 615 calories less than a cup of whole cashews). On the downside, when the pulp is strained from the milk, you lose almost all of the fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals from the whole nut. A cup of the milk contains 0g fiber and only <1g protein, and if you choose the original variety, you’ll also tack on 7g added sugar and 160mg added salt.
Compared to cow’s milk (per 8 ounces):
Other cashew milk bonuses:
- Unlike cow’s milk, cashew milk has no naturally occurring sugars, so it won’t send your blood sugar into a spike.
- A cup contains 50% of your daily Vitamin E needs (that’s even more than almond milk), which is good for your skin and helps protect against sun damage.
- Most of us get plenty of protein in a day, so the fact that the milk only has about 1 gram per cup isn’t something most of us should necessarily worry about. If your meal does need a protein boost, you’ve got plenty of room to add since 1 cup of the unsweetened has only 25 calories!
- How does it taste? We loved it! Creamy and rich with a nuttiness that was a bit more subtle than almond milk … our crew thought the flavor would be perfect in a smoothie, or a lovely complement to breakfast whole grains like shredded wheat, muesli, oatmeal, or quinoa.
How to buy: “Original” varieties typically have a bit of sugar added back into the nut milk, and the vanilla-flavored cashew milk has as much as 12g sugar per cup—that’s 1 tablespoon, folks! Choose the unsweetened variety if you’re looking for a no-sugar-added option.
Pricing? I went to my local Publix for a little price comparison, and here’s what I found:
Half gallon cashew milk: $2.79 on sale! (originally $3.45)
Half gallon organic cow’s milk: $5.39
Full gallon generic cow’s milk: $3.79
Bottom line: Cashew milk is a great lactose-free, vegan alternative to dairy milk. Just be sure to read labels and know what you’re putting your money into … if you want the added sugars, fine. If not, choose unsweetened. And be sure to include some protein on the plate to help round out the meal.