There’s no denying that dairy-free milks are all the rage at the minute.
More and more people are ditching cow’s milk, with reasons ranging from lactose intolerance, being morally against the dairy industry, or just being grossed out that they’re essentially suckling on the teat of another mammal. Yummy.
Soy, cashew, hemp, rice – you name it, there’s probably a ‘milk’ made out of it.
But have you ever properly looked at the ingredients list of your moo-free milk?
Do you know what you’re putting in your body?
I’m always a bit suspicious when I don’t understand what things on the ingredients list are.
Like, hello gellan gum, what are you, please?
When you make your own nut milk at home, you only use three ingredients max – nuts, water and perhaps a little salt or sugar.
However, many store brands make their products by using fewer nuts and replacing them with cheaper ingredients that act as fillers and thickeners.
We asked nutritionists what these ingredients are and if we should be worried about them.
Carageenan is an additive used to stabilise and thicken some dairy-free milks.
‘This is the main one to look out for,’ Amie Richmond, head nutritionist at Body Fabulous tells metro.co.uk.
‘This seaweed-based additive has shown to be extremely inflammatory in some studies and should be avoided, especially by those who already have digestive tract issues.’
Oils are used in dairy-free milk as a thickener and emulsifier, and I personally find it a bit rank that I’m essentially pouring oil in my coffee.
If you’re trying to follow a healthy lifestyle, you avoid too much oil, so why would you want it in your milk?
‘Be wary of high levels of added oils such as canola oil, corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower seed oil, and soybean oil,’ warns Amie.
Ideally, we should all be eating less sugar, so it’s not ideal if it’s being slipped into our dairy-free drinks.
‘Opt for unsweetened milks that will not be acid forming,’ advises Amie.
‘Check for sugars and artificial sweeteners – both should be avoided.’
This includes syrups like agave and maple.
Guar gum, gellan gum and locust bean gum are used as emulsifiers and although they sound icky, they do actually have some health benefits.
‘Guar gum is a thickening agent derived from the guar bean and has been shown in animal studies to be harmless even at high doses,’ explains Matt Wright, nutritional researcher at Click for Therapy to metro.co.uk.
‘Significantly in rats guar gum promoted weight loss and lower blood glucose, and as a result is now being considered as a therapeutic tool for humans to improve glycemic control (blood sugar spiking).
‘However, as these gums are indigestible they may be problematic for people with gut issues such as IBS, causing discomfort and increased gas.’
Sunflower lecithin is used as an emulsifier, to stop the mixture form separating.
‘Due to the composition of sunflower lecithin some nutritionists recommend it as a supplement probably due to its choline content,’ says Matt.
‘Choline whilst not strictly speaking a vitamin is now classified by the National Academy of Sciences as a vital nutrient, and is widely considered to be deficient in the modern western diet.
‘It helps with muscle control, memory, sleep and is liver protective.’
So while some of these ingredients may not be as terrifying as they first seem, it does seem a bit shifty that thickeners are being used in place of actual nuts.
I went on a bit of a supermarket dairy-free milk rampage and realised that very few brands actually stick to the simple mix of water, nuts, salt.
Organic brand Plenish use 6% almonds in their almond milk (£2.50/litre), mixed only with water and a bit of salt, and the extra nut content keeps the mixture thick.
Then you’ve got Oatly‘s organic version of their oat milk (£1.40/litre) which contains only oats, water and sea salt.
On my supermarket tour, I noticed that organic brand Rude Health use only 1% almonds in their almond drink (£2.49/litre), using rice as a thickener and cold-pressed sunflower oil as an emulsifier.
I was curious to know why their almond drink contained more rice than almonds.
‘We use rice to make it silky smooth and naturally sweet, and just enough almonds to taste almondy,’ a spokesperson for Rude Health told metro.co.uk.
‘If we added more almond it began to taste like marzipan, whereas any less simply tasted of rice. We also found that our unique slow production method, which uses the finest Italian almond paste to make the drinks, doesn’t need to use as much to get the desired taste.’
They also pointed out that they do actually make an almond drink without the fillers – their Ultimate Almond Drink (£4.40/litre) which is made from 6% almonds mixed with water and tastes ‘like homemade almond milk; nutty and not at all sweet’.
I guess it all boils down to how bothered you are by the added ingredients and if you think it’s worth potentially spending a little more money to get a purer product.
I initially cut out cow’s milk to see if it helped my adult acne, which it didn’t, and I’m now wondering if inflammatory ingredients like carageenan in my plant milks have been actually been adding to the problem.
I really can’t be bothered to make my own nut milk so I’ll make do with scouring carton ingredients and paying a little more where necessary.
‘Cos I’m sure as hell not down for drinking oil on the reg.