Alright, friends. It’s time for talk about this once and for all, because it’s one of the most asked questions that I get (and one of the most confusing categories of food out there). Especially for those you on a mission to be eating more real food than not.
It’s an emotional one for people, so get ready: the topic of milk. And milk alternatives.
I know how tricky it can be to read labels and figure out what options are actually healthy for ourselves and our families (aka, differentiating between what’s “REAL FOOD” vs processed health food or marketing). And this category is such a prime example of all the marketing and buzz words that take over what’s actually a very simple answer.
So today, I’m rounding up the healthiest store-bought milk choices I can find (both dairy based and plant based). These options are the least-processed, I consider them the most “real” versions, and therefore are easiest on your body to digest and process.
- Organic Whole Milk
- Organic Heavy Whipping Cream
- Organic Half and Half
I know, you might be shocked to see dairy at the top of the list, but when you pick from a well-sourced list, cow’s milk is a great real food, one-ingredient option. Of course, not everyone tolerates dairy well, so if you’re sensitive to it, skip these— you know your body best.
A surprising tip: my friends, the 90’s are gone. May they RIP. But so many of us may reach for low-fat options thinking they’re healthier, but 2% milk, 1% milk and skim milk are all very processed. Aka, altered from their original states via a chemical process or man-made process.. You’re actually better off reaching for the organic whole milk options for any dairy item: yogurt, cheese, butter, cottage cheese, milk, ice cream, etc.
- New Barn
- Three Trees
- Simply Almond
When it comes to almond milk, my go-to advice is to literally check your ingredients. Read every single one…. Not the marketing messages on the front. Listed above are some of my favorite simple and clean ingredient options (aka, 5 ingredients or less, no emulsifiers or gums, and no added sugars or additives). Just the nut, milk and maybe some vanilla.
Another tip: any milk alternative that’s shelf stable will likely have a lot of emulsifiers in it. And emulsifiers & binders actually bind in your gut— which is not what you want to happen, trust me! This binding affects hormone production, digestion, bloating, mood, absorption of vitamins and minerals.
Of course, none of us are (or should strive to be) PERFECT when it comes to diet. But if plant-based milk is part of your daily routine (like it is mine for my daily matcha) upgrading to these clean options will probably be a huge help. Your health, gut, and hormones will thank you!
Cashew milk may not be the most common choice, but Forager is a brand I trust. If you’re looking for a good dairy alternative and almond milk isn’t your favorite, this is a fantastic option to try! They do contain oats, just as a FYI if you don’t tolerate those well (or you have blood sugar issues, see below on oat milk).
Or……… making your own. Stay with me for a minute:
When it comes to milk, this is probably the time to admit to you that 90% of the time, I make my own. I know, I used to think that was just intense and extra. And it used to be (aka with messy nut milk bags, etc).
But, my cup of matcha in the morning is a sacred experience for me. And after years of spending lots of money on more pricey clean bottled brands, I now just make my own almond and cashew milk each week, with a tool called the Almond Cow. Or any mix of nut/seed I want (macadamia, pecan, etc).
It’s a push of a button setup (again, goodbye messy nut milk bags, etc). And it’s already paid for itself, and I love that it’s no waste, the milk tastes so fresh and sweet and I can make it at a pace that works for me. I also love using the leftover pulp for baked goods for morning treats too. A total win for me and worth it if you care about your digestion and consume a lot of plant based milk! I use these large glass milk bottles and these medium glass milk bottles for storage.
Also, on the days I run out, I just shared to instagram this week, my quick hack for making more in under 2 minutes (nothing other than a blender and cocktail strainer needed):
- Native Forest Canned Coconut Milk
- Trader Joe’s Canned Coconut Milk
Both of these coconut milk options are made without guar gums— and I actually have not been able to find a fridge carton of coconut milk that doesn’t have inflammatory oils, sugars and additives. This is a rare instance where I prefer to stick to the cans (and try to do them BPA free, of course).
Because I know so many of you will ask, I wanted to include this one, even though you might not like my answer (lol).
I’ll give it to you straight: I haven’t found a clean brand of store-bought oat milk yet. Most major brands are full of inflammatory oils, sugars and additives. Oats without their fiber are also one of the most blood-sugar spiking foods, so most oat milks are usually just not the best option available to us.
If oat milk is your go-to, though, something like the Almond Cow can help you make your own a lot more simply.
I hope this helps you buy milk (or milk alternatives) with confidence! I’m so glad there are so many great different options out there these days (without the downsides).
photos by Carina Skrobecki
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