A Guide to Plant-Based Milks

Which plant milk is best for you?

Over the past few years, the demand for plant-based milk as a substitute for dairy has risen significantly. The conventional concept of milk has evolved beyond cow’s milk, with a growing number of individuals seeking dairy-free alternatives for various reasons.

From creamy almond and smooth coconut to omega-rich walnut, plant-based milks provide essential vitamins and minerals and offer a wide range of flavours and textures to suit every taste bud and cater to diverse dietary needs.

Whether you are lactose intolerant, vegan, or simply looking to reduce your environmental footprint, plant-based milks offer a versatile and sustainable way to enjoy your favourite beverages, cereals and recipes.

Here is a guide to plant-based milks including the unique benefits of each plant milk, why you should think twice about drinking soy milk and considerations when buying shop bought plant milk. Plus, a delicious plant milk recipe you can make at home.

What is plant-based milk?

Plant-based milks are beverages made from various plant sources, providing a lactose-free, vegan option for those seeking an alternative to traditional dairy milk. Unlike cow’s milk, which is derived from animal mammary glands, plant-based milk is made by blending plant ingredients (such as nuts or grains) with water to create a creamy liquid texture resembling dairy milk.

Types of plant-based milks

Almond Milk

Almond milk is made from almonds and water and is a popular choice among nut-based plant milks. It has a subtle nutty flavour and a smooth texture, making it ideal for cereals and smoothies. Almond milk is naturally low in sugar (and calories) and contains healthy fats, so it is suitable for those on low-sugar diets. However, make sure you opt for unsweetened versions (more about this below).

Oat Milk

Oat milk is another popular plant milk that is readily available in most cafes and restaurants. Made from blending oats and water, oat milk is known for its creamy texture and naturally sweet taste, making it a great addition to hot drinks and desserts. Oat milk provides a good source of fibre which can aid digestion and promote a feeling of fullness. Oat milk is naturally higher in sugar than many other plant-based milks, so it’s not an ideal option for diabetics or those seeking low-sugar plant milks. Opt for unsweetened versions that only contain oats and water, as many brands add sugar, sweeteners or flavouring to their oat milk to enhance the flavour.

Coconut Milk

Coconut milk comes from coconut flesh and water, offering a rich, tropical flavour and a velvety texture. It is often used in both savoury and sweet dishes, adding depth to curries and creaminess to smoothies and desserts. While coconut milk provides healthy fats, it is lower in protein and carbohydrates compared to other plant-based milks. Coconuts are rich in a lipid called lauric acid which is known to support the immune system.

Rice Milk

Rice milk is made from milled rice and water. It is a lighter and sweeter option, and a good alternative for those with nut or gluten allergies. Rice milk is naturally sweeter due to the starches present in rice and is less nutritionally dense.

Pistachio Milk

Pistachio milk is a lesser-known option with a growing fan base as more people become aware of this delicious nut milk. Blended from pistachios and water, pistachio milk provides a nutrient-rich profile and delightful nutty flavour. It contains healthy fats, protein and fibre, making it a satiating option. It is also rich in essential vitamins and minerals like vitamin B6, potassium and antioxidants. However, it may not be as readily available as other plant milks, and some brands may have added sugars or thickeners, so it’s essential to read the labels.

Cashew Milk

Cashew milk is the thickest, creamiest and most milk-like of all the nut milks, making it a great substitute for cream or cows’ dairy in plant-based cooking. Made with cashews and water, it provides a rich source of copper, magnesium and manganese which are important nutrients for energy production, brain health, immunity and bone health.

Hazelnut Milk

Hazelnut milk is a creamy and slightly nutty-flavoured milk that offers a great source of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin E, magnesium and calcium which contribute to skin health, bone strength and overall well-being. It is also rich in healthy fats, specifically monounsaturated fats, which can support heart health, reduce inflammation and lower cholesterol levels.

Walnut Milk

Walnut milk is another milk with a rich, nutty taste and smooth texture. Walnuts are a great source of brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids, but they can be bitter so are better used as a base for a nut milk or mixed with other nuts such as cashews. Walnuts are also abundant in vitamin E and antioxidants to help protect cells from toxin damage.

Tiger Nut Milk

Tiger nut milk is a creamy and nutritious dairy alternative made from blending tiger nuts with water. Tiger nuts, also known as chufa, yellow nutsedge or earth almonds, are not actually nuts, but rather edible tubers. They are the size of a chickpea but wrinkly with a chewy texture and sweet nutty flavour like coconut. They were one of the first plants cultivated in Egypt and traditionally used as both food and medicine. They make a brilliant nut milk and are rich in a variety of nutrients including fibre, vitamin E, magnesium and potassium, helping to keep you feeling fuller for longer and maintain healthy digestion.

Sunflower Seed & Pumpkin Seed Milks

Sunflower seed and pumpkin seed milks are a great alternative to nut milks, especially if you’re allergic to nuts. Sunflower seeds are rich in healthy fats, protein and plenty of nutrients including magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, selenium, vitamin E and B vitamins. They also provide a source of prebiotics which help feed the good bacteria in your gut. Pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of zinc, a mineral needed for healthy skin, immune function and fertility. They are also rich in iron and provide a good source of magnesium, potassium, protein and fibre.

The negatives of drinking soy milk

Soy milk is the most widely consumed plant-based milk and was the first plant milk to be made available commercially on a large scale. It has been used as a dairy milk alternative in China for centuries and became commercially produced in the early 20th century. Derived from soybeans and water, soy milk has a neutral taste and is known for its excellent protein content. However, it’s important to be aware of the potential harmful effects and drawbacks associated with consuming soy products.

Genetically modified soy

A significant portion of soy beans used to make soy milk are genetically modified (GMO). There are concerns about the potential unintended effects of GMO on human health and this may not be uncovered for years to come, after the damage is done. GMO soy is engineered to be resistant to certain herbicides, including the highly toxic glyphosate. The genetic modification allows farmers to spray glyphosate directly onto the soybean crops to control weeds without harming the soybean plants. The herbicide kills the surrounding weeds, while the GM soy plants remain unaffected. Glyphosate is carcinogenic (cancer causing) and is a known hormone disruptor, so you don’t want to be putting it anywhere near your mouth! If you’re planning to eat soy products, choosing organic or non-GMO certified soy, or fermented soy (such as tempeh) is the best option. 

Allergies and sensitivities

Soy is one of the top allergens, and drinking soy milk can lead to allergic reactions, including hives, itching and digestive issues.


Soy contains compounds called phytoestrogens which are plant-based compounds that mimic oestrogen in the body. While some studies suggest that moderate consumption of soy may have health benefits, excessive intake of phytoestrogens has raised concerns about potential hormonal imbalances, particularly in children and those with thyroid issues.


Soy contains goitrogens which are substances that can interfere with thyroid function and iodine absorption. Individuals with thyroid conditions or iodine deficiency should be cautious about consuming soy products.

Digestive Issues

Some people may experience bloating, gas or other digestive discomfort when consuming soy milk due to its high oligosaccharides content – these are small chains of sugar molecules linked together which can be hard to digest.

Phytic acid

Soy contains phytic acid (a naturally-occurring compound found in legumes) which can reduce the absorption of minerals like iron, zinc and calcium. Soaking or fermenting soy beans before processing them into milk can help reduce phytic acid levels.

Considerations when buying shop-bought plant milk

Check the ingredient list carefully. Look for brands that only use whole food ingredients which are organic and GMO-free – not those with a long list of added preservatives, artificial flavours and sugar/ sweeteners. Steer clear of plant milk brands that fortify their products with synthetic vitamins and minerals like calcium, vitamin D and B vitamins, as these forms of nutrients lack the optimal bioavailability and synergistic advantages that are found in whole foods. Brands tend to use cheaper forms of nutrients such as calcium carbonate (the equivalent of chalk) which aren’t absorbed well by the body. Overconsumption of these fortified nutrients, particularly in children, could result in imbalances or negative interactions. If you have food allergies or sensitivities, ensure the plant milk is free from allergens like nuts, soy or gluten as quite often plant milks are made in factories where these allergens are present.

Avoid plant milks with added oil. Many plant milks like oat and almond milk have oil added to them (especially ‘barista’ style) as oil gives the milk added fat to help give it a creamy taste and texture. Many brands use rapeseed (canola) which is a highly processed oil that is often made using genetically modified crops. The extraction and refining processes of rapeseed oil involves high temperatures and chemical solvents that can result in the formation of trans fats and harmful by-products which end up in the oil.

Look out for added sugars or sweeteners as many plant milks have added sweeteners to enhance flavour. Opt for unsweetened varieties wherever possible. The plant milks with the highest naturally-occurring sugars are rice, oat and cashew milk (in that order). Unsweetened almond milk and coconut milk typically have the lowest amounts of natural sugar.

Homemade plant-based milk recipe

You can blend almost any nut or seed and some grains with filtered water to make a delicious plant milk that is easier to digest and contains a wide range of nutrients.

When making your own nut milks, you get the added benefit of freshness and purity, as many shop-bought versions are pasteurised and over-packaged. Homemade also means you can make as much or as little as you need, reducing waste and you can utilise any remaining nut ‘pulp’ for other things (in baking, making homemade nut cheeses and energy balls).

Here is a simple plant milk recipe you can make at home.


  • 100 g nuts, seeds or grains like oats or rice
  • 400 ml filtered water
  • 1–2 pitted dates (optional)

Makes 400 ml


  • Cover the nuts, seeds or grains with filtered water (tap water contains chlorine and other chemicals which can harm the body).
  • Soak the nuts and/or seeds in the fridge overnight or for 12 hours.
  • Once soaked, drain and rinse.
  • Blend with the water and a date (if using to add sweetness and body).
  • Strain through a nut milk bag or cheesecloth, squeezing out any liquid. Store in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Nutritious dairy alternative milks

Plant-based milks offer a diverse array of options for those seeking dairy alternatives. Each one has its unique benefits, catering to various dietary preferences and health needs. Whichever plant-based milk you choose, whether that be almond, oat or pistachio, you can enjoy the benefits of dairy-free alternatives while supporting a sustainable and environmentally friendly lifestyle.

If you’re looking for inspiration in the kitchen and more healthy recipes you can make at home, take a look at CNM’s short courses and recipes: