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Staying Alive / Let’s talk about milk


We have come a long way from the simple days when a milkman left a quart of milk on our doorstep each morning. Back then, milk just meant milk—not even one percent, two percent, or skim—whole dairy milk from cows. Today, buying milk is complicated by myriad choices. In the event that one of the milk alternatives might interest you, here’s a little milk demystification.


Dairy milk

Cow’s milk: In the wake of low-fat (one and two percent) milk, whole milk has gotten a bad rap. Did you know that whole milk only has three-point-five percent fat? Once you start taking out the fat, you also take out the nutrients, which leads to lower-fat milks needing to be fortified with fat-soluble nutrients like vitamins A and D and skim milk actually needing some sugar to make it taste good. Yes, you will save forty to seventy calories per cup with the lower-fat and fat-free alternatives—and I completely understand if whole milk just tastes too creamy on cereal or to drink—but whole milk is really the healthiest option, though the diet industry has done its best to make us think otherwise. 


Goat’s milk: Comparable to cow’s milk in protein and calcium, goat’s milk is sometimes easier on the digestive systems for those with cow-protein issues. Mostly available as whole milk, using goat’s milk is largely a question of taste.


Nondairy milks

There are plenty of reasons to opt for nondairy milks, from lactose intolerance to veganism to objections to dairy farm practices (I’m actually appalled at articles that cutely claim that cows are not happy about alternative milk options; if there were no more dairy industry, they’d be happiest of all!). 


In your grocery cases or on shelves, you might see hemp, cashew, oat, hazelnut, rice, multigrain, almond, and coconut milk—often in various flavors and with various fortifications to provide the nutrients dairy milk offers naturally. Most don’t offer calcium, so if you don’t have another source, look for calcium-fortified. Always opt for organic, keep an eye out for extra ingredients and added sugar, and know that carrageenan derivatives have been controversially linked to intestinal issues and increased risk of breast cancer. 


Many of these milks can be made at home, though ease of preparation varies.  If you’re buying them commercially, buy from the refrigerated section; the shelf versions have way more artificial ingredients, preservatives, and sugar. Also, for health, choose unsweetened varieties and, if needed, fortified versions. 


Rice milk: Made from powdered rice and water, rice milk doesn’t offer much in the way of nutrients, but it’s a good choice for people with intolerance to lactose, nuts, and soy. 


Almond milk: Almond milk is the dieter’s choice—it’s low in saturated fat, and  the unsweetened version has zero sugar and only thirty calories per cup, less than half of skim dairy milk. (My favorite is refrigerated Friendly Farms Unsweetened from Aldi.)


Coconut milk: Different from coconut water, coconut milk is made from grated meat of coconut. It’s a creamy alternative to cow’s milk, as well as a good source of healthy fats, calcium, and vitamin D.


Cashew milk: Easy to make in minutes at home (which allows you to control the thickness) because it requires no straining, cashew milk is a creamy good source of protein, and tastes great in recipes.


Hazelnut milk: The creamiest of nut milks, hazelnut tastes indulgent, but it is actually a good source of calcium and vitamin D and even has some A and E thrown in. And for protein, it’s tops. 


Soy milk: Milk made from soybeans is probably the best replacement for cow’s milk because of the comparable protein. Even better, it has no cholesterol and is low in fat; it does, however, need fortification to provide calcium or vitamin D. It’s also creamy enough to satisfy in coffee and tea (my go-to is Westsoy Vanilla from Wegmans). But watch out for added sugars: the flavored soys like to pack them in—ideally, your ingredients are soy, water, and maybe some added nutrients.


Oat milk: High in fiber, protein, and iron, void of cholesterol and saturated fats, and imbued with all the natural nutrients of oats, oat milk is becoming increasingly popular. 


Hemp milk: Made from hemp seeds, this milk has no psychological effects, but it does have some omega-3 fats. I haven’t tried it, but I’ve heard it tastes good and can be hard to find.


There may even be more varieties than I’ve listed here, and by no means are all brands created equaleven within the same varietyso when you branch out, remember to read labels! I’m confident you’ll come away with a new lease on milk.


Feel Good Foods

If you’re a celiac sufferer who misses Asian food, Feel Good Foods is about filling that void. Created by husband and wife team Vanessa Phillips and Tryg Siverson to satisfy Phillip’s craving for Asian food that wouldn’t trigger a celiac attack, the line features Asian favorites like pork dumplings and egg rolls.


We tried six items: Chicken & Vegetable Egg Rolls, Vegetable Egg Rolls, Vegetable Dumplings, Chicken Dumplings, Stir-Fry Chicken & Vegetables (Mu Shu Chicken), and Broad Noodles with Chicken & Chinese Broccoli. Out of the gate, I should note that these aren’t “health” foods. Though the creators use ingredients that you can find in a grocery store, the sugar content (particularly in the dumplings, which are three grams per) is higher than I’d like to see in a savory offering, and the sodium content ranges from 350 mg for one chicken dumpling to 400 mg for one vegetable egg roll to 690 mg for a serving of Broad Noodles with Chicken & Chinese Broccoli. But everyone knows that sugar and salt make things taste better, right? So how did these items measure in that department?


Not too bad. The egg rolls went over very well, and were easily my favorite item and happily had the least amount of sugar. The wrapper—which seems the only item in an egg roll that would pose a gluten problem—was rice paper, which lead me to wonder if there are Asian restaurants that use rice wrappers; it’s worth exploring. Rice wrappers were also used for the dumplings, which seemed to have much the same filling as the egg rolls, but which seem to work as well; I thought the wrappers had an odd taste. I was an outlier, though; the rest of the family thought the dumplings were good and happily finished off two packages of them.


Broad Noodles with Chicken & Chinese Broccoli went over well (no doubt; it has the highest sugar count, at six grams); the broccoli actually tasted fresh and the rice noodles didn’t make us miss any heavier versions of pasta. The Stir-Fry Chicken & Vegetables (Mu Shu Chicken), however, was a universal bomb. The “pancakes” didn’t warm in the microwave the way they were supposed to and were hard, and the filling was so salty, it was all we could taste; nobody even wanted to finish this. It should be noted that the chicken in all dishes was tender, a definite plus.


Now the factor I always get to: price. With the exception of the egg rolls, which are priced at $4.99 for a package of three, all items are $6.99. At that price, I can only recommend this if you are celiac sufferer who can only eat Asian food that’s thus prepared. As neither I nor anybody in my family has this disease, I can only comment on the taste, which was fine, but not anything I’d go out of my way for unless I had to. But if you have to, Feel Good Foods might be quite a find indeed.    



Donna Hoke is a frequent contributor to Buffalo Spree.

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