Made by soaking, crushing, cooking and straining soybeans, some soy milks provide as much protein as cow’s milk, as well as B vitamins, phosphorus, iron, copper, magnesium, potassium and often some fiber (dairy milk has none). Soy milk also contains isoflavones, potentially healthful plant chemicals. Though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows a health claim that soy protein lowers blood cholesterol, studies have found little, if any, effect.
From the seeds of the industrial hemp plant (varieties of Cannabis sativa grown for food and textile uses), hemp milk supplies protein, omega-3 fats similar to those in flaxseeds, and other healthful unsaturated fats. Unlike the Cannabis plant that produces marijuana, foods made from hemp contain only trace amounts, if any, of the psychoactive compound. The crop is banned in the U.S., but processed hemp foods can be imported legally, mostly from Canada. Hemp is considered ecofriendly because it needs little water and no pesticides.
If you drink nondairy beverages in place of cow’s milk, look for beverages with added calcium and vitamin D. Many are also fortified with B12 (an advantage for vegans) and other nutrients. Compare labels carefully: Most nondairy beverages are sweetened with sugar (such as evaporated cane juice, rice syrup or barley malt), which increases calories. Chocolate and other flavored beverages have even more sugar (up to 170 calories per cup versus 35 calories a cup in unsweetened versions). Finally, though the fat in these beverages is heart-healthy unsaturated fat, nonfat or low-fat versions have fewer calories.