Living With Type 2 Diabetes

Everything you want to know about plant-based milks

Before I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, I had experimented with plant-based milks in my smoothies and other recipes. Coconut and rice milks are my favorite because they are naturally sweet in flavor. However, those are now used moderately (as in once or twice a month). I now mainly use almond milk because it is known to have the least amount of sugar and lowest on the GI.

Not all milks are created equal.

Price should not be the factor when choosing your products. In our household, we use an app called Yuka to check on ingredients, especially the sugar content. As a diabetic, it is important to balance the sugars in each meal (snacks included) so I now used plant-based milks for almost everything. I am usually brand loyal, thinking that certain brands mean a higher quality. Was I WRONG! I was shocked to find one of my favorite brands, Alpro had scored so low on Yuka. The almond milk rated POOR, with 48/100. I learned that it contained 6 additives (including a hazardous one, E3441iii aka Tricalcium phosphate)  3g of sugar, 24 kcal, 0.1g fat, and  .14g salt.

According to the findings of Jeske et al., (2017), it shows that plant-based drinks have higher GI values than milk. (4) Milk had a GI of 46.93, while the GI of the plant-based drinks varied from 47.53 to 99.96.

Low (<55 GI) and medium (56-69 GI) foods are recommended, especially for those who want to better regulate their blood sugar levels so it is extremely important to check each brand as they do vary a great deal.

So, let’s take a closer look at drinks made of soy, grain or nuts. They can come close to milk from animals in terms of nutrition—and from oat milk to hemp milk there have never been so many to choose from.

NOTE: People who are following a healthful diet to manage diabetes should check ingredients of individual brands of plant-based milks.

Almond milk

This milk has been around since the Middle Ages, when potions made of crushed almonds, water, spices and fruits were drunk as refreshments. Made at home, fresh almond milk is tasty, nutritious and rich in vitamins and minerals, as well as healthy fats. Supermarket products, however, often contain a very low proportion of almonds—and a lot of water, sugar and additives. In its pure form, almond milk is a good option for shakes, desserts and to add creaminess to vegan soups.

Nutrition notes: Ecocesta brand rates 88/100 on Yuka. Organic, contains no synthetic herbicides.
100 ml of almond milk contains 27 kcal, 0.2g fat, 0g carbohydrates, and 0g protein
Tasting notes: Fresh, homemade almond milk has a light sweetness and is reminiscent of marzipan; store-bought versions have no natural almond aroma.
Price: Around €2.75 per liter / $3.00 USD per quart
My opinion: Homemade almond milk is a tasty, healthy alternative to cow’s milk, as almonds contain valuable B-vitamins, antioxidant vitamin E, calcium, and iron. Store bought versions contain fewer vitamins and minerals than cow’s milk.

Other Nut Milks

Vegan milks can also be made from other nuts such as hazelnuts, macadamias and cashews. All of these nuts make milk which is rich in unsaturated fats, vitamins and minerals; nut milks are perfect on cereals and muesli or in baking and dessert cookery. Unfortunately, most shop-bought versions only contain around 2.5 % nuts, with the rest of the carton’s contents composed primarily of water, sugar, stabilizers, emulsifiers, and various flavorings.
Nutrition notes: 100 ml of nut milk contains 29 kcal, 1.6g fat, 3.1g carbohydrates, and 0.4g protein
Tasting notes: Generally nutty and slightly sweet.
Price: Around €2.50 per liter / $3.50 – $4.00 USD per quart
My opinion: Home-made nut drinks are a delicious lactose and cholesterol-free alternative to milk. It’s important to remember that many of the industrially-produced products don’t have anything like as much protein or near as much trace elements as the real thing, though, and that they tend to be a lot pricier to boot.

Oat Milk

To make oat milk, all you need to do is boil up oatmeal in water, blend it and sieve it: what drops into the glass is oat milk, and it’s low in fat, free of cholesterol and—in contrast to animal milk—high in fiber. In terms of flavor, it works well in recipes with cocoa, vanilla, cinnamon and Tonka beans, making it perfect for use in shakes, breakfast dishes and baking.

Nutrition notes: 100 ml of oat milk contains 41 kcal, 1.1g fat, 7g carbohydrates, and 0.6g protein.
Tasting notes: Its consistency comes close to that of animal milk. It has a strong oat flavour.
Price: 1 liter / 1 quart costs around €2.00 / $3.50 USD.
My opinion: A glass of oat drink gives you a range of valuable B-vitamins and minerals such as magnesium; though in terms of calcium, it can’t keep up with real milk. The other downside is that many industrially-produced oat milks contain vegetable oil, salt, flavoring and sweeteners, as well as preservatives.

Soy milk

This drink has a long tradition in China, where it is available as both a sweet and savory variant; it’s also become the classic milk alternative in the Western world. Soy drinks are made of dried soybeans and water, and if you have a soy milk maker, you can produce it yourself in about 20 minutes. In its pure form, soy milk can replace cow’s milk in various forms of coffee and shakes, and can also be used for milk in baking and cooking.

Nutrition notes: 100 ml of soy milk contain 54 kcal, 1.8g fat, 6g carbohydrates, 3.3g protein
Tasting notes: A little more watery than real milk; has a slightly malty scent and is sweet to the taste
Price: Roughly €1.00 per liter / $3.00 USD per quart
My opinion: Soy milk is ideal as a snack drink it also packs a lot of folic acid, saponins (which protect your cells) and healthy flavonoids. It’s important to opt for organic if you want to avoid genetically modified crops and additives, though.

Rice Milk

To make rice milk, whole brown grains are ground, boiled and pressed; the resulting liquid is fermented, filtered, and mixed with vegetable oil and emulsified. This process leaves little of the original contents of the wholegrain rice, so producers tend to add salt, sugar, flavorings, and even vitamin and mineral supplements. Just like cow’s milk, rice milk can be drunk on its own or mixed, and is also great for baking and cooking.

Nutrition notes: Ecocesta brand rates 85/100 on Yuka. Organic, contains no synthetic herbicides.
100 ml of rice milk contains 5.5g sugar, 12g carbohydrates, 57 kcal, 0.5 protein, 0.1g fat, 0.08g salt and 120ml calcium. 
Tasting notes: If you drink it pure, you will find the texture is very watery but has a slightly sweet taste and Drunk pure, it tastes very watery and ever so slightly of rice pudding.
Price: 1 liter costs around €2.35
My opinion: Rice milk contains far fewer vitamins and minerals than cow’s milk and is not suited as a source of protein or calcium. It can be a useful substitute for people with allergies.

Coconut Milk

In the coconut’s native countries, the milk is considered a staple, produced by grinding and pressing the flesh of the coconut. Rich in potassium, sodium and magnesium, coconut milk also has a relatively high fat content, composed primarily of healthy saturated fats. Its intense flavor suits a range of fruity shakes, cocktails, and Asian dishes.

Nutrition notes: Ecocesta brand on Yuka
100ml /3.5 fl oz of coconut milk contains 0 grams sugar, 20 kcal, 1.5g fat, 0.1 salt, 1.7g carbohydrates, and 0.2g protein.
Tasting notes: Drunk pure, it tastes creamy, fruity and sweet—and of coconut. Thinned down in shop-bought drinks, it’s somewhat blander.
Price: 1 liter / 1 quart clocks in at around €5.00 / approx. $4.00 – $5.00 USD .
My opinion: Coconut milk is healthy and fills you up; nevertheless, it’s a good idea to limit your consumption of and consume it, like all things, in moderation.

Spelt Milk

This plant milk is made by soaking spelt grains (also known as dinkel or hulled wheat) for twelve hours before sieving the grains, puréeing them with water and straining them. The resulting liquid is a low-calorie drink with some of the vitamins and minerals of the grain. Industrially-produced versions contain roughly 11 per cent spelt, with the rest of the drink made up of water, vegetable oil and flavouring additions such as sea salt. Spelt milk works well in smoothies or in muesli mixtures or baked goods.

Nutrition notes: Ecocesta brand rates 88/100 on Yuka. Organic, contains no synthetic herbicides.
100 ml / 3.5 fl oz of spelt milk contains 5.5g sugar, 57 kcal, 0.1g fat, 0.08g salt, 0.9g fibre
Tasting notes: With a decidedly malty scent and taste, spelt is clearly a grain product. It needs to be shaken well before drinking for it to have a milky consistency.
Price: Around €2.10 per liter / $5.00 USD per quart.
My opinion: Taste-wise, it will take quite some to get used to it. Like all the other vegan replacements, spelt milk makes a good alternative for people with lactose intolerance or an allergy to milk proteins.

Hemp Milk

The newest plant-based milk on the block. This drink made from hemp seeds is very much on trend at the moment—and that’s no wonder, given hemp’s cholesterol free credentials and its strong showing in terms of omega-3 fatty acids. Its high magnesium content makes it an ideal breakfast drink for sporty types, and it’s considered to be easily digestible and a good substitute in cooking and baking.

Nutrition notes: 100 ml of hemp milk contains 37 kcal, 2.7g fat, 1.9g carbohydrates, 1g protein.
Tasting notes: In terms of consistency, it’s somewhat creamier than cow’s milk and has a slightly nutty flavor.
Price: 1 liter / 1 quart costs around €2.80 / roughly $5.00 USD per quart.
My opinion: Although pricier than most, this milk alternative makes up for it in terms of flavor and usefulness in avoiding allergens and a great choice for diabetics.

Food Shopping

Glycemic Index Food Guide

Low GI Meals leave you feeling fuller longer, ease food cravings and provide you with greater and more sustained energy levels. If you’re looking to either lose weight or maintain your existing weight, a low GI lifestyle is the perfect option. Also, if you find yourself lethargic, losing concentration, or experiencing mood swings an hour or so after eating, a change to low GI foods may show immediate benefits.

Remember that food is fuel for our bodies – eat well and your body will reward you. 

Glycemic Index Food Guide cover

The glycemic index (GI) is a scale that ranks a carbohydrate-containing food or drink by how much it raises blood sugar levels after it is eaten or drank. Foods with a high GI increase blood sugar higher and faster than foods with a low GI.

“I am a type-2 diabetic, and they took me off medication simply because I ate right and exercised. Diabetes is not like a cancer, where you go in for chemo and radiation. You can change a lot through a basic changing of habits.”

Sherri Shepherd

"Trying to manage diabetes is hard because if you don't, there are consequences you'll have to deal with later in life."

Bryan Adams

"Diabetes is all about insulin levels and sugar levels and what you put in your body."

Jay Cutler

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