Starbucks To Serve Coconut Milk in Cafes, But What’s Healthier: Coconut, Soy or Almond Milk?
February 13, 2015 | By:

With coconut milk now being offered as an option in Starbucks, it’s official: it’s up there with soy and almond milk as a non-dairy option. So should you make the switch?

Health. Almond milk vs coconut milk vs soya milk

Almond milk: coconut milk is making a takeover bid to be the non-dairy option of the moment

The coconut ‘tidal wave’ is gathering speed now that Starbucks is to offer coconut milk in its 12,000 US branches from 17 February. Customers’ most requested non-dairy alternative had been almond milk but because of the possibility of cross-contamination of nut allergens, coconut (which is not actually a nut but a fruit) was selected, in addition to soya.

Starbucks has no current plans to introduce coconut milk to its UK branches but will be responsive to customer demands here as it has there. It was this customer comment on its website that inspired the idea: “Soy is highly allergenic and really not healthy in large quantities. Many people (actually probably most) also cannot tolerate cow’s milk. Please offer rice, almond, or coconut milk.”

Since one in five people is vegan, allergic or intolerant to lactose, the decision makes good commercial sense – as well as good customer relations.

In addition to allergic reactions, many people have been put off milk because of both a fear of ingesting antibiotics from cows that have been kept in factory-farms and of high fat content. Research found that women who consumed more than 90g of fat a day from sources such as whole milk had an increased risk of breast cancer. This could be because pregnant cows produce oestrogen, which goes into the milk. Excess oestrogen has been linked to breast cancer.

This could also explain why breast cancer rates are low in Japan, where people consume soya milk instead of cow’s milk.

However, women who eliminate dairy from their diet need to be careful, because of the risk of osteoporosis in later life. Osteoporosis is now so common in Britain that one in three women and one in six men suffer the condition.

Cow’s milk nutrition per 100ml: 68kcals, ​122mg calcium, ​4g fat  ​2.6g saturated fat, ​4.7g sugar, ​3.4g protein.

Should you drink coconut milk?

In Malaysia, coconut is “the tree of a thousand uses”, from cosmetics to carpets. For years, coconut milk could only be found in cans and used for pina coladas or curries. These days, it’s also found in cartons in the milk aisle, in ice cream, desserts and yogurts.

Coconut milk remains stable at high temperatures and its high, saturated fat content means it froths well and tastes delicious. With a fat content ranging from seven per cent to a whopping 14 per cent per 100ml in its tinned form, it is the most densely saturated of all common dietary fats. But it is also anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and rich in antioxidants, vitamin E and minerals.

The fats are medium chain fatty acids, which are quickly digested and converted to energy. They stabilise blood sugar and help us to feel fuller for longer. Interestingly, half the fats in coconut milk contain lauric acid, which is also found in human breast milk.

But we shouldn’t embrace coconut milk as the ultimate health drink – even low-fat versions. “Every study on the subject links saturated fats with heart disease,” says Dr Karol Watson, a professor of cardiology at UCLA Medical Center.

In any case, on closer inspection, Starbucks’ coconut milk appears to be a doctored combination of water, coconut cream, sugar and a variety of questionable emulsifiers such as carrageenan and tricalcium phosphate that help it froth better. So, as with all dairy and non-dairy milk products, look at the ingredients list with care.

Coconut milk nutrition per 100ml: 25 kcals, ​120mg calcium,​ 1.8g fat, ​1.6g saturated fat, ​1.6g sugar, 0.2g protein.

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Should you drink soya milk?

Soya milk is made by mixing soaked soya beans with boiling water. It contains almost the same protein as cow’s milk (3.1g per 100ml compared with 3.4g). It has around half the fat of cow’s milk and a third fewer calories, making it a less fattening alternative to cow’s milk. But, like coconut milk, it is low in protein compared to cow’s milk.

However, it also has a chemical that mimics oestrogen. These isoflavones are ‘endocrine disruptors’: chemicals that interfere with the normal function of hormones in the body. But according to some, soya does have health benefits, including the lowering of blood cholesterol levels and so helping to protect the heart.

One industry source admitted that the commercial breakthrough for soya milk came when retailers put cartons in chilled cabinets, giving the illusion, along with ‘fake juices’ such as Sunny Delight, that it was a fresh product. In truth, though, soya milk is no more than a bean juice with flavouring added to make it more palatable.

Real soya milk only lasts a couple of days in the refrigerator; it goes off very quickly because it’s real food. But processed soya milk lasts a long time without going sour. That should make us suspicious: Why won’t bacteria eat this stuff?

If you buy soya milk as it has been traditionally made in Asia for thousands of years, it’s good for you in moderation. But it’s not healthy if you drink the processed, pasteurised, beverages made from soya that comes from GM beans or which have been treated with pesticides.

Soy or soya milk nutrition per 100ml: 37 kcals,​120mg calcium,​1.7g fat, ​0.26g saturated fat, ​0.8g sugar,​ 3.1g protein.

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Should you drink almond milk?

David Cameron says he uses almond milk as part of his fitness regime. Although he may benefit from the low calories, it has almost no muscle-building protein. Almond milk is made by mixing ground almonds with water and straining the liquid to remove almond skins and sediment. It has been used since the Middle Ages as a substitute for cow’s milk.

Unlike dairy milk and soya milk, it is low in protein. This may seem surprising, since almonds are little ovals of protein and an ounce of the nuts contains six grams. But its ‘milk’ is mostly water. Almond milk is also low in calcium, so you could look for brands that are calcium-enriched.

Almond milk nutrition per 100ml: 13 kcals, ​120mg calcium, ​1.1g fat, ​0.1g saturated fat, ​0.1g sugar, ​0.4g protein.