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Overwhelmed by Milk Substitutes?

Here are 5 healthy choices

En español | Today milk alternatives are widely available and growing in popularity. Sales of nondairy milk beverages — including soy, almond and coconut milks — reached $1.33 billion in 2011, a jump of more than 10 percent from 2009.

"Not too long ago, soy and rice milks were about the only milk alternatives on the market, and you really had to develop a taste for them," says Mark Emerson, D.C., a chiropractor in Saratoga, Calif., who also specializes in clinical nutrition. "Today you also have almond, oat, coconut, hazelnut, hemp and even flax milks." (See the chart below for nutritional information about several milk options.)

Milk substitutes fill a diet ­ ary void for vegans, animal advocates, people with high cholesterol, those with dairy allergies and the estimated 30 million who are lactose intolerant.

Plus, some alternative milks provide special health benefits. Almond milk, for instance, is high in such essential nutrients as vitamin E, magnesium and potassium. Soy milk is a good source of protein, and studies suggest it may be able to lower cholesterol, too.

One caveat: Alternative milks can be expensive — sometimes $5 or $6 for a gallon, compared with about $3.50 for regular milk. But some you can make yourself — almond milk, for instance. New York nutritionist Amie Valpone suggests using a blender to process 1 cup of raw, presoaked almonds and 3 cups of filtered water until smooth, then straining the liquid through a fine mesh sieve. For more flavor, add a pinch of sea salt, some almond extract or a natural sweetener before blending.

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Photo by Melina Hammer (Cow: Peter Cade

*Per 1-cup serving **Most store-bought alternative milks are calcium-fortified