If you opened this blog expecting to find out whether it's healthier to obtain your milk mustache from drinking skimmed or full-fat milk, I'm afraid I'm going to disappoint. This isn't an article about dairy milk, it's about the best plant-based options. But let's start at the beginning: Why I choose not to drink dairy milk, and why I do not believe it's the best choice for the health of our bodies or that of the planet (warning: some of this information may be contrary to what you were taught at school!)
- Cow's milk is meant for its baby. It's essentially: breast milk... for a calf, not a human. Calves have different needs to humans which is mainly to grow big quickly. While the protein in human milk is designed for human bodies, much of the protein in cow’s milk is difficult for humans to digest which can lead to bloating, gas, and pain. Part of the reason is because many people stop producing the enzyme, lactase, required to break down the sugar in milk (lactose). Consumption of dairy milk has been linked to many serious and chronic illnesses such as cancer, kidney stones, Crohn's disease, allergies, eczema, arthritis, inflammation, excess mucous, sinus issues, and acne. Many of my clients feel better and notice a change once they have removed dairy from their diets.
- Aside from the fact that I don't believe that cow's milk was designed for human consumption there is the environmental impact to look at. Producing a glass of dairy milk results in almost three times more greenhouse gas emissions than any plant-based milk and it consumes nine times more land than any of the milk alternatives. (Land is required to pasture the cows and grow their feed, which the animals belch out in the form of methane.)
- Lastly, but in my opinion, most importantly there are the ethical implications to consider. After a mother has given birth to her calf they spend a few days together to establish the milk supply before her calf is taken away to either be killed or sold as veal. She will be intensively milked until her supply runs out, she will then be artificially inseminated and the whole process begins again, several times over until she's too old and is killed. Maybe that sits ok with you, it doesn't with me.
So now you're thinking, I'm ready to switch to plant-based milk, I never much liked the taste of dairy anyway but, where will I get calcium?
This is probably the most frequently asked question when talking about going dairy-free. There are plenty of natural sources of calcium such as leafy greens (like kale), chia seeds, almonds, beans, and raw tahini. The calcium in these foods is often more easily absorbed than the calcium found in dairy. For example, about 30 percent of dairy calcium is absorbed whereas about 60 percent of calcium from dark leafy greens is absorbed.
It's also worth remembering when it comes to bone health, calcium isn’t the only factor. Overall diet and activity levels determine bone health and even calcium needs. Countries with the highest calcium intake have the most osteoporosis, so there’s obviously more to the bone-health story than calcium alone. Vitamin D—which is necessary for calcium absorption and is best obtained from 20 minutes of sunshine 3 times a week during summer months and fortified, nondairy foods or supplements during winter months—is now being considered the most important nutrient in bone health.
So now you are wondering which plant-based milk should I drink?
- They all have slightly different tastes, nutritional benefits, and environmental impacts.
- There are several factors to consider whichever plant-based milk you opt for :
- Firstly, it should contain no fillers or preservatives, such as carrageenan, which may cause digestive issues.
- Secondly, it should contain no sugar or sugar alternative.
- Thirdly, I would recommend purchasing organic and fair-trade.
Nut milks are one of the most popular choices on the market, especially almond milk.
My favorite almond milk to purchase is Plenish, although making my own is always my preferred choice.
Whilst drinking almond milk does have it's environmental drawbacks: namely, the amount of water required and the strain over popularisation of almonds has on commercially kept bees kept for pollinating the almond plants.
However, almond milk is still a far better alternative for the planet than dairy. It would be wise to alternate your plant-based milks, so as not to put undue pressure on one food type.
Homemade cashew nut milk is one of my absolute faves. It's so creamy!
Oat milk has risen in popularity in the last year, and the good news is that there are plenty of oats to go around. Oats are grown in cooler climates and are therefore not associated with deforestation in developing countries. The only drawback with this option is that most oats come from mass-produced, monoculture operations where they are sprayed with the Roundup pesticide right before harvest. A study by the Environmental Working Group found glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup and a possible carcinogen, in all the foods it tested containing conventionally grown oats and even in one-third of products made with organic oats. However, the popular - and my personal fave - Oatly brand oat milk company maintains its oats are certified glyphosate free.
It's another super simple milk to make at home using organic oats.
There's often some confusion around oats and gluten. Oats are GLUTEN FREE. However, they are often processed in factories also handling other grains so there can be a risk of cross-contamination which is why you will some oats labeled as 'gluten-free.' It means that they have been processed away from the possibility of cross-contamination.
Soy milk was the first widely available plant-based milk. I like the bonsoy brand for taste although it does contain additional sweetener in the form of tapioca syrup. The sugar content is 2g (1/2 a teaspoon of sugar) per 100 ml so if you enjoy it as the milk in your coffee it's not a big drama but don't be using lots of it to make a smoothie. Soya milk has much more protein than both almond and oat milk. However, it is a common allergen so be mindful to see how it sits with you. When it comes to soya milk, it has to be organic (in my opinion) as soya is a mass-produced crop, often excessively sprayed and frequently comes from genetically modified sources. The primary environmental drawback to soy milk is that soybeans are grown in massive quantities around the world to feed livestock for meat and dairy production. Large swaths of rainforest in the Amazon have been burned to make way for soy farms. The workaround for this is to simply do a little research and read the carton to find soy milk that is made from organic soybeans grown in the US or Canada.
The issue with coconut milk is that coconut trees only grow in tropical climates, such as the Philippines, and the pressure to meet global demand is causing the exploitation of workers. To prevent this I would recommend only purchasing coconut milk that is Fair Trade. There are also the 'flight miles' to consider when buying products from Tropical countries. I only tend to buy coconut milk in tins to use for making curries and Thai dishes. It's important to make sure coconut in cans is BPA free.
Whilst this is by no means a fully comprehensive article (and there are other milk alternatives that I haven't covered such as rice and hemp) what is clear to me is that all plant-based milks are better for our health, our planet and sit with me more comfortably from an ethical standpoint. To not put too much pressure on one food type, I would recommend rotating your plant milks and buying fair trade and organic, wherever possible.
I'd love to know if you found this helpful and which your favorite plant-based milk is?