Mooo-ve Over Cow Milk - Dairy Alternatives On The Rise

It used to be so simple: The milkman came by the house, dropped off a couple quarts of milk, tipped his hat and all was well. A glass of milk with breakfast and dinner, and maybe one mid-day for a boost of energy. In the 1970’s, a person would drink 30 gallons of milk each year on average. After all, milk was THE preventative for osteoporosis. Milk gives you strong bones, right? However, it wasn’t long before nutritionists and researchers began to question milk’s effectiveness at preventing osteoporosis. As a matter of fact, they began questioning a lot about our beloved milk. "Milk is the perfect food – for calves," said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition food studies and public health at New York University and author of Food Politics. "There is no question about that. But for humans, it may not be necessary, and there is plenty of evidence that it isn't necessary."

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Suddenly, our options weren’t so simple anymore. With milk intolerance on the rise, controversial hormones, antibiotics, and concerns over humane practice, nutritionists began finding new ways to source high levels of calcium, protein, vitamin A and vitamin D. Milk alternatives have lowered the annual average annual consumption of cow’s milk per person to a whopping 18 gallons - almost half the amount since the ‘70s. This is largely thanks to the tremendous amount of milk alternatives on the market today - from almond, to cashew, to soy, to oat, the list is long.

The milk controversy is not even close to being solved, and to be honest there is great supporting evidence on both sides. If you are ready to make the move over to “dairy-free milk” there are some things you should know. Calcium and phosphorus are the two minerals that we are after for healthy bones. But it isn’t necessarily the “amount” of each of these minerals that we need. According to Yuri Elkaim, a nutrition, fitness, and fat loss expert, and NYT bestselling author, what’s important is the relationship between the two. “Minerals work in ideal ratios together to efficiently perform their various functions,” Elkaim says. "That means we don’t always necessarily need to eat more of just one mineral, but we need to eat more minerals in general to help them work together.” Calcium and phosphorus are needed in the ratio of 2.5 to 1 for optimal health. “The imbalanced calcium-to-phosphorus ratio in cow’s milk is why dairy is not an ideal source of calcium. When calcium is unable to be properly absorbed in the body due to high amounts of phosphorus, you’re at a greater risk for bone loss and osteoporosis.”

Now that we have a better understanding as to why cow’s milk might not be the best options, we turn to plant-based calcium, which are much better balanced. Here are some plant-based milk alternatives to add to the fridge.

Almond Milk

Almond milk is still the go-to milk alternative on today’s market shelves. It is a simple combination of almonds and water. I am sure you’ve at least seen some of the common brands like Silk, Almond Breeze, MALK, Almond Dream, or Califia Farms. Almond milk is rich in vitamin E, manganese, selenium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, iron, fiber, phosphorus, and has the highest level of calcium out of all the nuts. Many milk options, including cow’s milk, are often supplemented with some of these nutrients, but almond milk comes with all the goods.

The biggest issue we find with almond milk is that it lacks protein source, therefore it is important to find this elsewhere. This is also not a viable option for those with nut allergies. We will dig into that later.

Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is considered one of the plant-based milk alternatives that is rich in essential fatty acids - very clean. Coconut milk is made from grated coconut meat, which is great if you are a fan of heavy cream… also, who ISN’T a fan of heavy cream?! This option is loaded with medium-chain triglycerides (which is a type of easily-digestible healthy fat that helps rid flab), potassium, and a ton of fantastic vitamins - one major one being B12. While the amount of coconut milk consumption should we watched due to its high amount of saturated fat, it is not a major point of concern due the fact that medium chain fatty acids take a unique pathway in the body to be used as energy right away, rather than being stored in the body as fat.

We prefer going for the cartons, as opposed to the cans of coconut milk. Canned Coconut milk tends to include high levels of BPA and can be extremely calorie-dense.

Hemp Milk

Any Forks Over Knives fans? Hemp milk is another awesome milk alternative, rich in plant-based protein. Believe it or not, hemp milk is made from water and cannabis seeds. It is simply a cup of hemp seeds, 5-6 cups of purified water and a natural sweetener, like Agave. Hemp milk is heavy in omega-3 fatty acids, which is great for digestive health, but also hemp milk naturally carries all 10 essential amino acids!

One common concern that many people have about hemp milk is that it may contain some of the chemical THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the chemical found in marijuana. But note, that this ingredient is NOT present or associated with hemp milk in any way! Something to watch out for thought is that hemp milk won’t necessarily make your bones stronger, if that is what you're after. If milk is the only place you are getting you’re getting your calcium intake right now, consider a different milk alternative. But it is a great hypoallergenic option.

Oat Milk

To be honest, this is probably our favorite milk alternative, taste-wise. It is absolutely DELICIOUS and can be made right from your home. Oat milk is a fantastic vegan alternative to dairy milk, with some fantastic health benefits. It is made from pre-soaked oats, water and natural sweetener. According to Livestrong, oat milk contains 10 minerals and 15 vitamins. One fantastic fact about oat milk is that is contain more calcium in one serving than regular cow’s milk. Many milk alternatives are high in saturated fat. If weight watching is part of your consideration, oat milk is a great choice, as it is very low in fat and totally cholesterol-free. But be sure to find a protein source elsewhere! Oat milk is not a viable option as a complete dairy milk replacement.

Rice Milk

Rice milk is the third most popular milk alternative next to almond and soy on the shelves. It is also the single most hypoallergenic option on the market, while also containing a balanced supply of nutrients. Like oat milk, rice milk is very low in saturated-fat, 1 gram per cup, and completely cholesterol-free for those who are watching their weight. Rice milk is loaded with antioxidants, including manganese and selenium. This can also give your immune system a good kick. Brown rice is naturally high in B vitamins, which are essential to your metabolism, circulation and nerve function. Look for brown rice milk if you can find it.

Some downsides to rice milk include that it is low in protein and calcium. If rice milk is one of your only options, due to allergies, consider buying the fortified ones from the store if you are not taking additional calcium supplements. Ready-made rice milk is fortified to include 25% to 30% calcium in each serving.

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Conclusion

There are so many dairy-milk alternatives available these days - almond, cashew, rice, coconut, soy, hemp, oat, flax, pea, banana, the list goes on. It is important to consider what you are missing in your diet and what you are already incorporating in your diet before making a decision on which alternative is best. We recommend picking a couple that sound interesting to you and trying them out. Just be sure to read ingredients for store bought milk alternatives, as many of them tend to have high levels of sugar or fat. Lastly, if you choose a milk alternative that is low in protein, there are tons of plant-based protein powders that you can use to meet your daily intake.

Pure Green chooses to use almond milk in our smoothies as our milk alternative. Learn more about our smoothies here!

Taylor Rohwedder